STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Joe Paterno sat with a small group of sports writers during an informal gathering Friday night at a local inn and discussed everything from football to Afghanistan to Bear Bryant to good bourbon.
While telling some very entertaining stories concerning Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach, Paterno injected, “He's up here (holding his right hand high) and I'm down here still trying to figure it out.”
Yesterday in Beaver Stadium, Paterno finally figured it out, finally got his second victory of the season and finally surpassed Bryant as the winningest coach in Division I-A with his 324th triumph.
And the Nittany Lions did it in memorable fashion, rallying from a 27-9 second-half deficit to defeat Ohio State 29-27.
“I am a very lucky guy and lucky to be at an institution such as Penn State,” Paterno said after the game. “This football team has been special in a lot of different ways because they have had nothing come easy to them and nothing will be easy from here on in, either.
“They hung in there when they could have called it quits a couple of times today. I am very proud of them. The one thing that keeps going through my mind is how many great moments I have had in coaching.
“These are great kids. This is going to be one heck of a team when all is said and done.”
Penn State's 0-4 start this season was its worst ever, spanning 115 years. The Nittany Lions' 20-0 loss to Michigan earlier this season was the first time a Paterno-coached team had been shut out at home. Penn State's 45-6 loss at Ohio State last year was the most lopsided setback in Paterno's career.
But now Penn State (2-4, 2-3) has won two straight and Paterno is 324-94-3 in his 36th season as head coach at Penn State and his 52nd year here overall. This was Paterno's 421st game as the head coach.
Friends of Joe and Sue Paterno and Penn State University commissioned a life-size, bronze sculpture of Paterno, which will be erected on the east side of Beaver Stadium in the near future. The statue is approximately seven feet tall and weighs almost 1,000 pounds. Paterno was also presented a ring with the inscription “324” on behalf of the university.
Asked if he ever envisioned such a career, Paterno said, “Who knows you can stay as healthy as long as I have stayed healthy. I never envisioned coaching this long. It's just that I felt good, and the pros (NFL) was not a way of life. My dad always said, `Make an impact, don't just be another guy.'”
Paterno has made an immense impact. He has had five unbeaten seasons (1968, `69, `73, `86, `94), two national championships (1982, `86) and is the bowl-wins leader with a 20-9-1 post-season record. He is second only to the University of Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg (41) in years coached at one school.