We don’t often give orders but today is an exception. On Saturday go see Joe Paterno coach his Penn State football team in the Metrodome. This might be your last chance to see the legendary Joe Pa coaching in Minneapolis.
Here’s the scoop: Paterno is 79 years old and with a birthday coming in December he is almost 80. After Saturday’s game, Penn State doesn’t return to Minneapolis to play the Gophers until 2010. How far away is that? Well, the Gophers will probably be playing their second season in the new on-campus stadium. Joe Pa will be closing in on his 84th birthday.
How much longer Paterno will coach is not known but there is speculation 2008 may be his last season. He can’t go on forever, right? It just seems like forever that Paterno has been part of college football. The Brooklyn native joined the Penn State coaching staff in 1950 as an assistant. He became head coach in 1966. He has been coaching at Penn State longer than five Big Ten Conference head coaches have been alive.
Along the way Paterno became one of the enduring and positive faces of college football. Untouched by recruiting and academic scandals, Paterno is the second winningest coach in Division I-A history (357 wins) and has forged a reputation for graduating players. He and his wife Sue have been donors to the Penn State library.
Paterno has been featured on TV’s “60 Minutes” and graced the covers of Sports Illustrated including last fall during his comeback season. Having finished with losing seasons four of the past five previous years, the heat was on Paterno in 2005 and his team responded by winning 11 of 12 games including a bowl victory over Florida State and coach Bobby Bowden, the only Division I-A coach with more victories than Joe Pa. Paterno was named AP Coach of the Year.
Penn State comes to Minneapolis Saturday with a 3-2 record. The Nittany Lions sometimes look sluggish on offense, but the defense is impressive and the two losses have been to national powers Notre Dame and Ohio State. A loss to the Gophers could easily point to yet another disappointing season at Penn State and bring the critics storming back to Paterno’s door.
When the losses pile up the reaction of many Penn State followers is to say Paterno is too old to be effective. Still, a man listens to Paterno on media conference calls for a few weeks and there is no sign Joe Pa’s memory and speech isn’t sharp. Watch him run on and off the field on Saturdays with the rest of his team and coaches, and you marvel at the “wheels” on this man who was born before the Great Depression. A few years ago, disturbed by an official’s call in a game, Paterno ran hard to catch up to the official and talk with him.
In the Ohio State game earlier this season Paterno did something he’s never done before. He ran off the field before the second quarter ended. He was ill with flu, headed for the locker room and then returned to coach in the second half.
It’s hard to keep Joe Pa away from the game, whether it’s advancing age or the flu bug. Still, the man with the nasally New York accent, oversize nose and large 1970s glasses can’t go on forever. So go see him at the dome on Saturday.Comments Welcome