Friday, August 29, 2014
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JoePain

Call it what you will, but Joe Paterno keeps on plugging along despite a recent knee injury. Unfortunately, part of this morning's story was trimmed (a recurring theme). Here's how it should have read:

JoePain

Call it what you will, but Joe Paterno keeps on plugging along despite a recent knee injury. Unfortunately, part of this morning's story was trimmed (a recurring theme). Here's how it should have read:

By Jeff McLane
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Thirty years ago, when he was a half-century old, Joe Paterno ignored the advice of his doctors.

The Penn State football coach, still not the legend he is today, had just undergone a hernia operation in State College. Under doctors' orders, he was not to do anything but rest.

The ever-busy Paterno, of course, had places to go, people to see. First he had to meet Alabama coach Bear Bryant in New York. Then he had to catch up with his family on vacation in Avalon, N.J.

"So he gets in his car, drives to New York, and has dinner with Coach Bryant, and then drives three hours down the Shore at 1 o'clock in the morning," said his son Jay, who was around 10 at the time. "He was bleeding through the stitches, and my mom was irate. There are all kinds of stories like that."

For those close to Paterno, 81, it was almost no surprise that he was on the sideline when Penn State kicked off to Temple on Saturday. Three weeks earlier, he had injured his right leg in practice when he attempted an onside kick.

Paterno strained his knee, but masked the wound for two weeks before it became obvious that he was hobbling during the Syracuse game. Like all Paterno rumors, the one that he was going to coach against the Owls from the coaches' box spread like an infectious disease.

However, when the gate to the Beaver Stadium tunnel opened, the coach led his team out. Only this time, rather than run, as he used to, or jog, as he had more recently, Paterno walked. Still, his presence alone meant something to his players.

"He's a fighter," wide receiver Deon Butler said. "We know how bad he wants to be down on the sideline and how easily he could say, 'I'm going to sit up in the booth.' But he's right down there on the sidelines fighting with us, and that puts that little bit of extra fire under our belts to want to perform and do well."

With the Nittany Lions ahead, 31-0, Paterno moved up to the box for the second half, although he said he could have stayed. On Tuesday, he said he intends to be on the sideline for Saturday's prime-time clash between 12th-ranked Penn State and Illinois, ranked 22d.

Some may call it bravery, others pride, and still others stubbornness. It's likely a combination of the three that has driven Paterno to continue into nearly his sixth decade of coaching.

"You can call it whatever you want, but I think it's just personal discipline," said Jay Paterno, the Lions' quarterbacks coach. "He's not one of those guys that's going to feel sorry for himself."

Still, Paterno hasn't liked the one concession he has made - stationing himself in a golf cart during practice. Tom Venturino, the university's director of football operations, chauffeurs him around, but it has kept him from digging in during drills as he used to.

"If he has something to say to you, he'll just call you over and he'll let you know what he has to tell you," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "When he's not on a golf cart, he runs to you and he's all in your face."

Bryant famously watched the Crimson Tide from a practice tower. As he got older, though, it became a crutch.

Paterno has had a few health issues of late. Two years ago, his left leg was broken, and he suffered ligament damage in a sideline collision. He missed a game and sat in the booth for the final two games of the season. And last May, he was taken to the hospital after complaining of dehydration.

Asked if he was concerned that Paterno's health would affect his ability to coach, Penn State president Graham Spanier responded in an e-mail: "I think he is doing a remarkable job with the team, which is being coached superbly."

There is concern, though, that the injury is worse than Paterno, who is in the last year of his contract, is letting on.

"I asked Wayne Sebastianelli, and he said 'doctor-patient relationship' and laughed," Jay Paterno said, referring to the team doctor. "I don't worry about him. He's taken care of himself this long. As he said to me: 'I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself.' "

And yet, like a 50-year-old man who drives to two places immediately after surgery, or an octogenarian who tries to kick a football two years after leg surgery, there may come a time when even he doesn't know what's best for him.

Maybe.

"I'm giving up my onsides kicking for a while," Paterno said Tuesday.

 

About this blog
Joe Juliano has been a staff writer for The Inquirer for 20 years, covering college sports, golf and the Penn Relays.

This season is Joe's fourth season on the paper's Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for United Press International from 1976 to 1984.

Joe Juliano
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