TEMPE, Ariz. — Penn State may wear black shoes but, to hear almost everybody talk, they still wear the white hats here, especially when contrasted with Miami.
To Coach Joe Paterno, who played the same role in a bowl game with rough-and-tumble Oklahoma last year, the good guy-bad guy split is getting kind of comical.
"It's just that some days I'm not sure who the good guys are," Paterno said Tuesday.
But for Miami, which will defend its top ranking in Friday night's Sunkist Fiesta Bowl here, the problem with images is not always so funny. Anyway, how did Penn State acquire this reputation for such downright wholesomeness?
"I know a couple of guys on that team that are as crazy as I am," said Miami defensive tackle Jerome Brown. "It's just a big front, that Penn State is clean cut. When it's time to get down, they get in the dirt. They hit late, we hit late. Of course, we may hit a little later."
Brown, who staged a Miami walkout at a dinner for both teams, admits that the battle fatigues now favored by the Hurricanes contribute somewhat to Miami's rogue image. But, he adds, a blazer does not a gentleman make.
Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson is even chafing at the comparisons. Asked about Paterno earlier in the week, Johnson said, "Everybody respects Joe's image." Then, pausing for a slight smirk, he added, "And nobody would dare say anything bad about it."
One reason the teams will continue to be contrasted is that Johnson lets his players say whatever they like, and Paterno evidently does not. After the Miami walkout, Brown and teammates were available to elaborate on the reasons, most of which had to do with imagined insults concerning Coach Johnson's hairdo in a Penn State skit.
Penn State players, meanwhile were advised to keep their mouths shut regarding the affair. Several said "no comment," which came across as strange until quarterback John Shaffer admitted they had been told not to comment. Then he commented, "Whatever floats your boat."
Paterno did suggest that his team's reputation as the modern day Nelson family was somewhat flexible. Asked what he would do if 10 or 12 Penn State players had come to him before the trip and said that they were going wear combat fatigues on the team plane, Paterno said, "It depends which 10 or 12 players."
Can the Miami players really rip Johnson? Well, defensive tackle Dan Sileo had indicated that the coach's always-in-place hair might be off limits. But Alonzo Highsmith got away with something a Nittany Lion might not want to try with Paterno.
During bowl preparations while in Miami, Johnson installed a practice schedule that left very little time for Christmas celebration. The players dragged through the practices, and Johnson was struck by how little they smiled. He wondered why.
Then on the second day of practice, Highsmith, speaking not to Johnson but loud enough so that Johnson could hear him, said: "There's the Grinch who stole Christmas."
Johnson decided to give the team an extra day off. His heart got two sizes larger.
Back to Penn State's black shoes: "Oh, they're supposed to look slow because of those black shoes," said Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde, rolling his eyes. "That's an old trick. It won't fool us."
Paterno admitted that Penn State knows more about Miami's fabled passing attack than might be learned from films. Mark Tressman, a former Miami assistant, broke down the Miami passing game for Paterno. In addition, some Penn State offensive coaches visited the campus two years ago to study the Miami offense.
"They incorporated much of it into their own, even giving their plays the same numbers," Johnson said.
Paterno shrugged. Why not? Whose offense better to copy?
Johnson, however, is hardly disturbed. They can simulate his passing attack but they can't simulate his Heisman Trophy winner.
"You'd have to pull someone off the Denver Broncos (John Elway) or the kid from Cleveland (former Hurricane Bernie Kosar)," he said. "Although the kid from Cleveland wouldn't be able to do the rollouts."