Joe Paterno was the football coach at Penn State since before I was born, and for about 4 times as long as I've been a Latin teacher (which is a pretty hefty chunk of my life, now). Yet his name was only vaguely familiar to me, since I am a football agnostic, until his essay, "Joe Knows Latin," was featured in the Spring 2008 edition of the Memoria Press newsletter. Unfortunately they've changed the archiving of that article so it is more difficult to obtain the full text. But it's well worth the read... inspiring, even, for those of us teachers who face constant questions about the worthiness of our arcane subject matter. You can read more extensive excerpts of the article here, but I'll be trying to find a link to the full article to share if I can. It was after reading this article, partly, that I tried to become more careful about looking up the teachers who had influenced me and thanking them. Because we never know when a great teacher may be taken from us, or for that matter, when old age and a shifting zeitgeist may render him a pariah. (46 years followed by a quick trip through the tabloids to the ash-heap of history... how do we begin to process that? Well, worse things happened to Cicero.)
I guess football is quite similar to ancient warfare, really. Horrifying battle helmets, grotesque war paint, screaming throngs watching from the city walls, obscure mystical rituals before and after each play; and of course, the lively oral tradition of retelling the game afterwards for those who didn't see it. Some heroes do indeed seem to be specially favored by the gods; and JoePa, as he was known, surely had a friend in Minerva, the grey-eyed goddess of strategy and warfare. In an age when imperialism is frowned upon, capturing yardage and taking possession of the ball are more socially acceptable outlets for young testosterone than capturing hostages and taking possession of Gallic towns. So I'll just pose the question and you can think about it: is studying Latin and Caesar's conquests good preparation for ... football?