Joe Paterno is up for playing the Buckeyes Saturday, even though it will be his 468th game as Penn State's head coach.
COLUMBUS - In the fall of 1949, Brown quarterback Joe Paterno returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown to help his team defeat Holy Cross and post an 8-1 season. A little over three years later, Jim Tressel was born near Cleveland.
That chasm of time between the two Big Ten coaches will never close. Tressel will be 53 later this year, just a couple of weeks before Paterno turns 79, four days before Christmas.
The two come from different generations, but share the same job, the same profession, and the same spotlight this weekend when Paterno's undefeated Penn State team hosts Tressel's once-beaten Ohio State Buckeyes.
Tressel, in just his fifth season at Ohio State but his 20th as a college head coach, marvels at his Penn State counterpart, who is working on his 40th season in charge. There have been 765 coaching changes in Division I-A since Paterno was hired as the boss at Penn State.
"I'm just trying to make it through my fifth year, day by day," Tressel said. "I don't know that you ever, at any point in the job, sit there wondering that far in advance. You work hard every day, and I'm sure coach Paterno simply did that."
Paterno has won 75 percent of his games over those four decades, and is just two wins away from 350. Tressel has won 178 games, but only 43 of those came at the Division I-A level. He is 43-12 at Ohio State, while Paterno is 348-116-3 with the Nittany Lions.
"As situations arose over the course of his career and the NFL came calling and all of those different things, the best thing for him and his family was to stay right there because it's a great place and a great program, and he's got his roots very deep right there," Tressel said. "I try not to think too far in advance about things like that. I just try to get through today's practice."
Paterno, who won four of six games against Ohio State coaching legend Woody Hayes, is 6-10 against the Buckeyes over his career. Tressel has won three of his four games against Paterno, but expects an extremely difficult time Saturday night in State College, where Paterno has made his home since 1950, when Harry Truman was in the White House.
"I know I grew up with my dad being at Baldwin-Wallace College for a long, long time - not 56 years, but 23 years at the same place as the head coach," Tressel said of his father, Lee. "That's just kind of the way I thought it was supposed to be."
Tressel, who would be two years shy of his 90th birthday if he stayed in Columbus as long as Paterno has been in Happy Valley, said he can only imagine the type of love forged with a program and a community over that kind of time span.
"It's something I think we would all dream of," Tressel said. "I had a chance to be 15 years at the same place, and you really become part of the community, part of the institution. Coach Paterno is not only a part of Penn State or the State College community, but he's a part of NCAA football.
"He's been through so much of the change throughout time and he's been one of the leaders of the game for academic reform and for all the various things that are good about the evolution of football. Every time we're at one of our Big Ten meetings, most of us head coaches just try to sit and absorb as much as we can from the great wisdom and experience and knowledge that coach Paterno has."
Paterno can talk about the Buckeyes' Ted Ginn, and what his Penn State team will have to do to contain the Ohio State sophomore speedster on Saturday. In the next sentence he shoots back through the time tunnel and spouts details of a game between the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions in 1956.
"I go back to when Rip Engle was our head coach, and I was an assistant," Paterno said. "We beat Ohio State 7-6 one year. They were undefeated, and we were nobody. We fooled them with a double-reverse pass thing."
For his part, Paterno has been a survivor. He has taken considerable heat recently, since four of the last five seasons for Penn State have been losing ones. He said he shares the youthful exuberance his players must feel with the Buckeyes coming to town.
"I still haven't gotten that little something out of my system that I am still not a kid going into a football game," Paterno said. "I am excited and I would suppose our kids are excited. I have not been downtown checking their pulses. I get up in the morning just checking to see if my heart is going."
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