STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The rolled-up khakis, the thick-rimmed glasses, the nasally voice: the familiar sights and sounds of Joe Paterno returned briefly on Tuesday to Penn State.
More than a week after undergoing left leg surgery, the 79-year-old head coach felt well enough to come to practice, and might even be back in a Beaver Stadium press box for this weekend’s regular-season finale, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said Tuesday.
“We’re assuming that’s where he’ll be, but you never know where he might end up,” Bradley said with a sly grin. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on the 50 (yard line), OK? Somehow, some way.”
That might be a stretch, given that a team doctor has said he would allow Paterno to return on game days only if he’s calling the shots from above the field — and not on the 50-yard line — provided his recovery is progressing well.
It’s going well enough, though, that Paterno attended part of Tuesday’s practice as the squad readied for Saturday’s contest against Michigan State (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten). Because Paterno must stay off his feet for at least another five weeks, team officials have rigged a golf cart that allowed the coach to watch practice while keeping his legged propped up.
Paterno arrived at the practice facility Tuesday by van, staying for a half-hour and speaking to his Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) from a wheelchair.
One place Paterno won’t be going is back to his hometown of New York, where he was scheduled to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 5. Doctors have ordered Paterno to stay off his feet for a least another five weeks, so Paterno’s formal induction was moved to Dec. 2007, Hall of Fame offiicals announced Wednesday.
Paterno had surgery last week to repair a broken shinbone and two torn knee ligaments in his left leg, injuries sustained after getting hit along the sideline by two players on Nov. 4 at Wisconsin.
Adhering to doctors’ orders, Paterno sat out last week’s 47-0 win against Temple, missing just his second contest in 41 years as head coach. The only other JoePa-less game in that period was in 1977, after Paterno sat out following an accident involving his son, David.
Instead, Paterno watched his team from home on Saturday, forced to play armchair quarterback.
On Sunday afternoon, team captains Levi Brown and Paul Posluszny showed up at Paterno’s doorstep to present their coach a game ball. It was the first time Posluszny had seen Paterno since the Wisconsin game.
“Personally, it was good to see Coach,” Posluszny said Tuesday after Bradley and offensive coordinator Galen Hall substituted for Paterno during the coach’s weekly news conference. “He talked about the game, said he was happy with the way we played, and said that he wanted us to have a good week of practice leading into this game.”
JoePa might have even more incentive this week to return to Beaver Stadium: It will be the last home game for star linebacker Posluszny and 22 other seniors — a group that helped Paterno restore a winning veneer to the football program.
Bradley said the team has been trying to eliminate distractions, heeding a common mantra from their head coach. A win this week for Penn State means a likely berth in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.
“You can’t be bothered by all these different things, and most have adhered to it,” Bradley said when asked if things were returning to normal following last week’s attention on Paterno’s injury. “They know what they have to do to get themselves ready, whether their coach is on the field or not.”