UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In its 99-year football history, Penn State has won a national championship, had four undefeated, untied seasons and made 23 bowl appearances.
Things that can't be measured by traditional standards are what counts to Coach Joe Paterno, however, as the Nittany Lions celebrate their "Century of Excellence" this year.
"This business about 'winning is the only thing' is nonsense," the long-time Nittany Lion mentor said. "We tell our players, 'It's a game, enjoy it. Get yourself ready for a strong confrontation. Pull up your pants, look the other guy in the eye and give it your best. Either you can do it or you can't do it. Either way, enjoy it.' "
Penn State players have had considerable enjoyment over the years. In 99 seasons, they have won 604 games, lost 266 and tied 40.
Paterno makes no secret of his desire to win games. He just makes it clear that if victories come at any cost, they're not worth it.
"It's hard for me to picture myself in a situation where the only important thing is whether we win that game or not," he said. "College football doesn't mean that to me. I really believe there is something more to a college football experience than winning and losing.
"I think our players have enjoyed that approach and they have gotten a great sense of their capabilities now and what they can do later in life. It's the confidence they have gained in meeting that kind of challenge. That's why I'm in college coaching. I think I can do some good for young people."
Paterno has been with Penn State for 36 years, 16 as an assistant to Rip Engle and 20 years as a head coach, posting a record of 187-44-2. Paterno's Nittany Lions won the national title after the 1982 season with a 27-23 victory over Georgia and missed a chance for their second championship last season when they lost to Oklahoma, 25-10, in the Orange Bowl for their only defeat of the year.
Penn State also went 11-0 under Paterno in 1968 and 1969 and was 12-0 in 1973 but failed to win the national championship because of the perceived softness of the school's schedule.
The Nittany Lions got off to a successful start when they began playing the game of football in 1887 as they won both their games, outscoring their opponents, 78-0.
Their foes probably should have taken that as some kind of hint as Penn State had its first undefeated season, 6-0-1, in 1894. In 1938, the Nittany Lions went 3-4-1 under Bob Higgins, who was coach for 19 years, and that was the last season they lost more games than they won.
Higgins and his successors--Joe Bedenk, who was 5-4 in 1949, his only season on the job, Engle and Paterno--have gone 47 seasons with a non-losing record, an NCAA mark. In that span, Penn State has had only two .500 seasons, in 1965 and 1966.
The Nittany Lions made their first bowl appearance in 1923, a 14-3 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl, and have appeared in three Cotton Bowls, three Liberty Bowls, four Gator Bowls, four Orange Bowls, four Sugar Bowls, three Fiesta Bowls and one Aloha Bowl, posting a 14-7-2 record.
In 99 years, Penn State has had one Heisman Trophy winner--running back John Cappelletti in 1973, whose acceptance speech in which he paid tribute to his youngest, leukemia-stricken brother is reprinted in the school's media guide each year. He also had high praise for Paterno.
"I think Vice President Ford said, 'You can't compare life to a football game but I think you can compare a football game to life,' and I think this is what he has tried to show us in my four years there and in the years he has been there coaching and teaching," Cappelletti said. "I don't think there is a more dedicated man anywhere concerned with young people and a better teacher of life on and off the field."
While it's easy to measure a team by its record, Paterno has always used other standards.
"People ask me what our best team has been and I tell them I don't know yet," he said. "Our best team will be the one that produces the most people who lead active, productive lives in our society."