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Published: Sunday, 9/24/2006

Illness forces Paterno to leave field twice


COLUMBUS - Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who will be 80 years old in December, twice had to leave his team's game with top-ranked Ohio State yesterday due to illness.

Paterno, battling the flu, was not on the sideline during several critical junctures, turning over the reins on the field to defensive coordinator Tom Bradley.

Paterno went off the field in full stride in the first half, jogging down the Penn State sideline and cutting across the end zone on his way to the Nittany Lions locker room, which was up the ramp on the opposite side of the field. He returned with his team following halftime, then left a second time before returning in the fourth quarter for the completion of the game, which Penn State lost by a 28-6 score after leading 3-0 at the half.

Paterno said it was the first time in his six decades as a player and a coach that he was forced to leave the field because he was sick.

"I've never walked off the field early," Paterno said. "I had some kind of a bug during the week, but I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like to take pills or see a doctor. I thought I'd be fine."

His first exit came midway through the second quarter with the Nittany Lions looking at a fourth down from their 6-yard-line. Paterno was animated and vocal as he led his team back out on the field after halftime.

But he was forced to return to the locker room before Penn State kicked off to the Buckeyes. He then returned before the start of the fourth quarter, with his team trailing 7-3.

Ohio State scored on a long pass play and two interception returns for touchdowns to win the game. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said after the game that he was unaware of Paterno's situation.

"I didn't know about it," Tressel said. "I talked to him before the game, and then after the game, but I never saw him in between. Is he OK?"

Paterno, in his 57th year on the Penn State staff and in his 41st season as head coach, is 356-118-3 with the Nittany Lions.

Penn State defensive tackle Ed Johnson said Paterno's departures did not impact the outcome of yesterday's game, a meeting of the Big Ten Conference co-champions from 2005.

"I saw him leave," Johnson said. "I just thought he had to use the bathroom, but it didn't affect the game."

EMOTIONAL COLLABORATION: A reunion of two players took place at halftime of yesterday's game - a pair that had never met before this weekend, but had been connected for some time. They had shared the worst side of playing football.

Ohio State walk-on Tyson Gentry, who is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a spinal cord injury this spring, and former Penn State defensive back Adam Taliaferro, who had a severe neck injury in a game at Ohio Stadium in 2000, had been communicating from a distance for several months.

"It was good to finally meet him and see how strong he is," Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro walked onto the field at halftime, while Gentry, a former punter and receiver, was in a wheelchair.

"I told him his injury is now in the past and that he can do it, he can come back. But he's got to be patient."

Gentry, the Sandusky native who was fulfilling his dream of being a Buckeye, has had vertebrae on either side of the broken one fused to stabilize his neck.

"This means a lot to me," said Gentry, who has returned to classes at Ohio State while continuing his rehabilitation. "Being out on the field and having Adam here means so much, after what I've been through."

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