And it wasn‚??t Penn State.
Cefalo had eagerly returned home to tell his parents, Charles and Gertrude, of his decision. He was surprised, however, to find them in the kitchen when he arrived.
Sitting with Joe Paterno.
As his mother ladled tomato sauce on Paterno‚??s pasta and his father poured the Penn State coach some of his homemade wine, Cefalo never even got the words out.
‚??At the age of 17, Joe was at my front door,‚?Ě Cefalo said. ‚??Pretty extraordinary for a kid from Pittston, Pennsylvania.
‚??I never had that conversation with my mother or father about the university I was going to go to. I was a Penn Stater from that moment forward.‚?Ě
It was one of many stories that stood out in the mind of the Luzerne County legend as he was invited to speak Thursday at ‚??A Memorial For Joe,‚?Ě one final goodbye for Paterno, who died Sunday of lung cancer at age 85.
Cefalo and five other Penn State lettermen ‚?? one from each decade that Paterno was a head coach ‚?? paid tribute to their former mentor before more than 12,000 people at the school‚??s Bryce Jordan Center.
Their stories were joined by a eulogy by the coach‚??s son, Jay Paterno, as well as scathing comments by Nike co-founder and Chairman Phil Knight toward state and university administrators in reference to the investigation into Jerry Sandusky.
Cefalo, a standout at Pittston Area, Penn State and with the Miami Dolphins in the NFL, said he was honored to speak for an entire decade of Lions players ‚?? the 1970s. Cefalo now hosts a morning news show on WIOD-AM in Miami.
‚??I‚??m 55,‚?Ě Cefalo said. ‚??I met him when I was 17. And he still guides me.‚?Ě
In a speech of about 13 minutes, Cefalo reflected on the laughs and lessons he had from Paterno, pausing at one point to jokingly ask for the audience‚??s forgiveness if he peeked behind him while talking.
‚??I was worried they were going to put Joe‚??s picture‚?Ě on the screens hanging in the background, he said. ‚??And I never did really well when he was looking over my shoulder. I was always very nervous.‚?Ě
Often, his message drew laughs. Cefalo talked about how Paterno famously recruited mothers more than he did players.
On that trip to his Pittston home, Cefalo joked that Paterno ignored him, instead remarking that his mother‚??s pasta was better than that of ‚??Mrs. Cappelletti‚?Ě ‚?? the mother of Penn State‚??s 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John.
He spoke of how, in his final semester at Penn State, after his playing career was over, he intentionally put in for a light class schedule.
Paterno, he said, summoned him to his office upon seeing it and chastised him, saying that the course load was ‚??beneath‚?Ě him.
When Paterno preached endlessly in practice about ‚??hustle,‚?Ě Cefalo said, ‚??I only came to realize later that he wasn‚??t talking about football. Hustle (in life) ‚?? something good will happen. Keep going.‚?Ě
That, Cefalo said, was the impact Paterno had on him and the rest of the state ‚?? everything he did off the field.
‚??He took the sons of coal miners,‚?Ě said Cefalo, pausing to control his emotions. ‚??And he took the sons of steel mill workers. And of farmers in rural Pennsylvania. All with the idea that we could come together and we would do it the right way. The Paterno way.‚?Ě
At the end of his speech, Cefalo cited one of Paterno‚??s most well-worn sayings that ‚??You always get better or worse. You never stay the same.‚?Ě
‚??I did today what I do every day,‚?Ě Cefalo said. ‚??I asked myself, ‚??Is today going to be better, or is it going to be worse?‚?? And I answered, ‚??It‚??s going to be a little bit worse.‚?? Because of the sadness of not having Joe here.
‚??But the world is a whole lot better for having known him.‚?Ě