The press conference was well under way when Paterno arrived at the Empire Room in the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue. Not that it mattered much. One of two coaches being inducted this year, Paterno was the last scheduled speaker.
And when the proceedings were handed over to him, he responded with a classic one-liner.
Number one, I apologize for being one year and 20 minutes late, he said, prompting laughter from those in attendance.
Paterno was actually elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, but delayed his induction after a sideline collision late that season left him with a broken leg and torn knee ligaments.
It's hard to put into words what football has meant to me, he said. I've been [involved with] football, oh, counting my high school days and with coaching, 64 or 65 years. So it's really been my life.
In what has become a familiar refrain of late, he touched on how much longer he might stay on the job. Now 80, Paterno started at PSU as an assistant in 1950 and took over a head coach in 1966.
Every time I've thought about walking away from it, I think of the next group of kids that are gonna come up and I think of my assistant coaches, Paterno said. A couple years ago I was under some pressure and I sat down with some people at the university and I said if I can just keep my assistant coaches, we'll be OK.
I owe a lot to an awful lot of people to get me here, he added.
Paterno was supposed to be a member of the same Hall of Fame class as fellow coaching icon and friend Bobby Bowden of Florida State. But when Bowden was enshrined last December, Paterno was home in State College, rehabbing his injured leg.
I'm only sorry I wasn't here last year with Bobby Bowden, somebody I respect so much and somebody I think has done such a magnificent job at his school, Paterno said. We've both been very fortunate. God has given us good health. Every once in a while you get a little sloppy on the sideline and let somebody run into you. But other than that it's just been magnificent.
Also being inducted this year is former Central Michigan coach Herb Dermodi and a host of former players. The list includes Tom Brahaney (Oklahoma), Dave Brown (Michigan), Jeff Davis (Clemson), Doug Flutie (Boston College), Johnnie Johnson (Texas), Rex Kern (Ohio State), Ahmad Rashad (Oregon), Anthony Thompson (Indiana), Wilson Whitley (Houston), Reggie Williams (Dartmouth), Richard Wood (Southern California), and Chris Zorich (Notre Dame).
Brown and Whitley are being inducted posthumously.
The site of Paterno entering the room brought back good memories for Wood.
I saw Coach JoePa walk in, and it flashed me back about 40 years, to when Coach came to recruit me right across the river in Elizabeth, N.J., he said.
Paterno said he is proud to be part of such a strong class and appreciates all the National Football Foundation does for college football. The NFF is the organization behind the Hall of Fame.
To be honored by an organization that believes so strongly in something that you believe in, it's a great honor, he said.