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Sunday, January 22, 2012
Parallels between Paterno and Bryant

By Adam Rittenberg

When asked why he didn't retire from coaching, Joe Paterno often was reminded of his friend, rival and fellow coaching icon, Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Paterno looked up to Bryant and coached against him five times (four times as a head coach, once as an assistant). Their last meeting took place Oct. 9, 1982, when Paterno's third-ranked Penn State team faced Bryant's fourth-ranked Alabama squad at Legion Field, in Birmingham, Ala. Alabama won the game 42-21.

Barely two months later, on Dec. 15, Bryant, 69, announced his retirement from coaching. Two weeks later, Alabama beat Illinois in the Liberty Bowl in Bryant's final game, giving Bryant 323 career coaching wins, the most in Division I history.

On Jan. 26, 1983, Bryant died after being admitted to a hospital with chest pains. He was just 29 days removed from his final game.

Paterno was keenly aware of the short time Bryant lived without football. Like Bryant, Paterno also passed away not long after he stepped away from coaching.

Paterno's death on Sunday morning in State College, Pa., comes 84 days after he coached his final game at Penn State.

Like Bryant, Paterno's final game came against Illinois. Had Paterno been allowed to coach the remainder of the season -- and his health had allowed him to -- his final game would have taken place Jan. 2 in the TicketCity Bowl.

Paterno recorded his 324th career coaching win on Oct. 27, 2001, moving him past Bryant for the most victories among major college coaches.

Paterno coached 46 seasons at Penn State. Bryant spent 38 seasons as a head coach, the final 25 at Alabama.

Although Paterno's departure from coaching was more controversial than Bryant's, the parallels between the two men, even in their deaths, can't be denied.