HE IS 82 years old and so resistant to modern technology that he claims to not have a cell phone or know how to retrieve or send e-mail. It's a pretty safe bet he doesn't know much, if anything, about the newfangled Twitter craze that is sweeping the nation.
But despite some of his more hidebound ways, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is college football's ultimate maverick, tilting at the windmills of injustice as if he were Don Quixote in khaki pants, blue windbreaker, black field shoes and those trademark Coke-bottle glasses.
JoePa has won at least a few of the fights he's undertaken, perhaps most notably when the NCAA - an organization even more steeped in tradition and resistant to change than he is - instituted limited use of instant replay so that officials' disputed calls could be gotten right.
Other battles he has welcomed with the NCAA, the Bowl Championship Series hierarchy and even his own conference, the Big Ten, continue to be waged. And while Paterno shows no signs of giving up, time might be running out on him to live some of those perhaps impossible dreams that swirl around in his head. Nothing goes on forever, except maybe the Mississippi River, and that includes the Nittany Lions' grand old man of the sideline.
With the Big Ten meetings set for next week, the irascible Paterno plans to buttonhole commissioner Jim Delany and league athletic directors to again get reasonable explanations for why there is no movement to remove some of the roadblocks he views as impeding the growth of the game to which he has devoted his life.
Take the disinclination of NCAA and BCS honchos to even consider an eight-game playoff that would finally determine a true national champion, instead of the hodgepodge of computer rankings that almost always leave one or more teams feeling shafted. This past season the odd team out was undefeated Utah, from the non-BCS Mountain West Conference. Even the endorsement of President Obama for a playoff seems to have had little effect on university presidents and athletic directors who tend to move with the speed of melting glaciers.
"It makes sense that we have a playoff," Paterno said last night at the the 35th annual Daily News-Eagles City All-Star Game banquet at Dugan's Restaurant in Northeast Philly. "I don't know what the problems are, but I don't like to hear the phony reasons why they don't have it. 'The kids are going to spend too much time away from class.' Aw, come on. Look what they do with the basketball [NCAA Tournament]. All the other divisions in NCAA football have playoffs. I really think a playoff is fairer."
In 2004, when Southern California, Oklahoma and Auburn all finished the regular season undefeated, Paterno, then a voter in the USA Today coaches' poll, sent in a ballot on which those three teams shared No. 1. All that accomplished was to get him removed from the list of coaches who vote, a sort of blackball that continues to this day.
"They said, 'You can't do that,' " Paterno said of his decision to split his ballot into equal thirds. "They didn't want to count my vote, and they didn't. But what did they want me to do, go against what I believe is right? I can't do that. I won't do it."
While the path to a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) playoff is long, winding and strewn with guardians of the entrenched bowl system, Paterno has taken up a new cause. The Big Ten hasn't had 10 members since 1993, when Penn State was formally welcomed into the club as its 11th member, but Paterno thinks the time is right to extend an invitation to another university. His idea: Divide those 12 schools into two six-team divisions, with the champions of each playing for the conference title. That would provide the conference not only with an influx of revenue, but make it more relevant on the field. Paterno noted that the Southeastern Conference, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Conference USA already have expanded for those purposes, to their financial and competitive advantage.
"Again, I'm going to bring this up at the Big Ten meetings," Paterno said. "Sometimes you don't know all the reasons why something is how it is. There's tradition, obviously. But situations change. You can't always do what was done 40 or 50 years ago.
"All these other conferences play longer because they have league championship games. We're sitting around and nobody knows Big Ten football exists for 5 or 6 weeks. It hurts our recruiting. In addition to that, our teams are losing their edge competitively.
"I think we're hurting ourselves. There's a perception the Big Ten isn't as good a conference as it was, or isn't as good as some of the other conferences, because we don't do as well in bowl games. What do you expect when you start out with one hand tied behind your back? It's not fair to the kids.
As for his own team, Paterno has enough to worry about. The Lions, who take the field on Sept. 5 for the season-opener against the Akron Zips in Beaver Stadium, will have four new starters in the secondary, three new starting wide receivers and massive changes along both the offensive and defensive lines.
One of the newest Nits, St. Joseph's Prep offensive tackle Mark Arcidiacono, doesn't know where Paterno stands on every issue. He just knows that whatever it is, he supports the iconic figure he has dreamed of playing for ever since he can remember.
"It's unbelievable to have the opportunity to play for coach Paterno," Arcidiacono said. "I've been hoping for this my whole life.
"I've always been a Penn State fan. When the recruiting process began, I told myself to look at all my options. But, really, it was always Penn State."