STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The significance of the moment was embraced and understood by everyone at Beaver Stadium, both young and old.
Moments after Penn State beat Northwestern 35-21 to give coach Joe Paterno his 400th career win, Nittany Lions running back Stephfon Green darted through the crowd, holding a sign that read: "400 The Paterno Way."
"Who wants to hold my helmet?" Green asked frantically. "So I can run around and act the fool."
The delirium extended to Green's fellow students, who chanted "We love Joe" and "Joe Pa" in the final moments of the Lions' historic come-from-behind win.
A different sort of joy enveloped Jay Paterno, the Penn State quarterbacks coach and Joe's second-oldest son, when asked to reflect on what his dad had accomplished.
"I told my mom last week after we beat Michigan, 'Is everyone coming in next week?'" Jay said. "She goes, 'No, why?' I said, 'Well, mom, I hate to tell you, but this is kind of a big deal.' Four hundred wins really hasn't been done at this level. It's only been done by two other guys."
Jay Paterno began to choke up.
"I'm a student of the game," he continued."I love the history."
The man who has been such a big part of that history also was moved by the moment. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Penn State players hoisted Joe Paterno on their shoulders and carried him to midfield.
Normally a no-no with Joe, Paterno didn't mind the escort. In fact, he enjoyed it. A little.
"They had me up there before I knew it," he said. "I was hoping they wouldn't. I'd be dishonest if I told you that it wasn't a moving night for me. It was. The crowd, the university making a presentation to me ... all of that was nice. The carrying me off the field, we've all got a ham in us.
"It felt pretty good."
Fittingly, Paterno's 400th win had several historical connections.
Penn State recorded its largest home comeback in Paterno's 45 seasons (it tied for the largest under Paterno home or away after a comeback from 21 points down against Illinois in 1994). The previous record at home was a rally from 18 points down against Ohio State in 2001. That win marked Paterno's 324th and moved him past Paul "Bear" Bryant for the top spot in all-time coaching victories at the FBS/Division I-A level.
Just like that day, when Zack Mills led a second-half rally, Penn State turned to a reserve quarterback for heroics. Sophomore Matt McGloin relieved Rob Bolden and led five consecutive touchdown drives, completing 18 of 29 passes for 225 yards and four touchdown tosses.
"We were down 21-0 and all I could think of was the Ohio State game," Jay Paterno said.
JayPa reminded the players of a different rally Saturday morning, a fourth-quarter comeback against Northwestern in 2005 that required a fourth-and-15 conversion. Penn State went on to win the Big Ten and the Orange Bowl.
Jay Paterno text-messaged Michael Robinson, Penn State's quarterback that day in Evanston, and wrote: "Without fourth-and-15, there may not have been a 400."
McGloin was too young to remember the 2001 Ohio State game or the parallels there, but he didn't have to. Saturday's comeback belonged to this team.
It was their moment in history.
"To see them come back the way they came back," Joe Paterno said, "it sounds corny, but that really was probably more important to me than whether it was 350 wins or whether it was 400 wins. Some of these kids now know what it takes to get it done."
Northwestern dominated the first 29 minutes, playing flawlessly in all three phases and getting gutsy play from quarterback Dan Persa (201 pass yards, touchdown; 109 rush yards, 2 touchdowns). The Wildcats went up 21-0 with just 56 seconds left in the first half, and a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff backed up Penn State to its own 9-yard line.
McGloin's initial mind-set: sit on it, cut your losses and don't make this any worse.
Then Evan Royster had a nice run on first down. Four plays later, Penn State reached Northwestern territory on Green's 21-yard run.
McGloin's revised mind-set: get close enough for a field goal.
Then he connected on back-to-back 20-yard passes, setting up first-and-goal at the 7. Two plays later, McGloin found a leaping Brett Brackett in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with three ticks left, completing a nine-play, 91-yard drive in 47 seconds.
McGloin's re-revised mindset: we can win this thing.
His confidence grew even more when Penn State marched 84 yards in 14 plays to begin the second half.
"The fans were into it, the sideline was into it, I was feeling great, everyone was feeling great," he said. "We acted as if we were winning at that point."
Penn State racked up 358 yards on its five touchdown drives. McGloin was on point, the offensive line held its blocks and running backs Royster (134 rush yards) and Silas Redd (131 rush yards) wore down the Wildcats.
"Everybody felt once we got the momentum, it wasn't going to go away," Royster said on the field after the game. "And that was the case."
The defense did its part, holding Northwestern to one first down and 32 yards in the third quarter.
"We just knew," defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu said. "You kind of feel that mojo coming."
It came in a hurry as Penn State scored 35 points in 18:25.
Paterno's party continued after the game, as Penn State held an on-field ceremony that included a video tribute and a crystal football given to the coach to commemorate No. 400.
"People ask me why I've stayed here so long," Paterno told the crowd of 104,147, none of whom went home. "Look around!"
Then, in typical Paterno fashion, he looked ahead.
"Let's go beat Ohio State."