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The Lion Stalks 300

Paterno Should Reach Milestone Against Bowling Green, and What's So Interesting About That?

September 11, 1998|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What is so intriguing about a coach once described by a sportswriter as "cranky, tyrannical, dictatorial, blunt, scathing, charming, beguiling, entertaining and witty--all in the span of 30 minutes."?

When asked what Paterno has meant to Penn State, from what perspective is Penn State President Graham Spanier speaking when he says, "You couldn't put a value on it."?

What does it suggest, really, that Paterno employs six assistant coaches who have been with him 10 years or longer, one for 28, another for 31?

What municipal code requires us to care what offensive coordinator Fran Ganter, beginning his 29th season as a Nittany Lion assistant, thinks of Paterno's approaching milestone?

"It's a really big deal," Ganter says. "I know he wouldn't want to hear us say that. And [the coaching staff doesn't] talk about it. I mean, that has not come up once. Well, he brought it up once and said, 'I don't want to hear anything about it.'

"But it's monumental. It's really just an amazing, amazing feat, as he always says, 'just to be in the same store all these years.' "

What does it matter that Paterno, like Sinatra, did it his way, that Paterno called his quest for academic and athletic excellence his "Grand Experiment," that he still designs plays while taking long walks in the woods north of his home?

Or that he refuses to own a beeper or cellular phone?

That Paterno, in fact, says "someone ought to shoot" the inventors of the fax machine and e-mail because "I hate to answer anything until I can put it on a desk and leave it there for a day and think about it."?

Why should anyone in accounting be keeping track of the records and the anecdotes of this former undersized quarterback from Brown, such as the time Penn State players fell down laughing as Paterno fished for his Coke-bottle glasses, a la Mr. Magoo, after losing them while demonstrating a blocking technique?

Why was it so important for Paterno to have made public stands on race, to have roomed black players with white, to have changed so dramatically with the times?

Where is the public need to know that the Paterno who inherited the program from Engle on Feb. 19, 1966, is not the Paterno of today?

That Ganter says Paterno's ability to adapt has allowed him to survive the cultural sieges of rock, disco, punk, new wave and rap?

Or that Paterno rode out these sieges in his den while listening to the work of his musical heroes--Verdi, Puccini and Beethoven?

"The players are much closer to him than we ever were," says Ganter, a fullback for Paterno in the late 1960s before joining the staff. "We would get to the other side of the street, seeing him coming the other way. These kids will cross the street and give him a hug."

Is it really necessary to know that, in the old days, it was Joe's way or the Pennsylvania turnpike? That he could be brutally frank and intimidating?

That he is a man about whom Cappelletti says, "I was a co-captain but I never remember approaching Joe one time to have a conversation with him. I never wanted to be the one who goes in and says, 'Hey, Coach, I think we should be allowed to have beards.' That just wasn't me. He was a little unapproachable."?

What writ requires that anyone know that Paterno, the son of a lawyer, was a control freak, a football mastermind who micro-managed the program down to the sheets of toilet tissue?

Or that his wife used to joke about getting lead poisoning from the bedsheets because Joe fell asleep jotting notes on his pad with a No. 2 pencil?

"For a while, he did it all," Ganter says. "He was the academic advisor, the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator and called every play and every defense. I don't know that people know that. From probably '67 through the mid-'70s, he called every play on offense and defense. He devised both game plans. He had the defensive game plan on Monday and then came in with the offensive plan on Tuesday."

Would it not bore men to tears to learn that Paterno thought he had lost touch with his players after the 1992 season, when a 5-0 Penn State start turned disastrous, his Nittany Lions losing five of their last seven games and being embarrassed, 24-3, by Bill Walsh's Stanford in the Blockbuster Bowl?

And that, instead of calling it quits, Paterno looked himself in the mirror and decided he was the problem and began conducting weekly "breakfast club" chat sessions with players that continue to this day?

Or that, only two seasons after 1992, Penn State went 12-0, won the Rose Bowl and might have won a third national championship if not for the vagaries of the college polling system?

What person with a life would dog-ear a single page of a book about a man who has no intention of slowing down without a fight?

About a man who says, "I don't have anything else I really want to do. I don't want to play golf or fish. I don't hunt. I wouldn't want to hang 'em up, go down to Florida and wait for the cocktail parties."?

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