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Joe Paterno 2000 Big Ten Profile

In light of the recent, disgusting events that have come out regarding Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual child abuse while working as an assistant under Joe Paterno's at Penn State, we feel that some of our archival content regarding Joe Paterno is worth revisiting now.

This article was originally published in the 2000 Athlon Sports Big Ten Edition.

Living Legend

Joe Pa’s brought a half-century of excellence to Happy Valley. Now, he has the Bear in his sights

The antique shop stands a few hundred feet removed from the Route 322, the rural road that snakes its way through the Pennsylvania wilderness and allows folks from Harrisburg and points southeast access to Happy Valley.

Sitting there on the dusty floor, at first unremarkable among the disorganized mess of goodies, is a quartet of blue and white televisions trays, relics from polyester days of the early 1970s.

But a second glance reveals something very remarkable. Not so much about these particular cheesy bits of Americana, but of the man whose unmistakeable mug has been screened upon them.

Meet Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, the only guy in the business who has been around long enough to have his face emblazoned on antiques. We’re not talking Junior Griffey’s rookie card here. These aluminum beauties are a quarter of a century old if they’re a day.

And, gauche though they may be, they’re about to climb in value.

Because Paterno, who is in his 35th year as head coach of the Nittany Lions, and his 51st year on the PSU staff, is on the brink of passing Alabama’s Bear Bryant for the top spot on the all-time major college win list. The 73-year-old needs six victories to tie the Bear at 323 and a seventh to claim the record as his own.

Considering the Lions have failed to capture at least seven games only three times in Paternon’s tenure as head coach, it’s a good bet the changing of the guard will occur this season.

But while Penn State’s sports information staff expects a deluge of credential requests as Paterno nears and passes the record — from the New York Tiimes to the Los Angeles Times and every outlet in between — there is one person who is not the slightest bit anxious for the big moment to arrive.

Joe Paterno himself.

The first of what will be hundreds of softball questions on the topic was lobbed at a press conference to kick off the Nittany Lions’ spring practice in late March. A reporter asked how he would react when the record became his. And Paterno responded as if he’d been bushwhacked by Jim Gray.

“I haven’t given it any thought,” he snapped. “You ask me questions coming out of the woodwork. I’m an Italian. Who knows how I’m gonna react for crying out loud? I may break down and cry, I don’t know.

“But that’s not gonna be a distraction, and it’s not gonna be anything I spend any time thinking about. If it happens, it happens. I’m more worried about making it happen.”

Barring some unforeseen disaster, he will make it happen. As for how he’ll react?

Well, after winning his 300th game (over Bowling Green at Beaver Stadium in 1998), Paterno broke into tears as he addressed the crowd. It was the first time anyone could remember him showing that particular emotion in public.

No one would be surprised to see more waterworks after Paterno passes Bryant. But those close to him insist the emotion won’t hit until after the record is passed.

“I’ve been around him long enough to know that he’s not gonna think about it until it’s over,” says Budd Thallman, PSU’s associate athletic director for communications. “That’s consistent. That’s how he was at 200 (wins), that’s how he was at 300. It’s almost like he has no clue. He’s remarkable in the way he dose that.”

He’s also remarkable in the way he endures. If Paterno’s health holds up, once he gets the record, it is doubtful anyone will catch him. Sure, Florida State’s 70-year-old Bobby Bowden has 304 wins and is charging hard. But the offseason saw Paterno sign a five-year contract extension, and he’s not entirely sure that will be his last deal.

“I really intend to coach at least five more years,” he says. “If I stay healthy and I can get the kind of people I have been able to get around me and work like they’ve been working, there is no reason I can’t coach five more years. I want to do it.”

As if to prove he’s up to the challenge, Paterno took the occasion of longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s recent retirement to shake up his staff, taking on more responsibility himself in the process. Sandusky used to have a free hand in guiding the defense. Replacement Tom Bradley can expect more input from the head man.

“I’m going to work with everything,” Paterno says. “I am going to have a hand in everything.”

And like the paraphernalia in that antique shop, he’s counting on improving with age. Which is why, even if Penn State wins its third national title in the next few years, he has no intention of slipping off into retirement.

“That has nothing to do with it,” Paterno explains. “Streaks have nothing to do with it, and records have nothing to do with it. I just get up in the morning and I like to coach. I don’t what I could do with myself that I could enjoy as well as I do coaching. That seems to be hard for people to understand. But people write books until they are 85, and why?”

Because they like writing, of course. Just as Joe Paterno likes coaching.

Antique or not.