The Cavalier Daily
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Taliaferro stands as testament to human triumph

If football is synonymous with war, then Happy Valley is college football's ground zero.

It is here - nestled among the Commonwealth's mixture of mountains and valleys - that Joe Paterno has erected a football republic of Spartan fortitude, capturing two national titles and notching five perfect seasons. In State College, Pa., they canonize their field generals like America lauds its military generals and churn out linebackers ferocious enough to send tremors through George Patton.

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  • Forget football's metaphorical association with war: Penn State football is war.

    At least it was ... until Sept. 23 of last year, when all that changed.

    On that day, 18-year-old Adam Taliaferro - a Nittany Lion freshman cornerback - lowered his head to deliver the most mundane of tackles.

    Weighing 183 pounds, Taliaferro obeyed instinct and coaching when zeroing in on Ohio State's Jerry Westbrooks - a 231-pound runner. Instead of clashing with him straight on, Taliaferro cut his legs out from under him.

    Predictably, Westbrooks spilled to the turf. Shockingly, Taliaferro snapped his neck in the process.

    Paralysis resulted, and even after spinal fusion surgery fastened the neck nerves back together, the prognosis for recovering substantial feeling in his legs maxed out at 10 percent.

    A lifetime spinning a wheelchair appeared inevitable.

    A walker? Miraculous.

    Crutches? Unfathomable.

    Eleven months later, Adam Taliaferro walks to class every day, drives his car to the grocery store and hopes to resume jogging soon.

    At this time last year, we were all left wondering if he could resume living.

    Taliaferro's tragedy sent shock waves through the football community - they hit hardest in the sport's sacred land, squarely in the heart of the game's foremost ambassador.

    After his club's spirited upset of Purdue the very week after Taliaferro's injury, Paterno shed his normally stoic demeanor. Tears dripping beneath his ubiquitous black shades, Joe Pa looked directly into a television camera and said, "We're cheering for you, kid."

    In dorm rooms and homes across the country, we cheered with him. Eleven days ago, we roared our approval when - in a moment for which medicine offers no explanation - Taliaferro led his teammates out of the tunnel and onto the field for their opener with Miami.

    To this day, Taliaferro asks "why me?" not about the shattered spine that ended his football career, but about his one-in-a-million comeback.

    Washington safety Curtis Williams suffered a similar impairment last year, yet he remains paralyzed from the neck down. Former Mississippi defensive back Chucky Mullins not only lost use of his limbs in a violent collision, but two years later died from a blood clot in his lungs because of complications from the spinal trauma.

    Taliaferro's gait barely shows a hitch.

    "I'm blessed," he admits.

    His father puts it another way: "Divine intervention."

    Thursday night, the ageless Paterno will direct his troops into battle against Virginia. Though Taliaferro won't be in attendance, his story will reverberate throughout Scott Stadium as a joyful reminder that football can still be a game without being a war; an opposing wide receiver need not be lambasted on a crossing pattern to elicit cheers; and together we can celebrate humanity in the form of Taliaferro.

    That's how they think in Happy Valley these days. It wasn't always this way. Penn State formerly featured a legion of Lion lovers as blood curdling and manic as they come.

    That is, until Adam Taliaferro offered up an olive branch.