To piece together a legend’s tale, you must first prove that it is not a myth. The legend of Joe Paterno is no myth. It is impossible to imagine an 83-year-old man coaching a college football powerhouse, but that impossibility has become reality. If "Joe Pa’s" Nittany Lions beat Northwestern Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium it will be his 400th career victory.
His career has spanned 61 college football seasons, 16 as an assistant to Rip Engle, and 45 as Rip’s successor at Penn State. For 45 years, he has roamed the Nittany Lions’ sideline as the "King Lion." He has been in Happy Valley for 13 presidential terms; from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. All 399 wins have come at one school, Penn State.
How fitting would it be for the man who put the "We Are" in "We Are Penn State" to pick up his 400th victory in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium, where he won his, 100th, 200th, and 300th games? He’ll be in front of 110,000 people who have come to love, and/or hate, "Joe Pa" depending on the season.
What a shame that people would call for a guy’s head who has 38 winning seasons in 44 years. How dare we call for a man’s head after all he has done, not just on the field, but off. On the field, we have seen five undefeated seasons, two National Championships, and three Big Ten Titles (Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993). He has 399 wins, 36 Bowl appearances and 24 bowl wins, all of which are the most in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history. He is the only coach to ever win all five major bowl games: Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar and Cotton.
Off the field, Paterno has given back an estimated $4 million to the university. He helped raise over $13.5 million in 1997 to expand the campus library. But what may be "Joe Pa’s" greatest asset is his master plan, "The Grand Experiment." The results over the last five years include a 51-13 record and an 89 percent graduation rate.
But for those who know what Paterno is all about, that is all meaningless to him in the grand scheme of it all. He would much rather talk about the quarterback battle this week between Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin, and how tough Northwestern is. But if you have ever listened to the man speak, you know that is just "Joe being Joe." You know, the Joe that told Nixon to shove it. The one that rolls his pant legs up and wears bifocals that are actually older then he is. The man who thinks football would be better off without facemasks.
With all that "Joe Pa" has done for college football, it could be argued that he is the face of college football. People still try to run him out of town, but the truth is whoever you root for, if you don’t respect Joe Paterno, than you simply are not a true football fan.
One thing is certain, and that is Paterno’s 400th victory, whether it is this week or next year, it will be cemented in college football history. It is one record that will never be broken. Keith Jackson once said, "His mother wanted a doctor, and his father wanted a lawyer or an engineer, and all they got was a legend."