I always found it odd how Jay Paterno called his father "Joe" during media interviews. It was just as peculiar to hear the legendary Penn State football coach refer to his middle son and quarterbacks coach as "Jay Paterno" while talking to the press.
I wasn't alone. The late, great sportswriter, Jerry Kellar, who was known for having the best JoePa impression on the beat, had a riff where he would paint a verbal picture of the Paterno family table during a holiday meal.
It went something like this:
"Jay Paterno, can you pass the mashed potatoes?"
"Sure, Joe. Sue (aka mom), would you like any?"
"No thank you Jay Paterno, but (youngest son) Scott Paterno might."
"Yes I would, Sue. And Jay Paterno, can you pass the pepper, too, please?"
I can't speak for Jerry or anyone else who was or is on the beat. But I rolled my eyes every time the Paternos would go into their formal name mode when referring to one another, because it was such an obvious (and awkward) attempt to suggest there was no hint of nepotism in their professional relationship.
Now, however, things are different.
Joe Paterno, fired from his job in early November, was diagnosed with lung cancer a week or so later. On Sunday, the disease got the best of the old warrior, and he died at 85.
Jay Paterno, meanwhile, was swept out of his coaching job when Penn State hired Bill O'Brien to replace his dad earlier this month.
By way of disclosure, I've never had many positive things to say about Jay Paterno as a quarterbacks coach. I'd be a hypocrite if I wrote glowing stuff about him in that regard now. But, for what it is worth, he's always impressed me in just about every other way.
We have children who are the same age and in a town as small as State College, frequently cross paths at family events. It is obvious he's crazy about his kids, and they're crazy about him. I don't think there is any more important measure of a man.
Jay and Joe Paterno.
He is also extremely well-rounded. He's an outstanding (that is not hyperbole) writer, is versed in politics (sometimes to a fault) and history and can talk in depth about practically any sport. Jay Paterno is the kind of guy with whom you'd love to have a beer.
And while he was an assistant coach, he was always very media friendly. He talked to the press after every game — win or lose. When the Sandusky scandal hit and his dad was fired, rather than avoid the spotlight and tough questions — as so many other key figures at Penn State did — he stepped up to the proverbial plate. And he said all of the right things.
History will remember that while all hell was breaking loose, Penn State had no better ambassador than Jay Paterno. Come to think of it, the Paterno family had no better ambassador at the time than Jay Paterno.
I can't imagine how proud his father must have been.
But there was one thing about Jay Paterno that kept making me cringe. While talking to the press — even after he was out of a job and his dad was fighting for his life — he continued to call his father "Joe."
Joe Paterno once told me his biggest regret in life was not spending enough time with his five kids while they were growing up. He was too driven to succeed professionally, he explained, and he knew he had a strong wife who could keep their brood in line.
He urged me not to make the same mistake with my daughter. I've tried to take that to heart, but sometimes must lean on JoePa's advice to get back on course. Fortunately, I have a strong wife who compensates for my shortcomings, too.
My biggest regret in life was not spending enough time with my mom before she died of lung cancer last June. It happened so fast. I blinked. She was gone. I mentioned that to Jay in a personal moment after I learned his father was ill.
Jay Paterno spent the last 17 years working for Joe. And I can't imagine how cool that must have been.
But now that the final chapter of this story has been written, I hope Jay can look back and cherish the time in 2012 he had to spend with an even more important person.