The Penn State Nittany Lions spent most of this season believing they’d be playing for college football’s national championship.
Instead, they’ll be playing in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champions.
That’s not a bad consolation prize for a program that wasn’t even projected to be Top 10 this year and looked like it was falling apart five years ago.
It would be a great way for Joe Paterno to go out in a blaze of glory.
Penn State’s legendary coach has a bad hip now, a couple of years after he was sidelined with a broken leg.
But while his health has looked shaky, his wisdom and his football program have not. Paterno has too much to offer to pack it in.
“He has done so much for me, outside of football,” Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark said. “The thing about Joe, he could easily give in and say, ‘This is going to be the last year.’ He’s been through so much. But he continues to come out to coach with that same intensity every day. And he’s going to be 82 years old! He’s talking football to you, and not showing any signs of regression at all.”
Behind Paterno’s passion, the Nittany Lions came roaring back from a devastating, last-second loss at Iowa and rallied to gain a Rose Bowl berth.
“The older you get, the smarter he gets,” said his son, Jay Paterno, who is one of Penn State’s offensive coordinators. “He’s trying to get people ready for life.”
For proof, Jay Paterno pointed to former Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, the star running back of Penn State’s last Rose Bowl team and last undefeated team in 1994.
“He’s running his own company now,” Jay Paterno said of Carter. “And he told me some of the key components that go into it – being on time, efficiency – are all things he learned playing at Penn State.”
Under Joe Paterno.
It is why Penn State should write Paterno a lifetime contract and have him fill in the numbers once his current deal expires in January.
Because whether he’s on the sideline or up in a booth, talking football strategy or the game of life, Paterno is invaluable to the program.
He made sure the rest of Penn State’s season didn’t crash and burn when the Lions watched their national championship dreams go up in flames.
“We could have hung our heads,” Clark said. “We could have not played well. We could have been out of the BCS altogether.”
The coach wouldn’t let it happen.
Paterno spoke with such passion during a Friday night meeting with his players that it brought tears to his eyes and inspiration to his team.
“I didn’t think there was any way we could lose,” said Lions senior wideout Deon Butler, who caught three touchdowns in Saturday’s Big Ten-clinching 45-18 victory over Michigan State.
“First time I’ve seen him that emotional,” Lions defensive end Josh Gaines said of Paterno. “It was a huge speech, got us ready to go.”
If Paterno was ready to go out in a blaze of glory, this would be the time.
But the only glory Joe Paterno has ever cared about are the honors bestowed on his players.
“It’s been great to see a bunch of kids get it done,” Paterno said.
He knows better than anyone that the biggest prize isn’t always within reach. But through resiliency, the result may wind up smelling like roses.