True to his word, Joe Paterno came jogging out of the tunnel to open the 2007 season. This was at age 80 and 10 months removed from major surgery to repair a broken left leg and torn ligaments in his left knee.
Now, a month from his 82nd birthday, he’s on his way to a similar comeback.
Paterno, who underwent hip replacement surgery on his right side on Sunday, was far enough along in his recovery to get an early release from Mount Nittany Medical Center on Tuesday, according to the athletic department.
Last Friday at a pep rally in Rec Hall, Pateno not only vowed to return to coach in 2009, despite his contract expiring after the bowl game, but to “run out of that tunnel” again.
With a new hip and his usual determinedness, Paterno may end up doing just that.
Penn State said in a release that Paterno “no longer experiences hip-related pain and will continue his rehabilitation at home.”
While in the hospital, Paterno began working on schedules to prepare for the Nittany Lions’ bowl game – most likely the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 against Oregon State or USC.
Paterno gave the team the week off for Thanksgiving after thumping Michigan State on Saturday to win the Big Ten title and an automatic bid into the BCS. He is expected to be back coaching the team when practices resume on Monday.
The injury reportedly occurred while Paterno was performing an onside kick in a drill during a practice early in the season.
He was in noticeable discomfort standing on the sideline in Week 3 at the hard turf in Syrcause’s Carrier Dome. The following week against Temple at home, Paterno spent the first half on the sideline before adjourning to the coaches booth at halftime.
A week later in a night game in Beaver Stadium vs. Illinois, Paterno spent the entire game on the sideline, but it would be his last appearance there during a game for the rest of the season.
It appears for now that none of that will prevent him from coaching in the bowl game, though it’s too early to tell if he will be back on the field.
Whether it’s in January or next September, players believe he’ll make it back there eventually, with retirement still an afterthought.
“He never said anything to us about (the bowl) being his last game,” senior receiver Deon Butler said. “He’s such a fixture around here, I don’t think anyone thinks about it. This isn’t the first time that the end of the season came and people didn’t know if he was going to be back or not.
“We kind of just see him here as having an eternal life here, so we weren’t bothered about it.”
Penn State isn’t willing to hand over the Bednarik Award just yet.
Sophomore defensive end Aaron Maybin has been named one of three finalists for the trophy, which is given to the nation’s top defensive player. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and USC linebacker Rey Maualuga are also in the running for the award, which will be presented on Dec. 11.
A Penn State player has won the Bednarik for the last three years, with linebacker Paul Posluszny taking it in 2005 and 2006, and linebacker Dan Connor winning in 2007.
Maybin was one of 10 Lions to be named first-team All-Big Ten this week along with Navorro Bowman, Gerald Cadogan, Daryll Clark, Kevin Kelly, Jared Odrick, Rich Ohrnberger, Anthony Scirrotto, A.Q. Shipley and Derrick Williams.
Paterno won Big Ten Coach of the Year and Shipley took Offensive Lineman of the Year.
The main photo on the front page of The Times Leader’s sports section on Sunday featured defensive tackle Abe Koroma walking off the field after Saturday’s win with one rose in his teeth and another in his hand.
Right next to him, though not identified in the caption, was a No. 97, who happened to be none other than Meyers product Gino Raineri.
Raineri, a true freshman walk-on working at long snapper this season, has not yet been listed on Penn State’s official roster. Team policy requires walk-ons who aren’t among the 105 players in preseason camp to be with the team for a full semester before appearing on the roster.