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Paterno the toast of the town

Penn State coach having a good time in Los Angeles before today’s Rose Bowl.

Head coaches Joe Paterno of Penn State, left, and Pete Carroll of Southern Cal, pose for photographs in Los Angeles with the Leishman Trophy. The trophy is awarded to the Rose Bowl champion. USC plays Penn State in the Rose Bowl today in Pasadena.


LOS ANGELES – Joe Paterno will not be back on the sideline coaching in today’s Rose Bowl. But he was trying to negotiate with USC counterpart Pete Carroll to pull it off.

“About five, six days ago, Pete and I were together, and he asked me what I was going to do,” Paterno said Wednesday. “I said, ‘I think I’m probably going to go upstairs. But if you would agree not to throw the ball more than 15, 18 times…we can get that game over in less than three hours. And I might be on the sideline.’ Pete said to me, ‘If I see you on the sideline, we’re going to throw it 50 times!’ ... I don’t think I can win that one.”

The Trojans might still chuck it up often against the Penn State secondary, but Paterno will have to see it from up in the coaches booth, where he has remained since the sixth game of the season to rest his ailing right hip.

Paterno has been moving around much better since having hip replacement surgery Nov. 23 and spent much of Tuesday’s practice on his feet instead of in the golf cart he’s used for much of the season.

But in the end, Paterno decided to play it safe despite actively working toward getting back on the field.

“I don’t think I can handle three-and-a-half hours, four hours on the sideline,” Paterno said. “I think I’d be a distraction on the sideline. Let me put it that way. I think everybody will be worried about somebody bumping me. And the staff has been so good, and all those guys know me, and they know how to operate without me. I’ll be upstairs.”

Nagging health issues aside, Paterno retained much of the good mood he’s carried with him this season and managed to upstage Carroll in their back-to-back press conferences.

The perpetually upbeat Carroll had a mostly low-key Q&A while Paterno had the room laughing for much of his session.

At one point he even gave a slight ribbing to recently-departed quarterback Pat Devlin, whose name came up once during the session with Paterno playfully pretending to not know who Devlin was.

Some more laughs stemmed from a Hollywood reference by Carroll, who described Paterno as “the life of the party” at a coaches dinner Tuesday night.

“His spirit is so strong and his love for this game and coaching comes through in everything,” Carroll said. “He’s a remarkable person, to be able to carry this kind of spirit for so long through his career. He might be the living image of Benjamin Button here. He’s got all kinds of life to him.

“I think any person that’s in his eighties that can see what he’s like and what he’s all about would marvel at his way.”

The Button reference – a new movie based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who is born old and ages backward – had to be explained to Paterno, who could only smile about it.

“You know, the last movie – I’ve seen two movies in the last 40 years,” he said. “E.T. and Titanic. And I wondered when I saw Titanic, it felt like I was in the bath. I said to Sue (his wife), ‘What in God’s name?’ I don’t go to movies.”

One imagines he was referring to the James Cameron movie and not the actual luxury liner.

“I’m sure Pete meant it in a very nice way,” Paterno concluded with a grin. “And I’m gonna write him a note and tell him thanks.”

It’s not quite the same effect, but with his new hip, Paterno is at least feeling younger. At least until his team takes the field against the Trojans today, something that might start him aging again.

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