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Paterno tribute film a 'great experience'

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

What started as a video tribute to Joe Paterno evolved into a movie that had Dana Marsh dabbing her eyes Saturday at The Oaks Theater in Oakmont.

“The Joe We Know” elicited laughter and tears during three showings at its one-day stop at the theater as former players recalled stories of playing for Paterno and imitated his trademark high-pitched voice with the Brooklyn accent.

Some also got emotional as they talked about the impact Paterno had on them, one that transcended football.

Perhaps no player during the 60-minute movie captured why Paterno's players are fiercely loyal to him more than former All-American linebacker Brandon Short.

Short grew up in a rough part of McKeesport and was raised by his grandmother after his mother died and his father battled drug problems.

Short, after a seven-year NFL career, earned his MBA at Columbia and now works for Goldman-Sachs in Dubai.

“I can say for certain that if it wasn't for Joe Paterno, I'd be dead or in jail,” Short said in the movie that included interviews with almost 70 former Penn State players. “The turning point in my life was coming to Penn State.”

Poignant interviews like Short's were why Marsh drove from State College to Pittsburgh to watch “The Joe We Know” even though she saw it after it premiered in February 2012.

“I think I cried more than the first time I saw it,” said Marsh, a 1992 graduate of Penn State who also got her MBA from the school.

The Pittsburgh-area viewings came as former Penn State players are pushing for a thorough examination of the Freeh Report and questioning its conclusion that Paterno was among a group that enabled former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky to sexually abuse young boys.

Fallout from the Sandusky scandal, however, is not what led a group of former players to collaborate on a lasting tribute to Paterno.

A group that included Short and Jeannette native Bob Capretto, a former Nittany Lions defensive back, started a grassroots filmmaking effort after Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2011.

The players hoped to show it to Paterno, but he died on Jan. 22, 2012, while the film was in post-production. The players surprised Paterno's wife, Sue, with a showing on Feb. 18, 2012, and it took off from there.

“We never intended to show it like this,” said Capretto, one of the film's executive producers, “but we got such a demand for it.”

The film also was shown in Baltimore, and six other U.S. cities have requested a viewing, according to its producers.

Dan Leri, a Freeport graduate who played at Penn State in the late 1970s, co-wrote the script.

“This is such a great experience,” Leri said. “We know how we feel about Joe and see you have similar feelings.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ ScottBrown_Trib.

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