Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fidel Castro and Joe Paterno

Fidel Castro held out for as long as he could. He tried to outlast JoePa, but his poor health just would not allow it. Both men were born in 1926. Joe is just four months younger than Fidel. From the start they were rivals. Fidel took control of Cuba in 1959, overthrowing the government of Fulgencio Batista. At that time, Paterno had been an assistant at Penn State for 9 years under coaching legend Rip Engle. Castro's successful overthrow of Batista gave Paterno the inspiration for his eventual overthrow of Engle, which occured in 1966 - after spending several summers training with Castro and Che Guevara in the jungles of Central America. The training was crucial to Paterno's success as a coach. He learned all about recruitment, warfare, strategy, game planning, hair dying, and the importance of wearing the same thing every day. Castro's look was the green army fatigues. Paterno's look was white shirt, blue blazer or windbreaker, a tie, and the same pair of coke-bottle-thick tinted glasses. No matter the current fashion, if you find a picture of Castro or Paterno, each is wearing his trademark "uniform." It gives the citizens of Cuba, and the alumni of Penn State, a feeling of comfortable constancy.

Many of the similarities are striking. Both leaders have seen their people thru tough times: Paterno - the 21st century (the Zack Mills era), Castro - his entire regime (the Castro era). In recent years, both have had public digestive tract issues: Paterno - running off the field during a game in 2006 due to an "intestinal emergency", Castro - a case of diverticulitis early last year. Both have trouble beating Michigan: Paterno hasn't beaten Michigan since 1996, and Castro never has. Both have in recent years heard many people calling for his ouster. Both have succession plans that may include close relatives: Paterno - his son Jay, Castro - his brother Raul.

Castro is stepping down. Can JoePa be far behind?

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