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|Joe Paterno won a Division I-record 409 games and two national titles in 46 seasons at Penn State.|
Paterno certainly had detractors, as well. One former Penn State professor called his high-minded words on academics a farce. He was criticized for making broad critiques about the wrongs in college football without providing specifics. A former administrator said his players often got special treatment compared to non-athletes. His coaching style often was considered too conservative. Some thought he held on to his job too long. There was a push to move him out in 2004 but it failed. But the critics were in the minority, and his program was never cited for major NCAA violations. However, the child sexual abuse scandal prompted separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA into the school's handling. At the highly anticipated wrestling match Sunday between Iowa and Penn State at Rec Hall on Penn State's campus, the gym announcer asked fans to observe a moment of silence, and then the capacity crowd of more than 6,500 gave a 30-second standing ovation while an image of Paterno flashed on two video boards. The screen flashed the words "Joseph Vincent Paterno. 1926-2012," just below a picture of a smiling Paterno, wearing a blue tie and blue sweater vest with arms crossed across his chest. At a women's basketball game Sunday, Penn State players wore a black strap on their shoulders in memory of Paterno. A moment of silence was also observed before the Nittany Lions men's basketball team's 73-54 loss at Indiana. Paterno played quarterback and cornerback for Brown University and set a defensive record with 14 career interceptions, a distinction he boasted about to his teams all the way into his 80s. He graduated in 1950 with plans to go to law school. He said his father hoped he would someday be president. When he was 23, a former coach at Brown was moving to Penn State to become the head coach and persuaded Paterno to come with him as an assistant. "I had no intention to coach when I got out of Brown," Paterno said in 2007 at Beaver Stadium in an interview before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. "Come to this hick town? From Brooklyn?" In 1963, he was offered a job by the late Al Davis -- $18,000, triple his salary at Penn State, plus a car to become general manager and coach of the AFL's Oakland Raiders. He said no. Rip Engle retired as Penn State head coach three years later, and Paterno took over. At the time, the Lions were considered "Eastern football" -- inferior -- and Paterno courted newspaper coverage to raise the team's profile. In 1967, PSU began a 30-0-1 streak. But Penn State couldn't get to the top of the polls. The Lions finished second in 1968 and 1969 despite perfect records. They went 12-0 in 1973 and finished fifth. Texas edged them in 1969 after President Richard Nixon, impressed with the Longhorns' bowl performance, declared them No. 1.
Calls for his retirement reached a crescendo in 2004. The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. In the Orange Bowl, the Nittany Lions beat Bobby Bowden's Seminoles.
“"I'd like to know," Paterno said later, "how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?" A national title finally came in 1982, in a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl. Penn State won another in 1986 after the Lions picked off Vinny Testaverde five times and beat Miami 14-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. They have made several title runs since then, including a 2005 run to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 campaign in 2008 that earned them a berth in the Rose Bowl, where they lost 37-23 to Southern California. In his later years, physical ailments wore the old coach down. Paterno was run over on the sideline during a game at Wisconsin in November 2006 and underwent knee surgery. He hurt his hip in 2008 demonstrating an onside kick. An intestinal illness and a bad reaction to antibiotics prescribed for dental work slowed him for most of the 2010 season. Paterno began scaling back his speaking engagements that year, ending his summer caravan of speeches to alumni across the state. Then a receiver bowled over Paterno at practice in August, sending him to the hospital with shoulder and pelvis injuries and consigning him to coach much of the season from the press box. "The fact that we've won a lot of games is that the good Lord kept me healthy, not because I'm better than anybody else," Paterno said two days before he won his 409th game and passed Eddie Robinson of Grambling State for the most in Division I. "It's because I've been around a lot longer than anybody else." Paterno could be conservative on the field, especially in big games, relying on the tried-and-true formula of defense, the running game and field position. "They've been playing great defense for 45 years," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in November. Paterno and his wife, Sue, raised five children in State College. Anybody could telephone him at his modest ranch home -- the same one he appeared in front of on the night he was fired -- by looking up "Paterno, Joseph V." in the phone book. He walked to home games and was greeted and wished good luck by fans on the street. Former players paraded through his living room for the chance to say hello. But for the most part, he stayed out of the spotlight. Paterno did have a knack for joke. He referred to Twitter, the social media, as "Twittle-do, Twittle-dee." He also could be abrasive and stubborn, and had his share of run-ins with his bosses or administrators. And as his legend grew, so did the attention to his on-field decisions, and the questions about when he would retire. Calls for his retirement reached a crescendo in 2004. The next year, Penn State went 11-1 and won the Big Ten. In the Orange Bowl, PSU beat Florida State, whose coach, Bobby Bowden, left the Seminoles after the 2009 season after 34 years and 389 wins. "I thought I could outlast him," Bowden said. "That was kind of my goal in my last years of coaching, but my record wouldn't allow it. I enjoyed [the battle with Paterno] and kind of fessed up to it. Joe would always say, 'Oh, I'm not interested in it.' At one time, I was ahead of him. He was the best." Bowden said he hopes Paterno will be remembered as a great leader and coach, and not for his role in the Sandusky scandal. "You can't ignore the great years he had at Penn State and the great things he did for Penn State," Bowden said. "That university is known for Joe Paterno and Sue. It's just a great tragedy." Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach was used in this report.
You can't ignore the great years he had at Penn State and the great things he did for Penn State. That university is known for Joe Paterno and Sue. It's just a great tragedy.” -- Bobby Bowden