STATE COLLEGE — Joe Paterno once set up a trip to the Sugar Bowl for Penn State against Alabama after a phone conversation with Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
It’s not that easy anymore to get invited to a big bucks bowl game.
Until Sunday, when the BCS lineup is announced, the 82-year-old leader of the No. 10 Nittany Lions will be like most other anxious Penn State fans — waiting on the sideline for the team’s postseason destination.
“So you really sit around and wait,” Paterno said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I feel a little frustrated compared to the old days.”
It doesn’t mean Paterno isn’t working the phones.
And while JoePa is famously adverse to using modern tools like e-mail, he’s all for a new digital campaign ramping up this week which will include video and e-mails to organizers of the Orange and Fiesta bowls touting Penn State’s postseason worthiness.
“I’ve told some people to do anything you can to make sure people understand that we’re going to bring a lot of fans ... and we have great television ratings,” Paterno said.
Penn State indeed is typically a big postseason draw. The school boasts in its e-mail to bowl organizers that they had 30,000 fans at last year’s Rose Bowl, and at least 35,000 fans for the Orange Bowl in 2006.
And Paterno, a Hall of Famer who is major college football’s career wins leader, remains one of the sport’s biggest draws. The 12.3 TV rating for Penn State-Florida State in the 2006 Orange Bowl was dramatically higher than the last three Orange Bowl games.
Revenue and TV ratings are just as important — if not more — than team records to bowl organizers in setting up matchups.
“We’re certainly trying to use the new technologies out there to try and tell our story as best we can,” athletic director Tim Curley said.
Penn State is No. 11 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, three spots ahead of the cutoff point to qualify for a BCS at-large berth. Iowa also qualifies for an at-large bid at No. 8.
But there are a couple strikes working against the Nittany Lions in trying to go to a second straight BCS game.
Big Ten champion Ohio State secured the conference’s automatic bid to the Rose Bowl. No more than two schools from any conference can play in the BCS, so either the Hawkeyes or Nittany Lions will be left out.
Iowa’s trump card is a win over Penn State at Beaver Stadium in late September.
Besides that victory, the Hawkeyes played one of the conference’s toughest road schedules with wins at Wisconsin and Michigan State before losing at Ohio State in overtime in the second-to-last week of the regular season.
But Iowa didn’t finish strong, either, in a lackluster 12-0 home win over Minnesota. Penn State’s last impression was a 42-14 rout of Michigan State at East Lansing.
The Hawkeyes also have a reputation of bringing fans to bowl games. The Fiesta Bowl is seen as a strong possibility, and Iowa team spokesman Phil Haddy says there are roughly 1 million transplanted native Iowans living in Arizona.
“We could probably sell out the stadium with nobody from the state of Iowa going down there,” Haddy said.
Iowa also has never been to the Fiesta, which will have one of the first two picks in the BCS selection order if Texas makes the national title game. The Big 12 has a conference affiliation with the Fiesta.
Working for Penn State with the Fiesta is its long history with the bowl and its undefeated record in six visits to Arizona. Paterno won his second national title there when Penn State beat Miami in the 1987 game in what still stands as the most-watched college football game ever.
If the Fiesta goes with a non-Big Ten team with its initial pick, the Orange might take a Big Ten team with the next selection. Penn State could be an especially appealing prospect for a game that has had subpar TV ratings the last three seasons.
The jockeying is spilling over to social networking site Facebook. Orange Bowl spokesman Larry Wahl said the bowl’s Facebook page has had a big spike in interest over the past week from fans promoting their schools.
Perhaps the biggest issue for both Penn State and Iowa is that each school has been out of the spotlight since their Nov. 21 regular season finales.
The Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day gets the first pick of Big Ten teams after the BCS, so either Iowa or Penn State will almost assuredly wind up there.
“Our problem now in the Big 10 , is that we’re out of the loop,” Paterno said. “Everybody is talking about everybody else except for Big 10 schools.”
So it’s another anxious week for JoePa.
“Honest to goodness, I don’t know,” Paterno said when asked the significance of a public relations campaign. “You hate to back away and say ’Maybe if you’d do this, you may have had an impact.’ ... I have an obligation to the team. I want to try to get the best matchup I can for this football team.”