Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was the center of attention at Friday’s 30th annual Penn State Night sponsored by the Greater Scranton Penn State Alumni Association and hosted at Genetti Manor in Dickson City.Pete g. Wilcox/the times leader
DICKSON CITY — The hoarseness in his voice disappeared as an autographed football dropped in his lap.
Joe Paterno looked up and saw A.J. Munchak – Lackawanna County commissioner and uncle to Penn State great Mike Munchak.
Yet another football from an NFL Hall of Famer for Paterno’s personal collection.
The eyes of the 81-year-old Penn State coach brightened as he recognized the man delivering the gift. Paterno’s voice – even scratchier than its normal sandpaper quality because of a cold and a few hours of schmoozing already under his belt – immediately picked up.
“Howya doin’, Unc? Uncle Munchak! I tell all the time when we used to sit in the living room (during recruiting) and Mike kept saying, ‘Aww, I’m not good enough, I’m not big enough…’”
The commissioner laughed in agreement as Paterno put on his best whiny-sounding impression of the Scranton Central High School offensive lineman who developed into one of football’s best.
Just one of countless anecdotes spun by Paterno on Friday evening at Genetti Manor, where he dropped by for Penn State Night hosted by the Greater Scranton chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association.
It was another stop on the spring tour for Paterno, who had already hit similar functions in King of Prussia, Camp Hill and Pittsburgh before making his way up to the northeast corner of the state.
And he’s had good reason to like the region lately. Especially after blue-chip West Scranton lineman Eric Shrive – a Munchak in the making? – surprised many by giving a verbal commitment to the Nittany Lions earlier this month. Invaders teammate Matt McGloin is heading to Happy Valley this summer as a preferred walk-on at quarterback.
Paterno – bound by NCAA rules to not mention recruits by name until they officially sign in February – laughed as he tried to talk around his staff’s recruiting coup without getting into specifics.
“I think we’re gonna have a good line down the road,” Paterno grinned, “and hopefully the combination (of guys coming in) will work.”
Shrive’s public announcement came on the same day as a brief trip to the hospital for Paterno, who was treated for dehydration, underwent some tests and was released late in the afternoon.
News of Paterno’s name in the same sentence as “hospital” drew arched eyebrows across the commonwealth and then the country, as his visit to Mount Nittany Medical Center made national headlines.
Not surprisingly, Paterno answered questions about his health with a dismissive wave of the hand.
“I’ve got a cold,” he admitted. “OK? Now ordinarily, if I had a cold, nobody would pay any attention. But you know because of that fiasco a few weeks ago. … Like I was dying! Well, I was on the plane the next day going to Texas.”
Indeed, Paterno seemed no worse for the wear as he flew to Austin the next day to serve as the keynote speaker at a dinner in honor of Texas coach Mack Brown.
Makes it easy to joke about in hindsight.
“I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” Paterno predictably said. “I said to the doc, ‘I gotta get outta here. I gotta go to Texas tomorrow.’
‘Maybe,’ he said, ‘we can keep it quiet.’”
Laughter from Paterno. Not in this age.
“Now ordinarily, if I had a cold, nobody would pay any attention. But you know because of that fiasco a few weeks ago. … Like I was dying!”