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Monday, August 8, 2011
Is the field too dangerous for JoePa?

By Adam Rittenberg

If for some reason I make it to age 84, I can only dream to be half as healthy as Joe Paterno.

Joe Paterno
Penn State head coach Joe Paterno will be back on the sidelines this season despite a collision with a player in practice.
The guy still moves around well, especially after his hip-replacement surgery in 2008. He doesn't use a cane or a walker and can get up and down stairs with few problems.

But he's still 84 years old. And unlike his contemporaries, he's in a line of work that carries risks, namely 19-year-old projectiles zooming around at extremely high speeds.

Paterno's occupational hazard cropped up Sunday during a practice at Penn State, when a player doing a drill "blindsided" the legendary Nittany Lions coach. Paterno suffered injuries to his right arm and hip, the school announced Monday. A source tells colleague Joe Schad that Paterno suffered at least one hairline fracture after an offensive player ran into him.

The good news: Penn State team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli doesn't think Paterno's injuries will require surgery. And, according to a news release, Paterno "walked away" after the collision. Paterno conducted a coaches' meeting Monday morning from the hospital, where he was undergoing tests, and should return to the team soon.
"I expect to be back at practice soon. I'm doing fine; tell everyone not to worry about me," Paterno said in a prepared statement. "I like the effort I have seen from the squad during our first few practices, but we have a long way to go to get ready for the schedule we have."

JoePa's toughness has never been in doubt. I'm sure people will marvel in the fact he walked away from Sunday's incident. Some will joke, "Watch out, Joe!"

But is it safe for JoePa to be on the field anymore?

Paterno suffered a broken leg and a damaged knee ligament in 2006 when a player ran into him on the sideline during a Penn State-Wisconsin game in Madison. The coach also suffered a hip injury in 2008 while demonstrating an onside kick during preseason practice.

Injuries happen on the football field, even to coaches, but Paterno's case is unique because of his age. Any type of fall can be a big deal for older folks. It can lead to serious problems.

Paterno will be back on the field for Penn State. It'll take more than this to keep him away. A source tells Schad of Paterno: "He's come back from worse."

But the risks remain, and we can only hope Paterno avoids further problems on the field.