Always Looking Forward

Even after reaching a monumental milestone, Joe Paterno was anxious to turn the page and focus on the next task at hand.

Really, the video tribute was unnecessary.

Yeah, it was nice that they put together clips of some signature moments in Joe Paterno's life and showed them during an on-field ceremony in Beaver Stadium Saturday, after Penn State beat Northwestern to give him his 400th career coaching victory.

There were scenes of him with his wife Sue and his late brother George. With his kids and his grandkids. With Jeff Hartings and Daryll Clark and dozens of other players. Scenes of him at practice and at pep rallies. Scenes from the national championship-clinching bowl victories over Georgia in 1982 and Miami in 1986.

Again, all very nice. But unnecessary.

That's because he doesn't so much look back as he looks forward. Also because he doesn't just see the big picture; he sees beyond it. Philosophically (but hardly politically), he would agree with the late Robert F. Kennedy, who once said something about seeing things that never were and asking, why not?

So it was hardly surprising that Paterno ended his remarks to the jubilant crowd by saying, “Now that the celebration's over, let's go beat Ohio State.” Nor was it mere lip service. He really wants to turn the page, really wants to put this milestone behind him and move on to the next challenge.

“That's the way Coach is: Don't dwell on the past, and look to the future,” senior linebacker Chris Colasanti said.

Paterno told reporters he was genuinely moved by the ceremony, during which athletic director Tim Curley presented him with a crystal football and called him “the greatest college football coach ever,” a statement that would doubtless inspire loud dissent in, say, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

And while Paterno didn't really want to be carried off the sideline by his players once the 35-21 victory over the Wildcats was complete, he admitted that he enjoyed that part of the day as well. (For the record, offensive linemen DeOn'tae Pannell and Eric Shrive did the honors.)

“We all have a little bit of ham in us,” Paterno said with a smile.

But ultimately he stayed on point. Ultimately he stayed true to himself, reminding media types once again that the Lions have Ohio State next Saturday, at Ohio State.

“To be honest with you, I want to start thinking about that,” he said.

No. 400, said Jay Paterno, Joe's son and PSU's quarterbacks coach, “will mean something to him for the next two hours (after the game).”

And then it will be filed away.

Not that anybody minded talking about the milestone victory -- especially the way it came about, with the Lions reeling off the game's last 35 points to erase a 21-0 deficit. It was the biggest comeback ever by a Paterno-coached team at home, and matched the '94 juggernaut, which also bounced back from 21-0 down at Illinois, for biggest comeback ever.

(The game was also reminiscent of Paterno's 324th victory, in which his team spotted Ohio State a 27-9 lead before winning, 29-27, to push the coach ahead of Bear Bryant atop the Division I-A list. That came in 2001.)

So that was the best part of this day for the elder Paterno -- that this team did itself proud, continued its growth, set itself up for the season's stretch run.

Oh, and by the way, he envisioned things unfolding as they did Saturday. Naturally.

“When we were down 21-0,” he said, “I didn't think we were out of it.”

Matt McGloin, on in relief of Rob Bolden at quarterback, orchestrated a beautiful 91-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half, and the Lions added TDs on each of their first four possessions of the second half as well.

At the end, McGloin held onto the game ball, hoping to present it to Paterno. But the head coach was already atop the shoulders of Shrive and Pannell.

“We talked about (a) Gatorade (shower),” senior guard Stefen Wisniewski said, “but we all came to the consensus that was a bad idea, with it being so cold and him being 82.”

Someone then reminded Wisniewski that Paterno is actually 83.

“At that point,” he said, “what's the difference?”

After Pannell and Shrive put their coach down, he was surrounded on the field. Surrounded by cameras. Surrounded by fans. (“I touched 'im!” one guy screamed.)

So McGloin handed the ball to Jay. And everybody else struggled to come to grips with the enormity of Paterno's accomplishment.

“I probably haven't even watched 400 games in my life,” Wisniewski said later, as he sat in the media room.

He is one of several current players whose fathers also played for Paterno. Another is linebacker Mike Mauti, the defensive star on this day with 11 tackles. And as much as he might have been prepared by his dad Rich -- a wide receiver in the '70s -- for life under the veteran coach, nothing could have prepared him completely.

“My first day of practice my freshman year, I wasn't on the field five minutes and I was already getting screamed at by somebody across the field,” the younger Mauti said.

Bespectacled guy? Rather, uh, prominent nose? Screechy voice? Think we know who you're talking about.

“I didn't even think he could see me,” Mauti said of Paterno. “I was like, 'Is he yelling at me?' … And I'm telling you, I was 75 yards away from him, and he's screaming at me.”

Not the first time that's happened, nor the last. Paterno is notorious for picking out players' imperfections from long distance, then making corrections.

Gets back to that vision of his.

“I think the only thing I learned (after arriving on campus) is, he's still the same guy,” said Wisniewski, whose dad, Leo, and uncle, Steve, played under Paterno. “Just because he got older doesn't mean he's going to stop caring about the things he cared about. Doesn't mean he was going to stop caring about academics. Doesn't mean he was going to stop putting all the emphasis on the fundamentals, having a great attitude and trying to get better every day.”

Speaking of sons, Jay Paterno said that he had tried to make sure everything was in place for his dad's big day beforehand. Said he asked his mom last week if the rest of the family was coming to town this weekend.

She said that wasn't the case (at least not at that point), and wondered why.

“I was like, 'Well, Mom, I hate to tell you, but it's kind of a big deal,' ” Jay said.

Then his voice cracked. He looked up, saw a reporter videotaping the moment.

“If you put this on the Internet,” he said, “I'll kill you.”

He was kidding. Probably.

Same for defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who also played under the elder Paterno.

“I told Coach I've been here for 100, 200, 300, 400 wins; do you think we can get to 500?” Bradley said. “So I put the thought in his head anyway.”

First things first, though: Ohio State, at Ohio State.

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