No ordinary Joe

When Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer showed up for the 1994 Citrus Bowl Game, his coaching opponent was 67-year-old Joe Paterno of Penn State. When Fulmer shows up for the 2007 Outback Bowl, his coaching opponent will be 80-year-old Joe Paterno of Penn State.

Asked recently if he ever imagined in '94 he might be facing "Joe Pa" again 13 years later, Fulmer replied: "It didn't cross my mind. What Coach Paterno has done and (Florida State) Coach (Bobby) Bowden has done is incredible."

Certainly, Joe Paterno's toughness and longevity are noteworthy. He suffered three broken ribs when he was run over by two of his players during a practice drill on Sept. 26 but didn't miss a day of work.

Then, during a Nov. 4 game against Wisconsin, Badger linebacker DeAndre Levy's helmet slammed into Paterno's left knee, causing ligament damage and a tibial plateau fracture. He may need crutches or a motorized cart, yet Paterno insists he will be on the sidelines for the Outback Bowl. He also vows to continue coaching next fall.

"I really wouldn't have expected any less," Fulmer said. "He's a tough guy. He'll do whatever he's able to do; I'm certain of that."

Interestingly enough, Fulmer played his final regular-season game as a Vol on Dec. 4, 1971. The opposing coach was Paterno, already in his sixth season overseeing the Nittany Lions. Thirty-five years later, he's still at it.

Born Dec. 21, 1926 in Brooklyn, Paterno attended Brown University, where he still shares the program record for career interceptions (14). Although he planned to be a lawyer, he took a job as a Penn State assistant shortly after graduation. He expected to spend a year or two in coaching, then pursue a career in law. Obviously, things didn't turn out as planned.

Fifteen years later, in 1966, he was elevated to head coach. His third team went 11-0 in 1968 and his fourth team went 11-0 in '69. His '73 team went 12-0. His '82 team went 11-1 and won the national title. His '86 team went 12-0 and captured another national championship. He notched his fifth undefeated season in '94 (12-0).

Critics called him a dinosaur when Paterno posted back-to-back records of 3-9 and 4-7 in 2003 and 2004, respectively, but he bounced back to go 11-1 in 2005. His 41-year record is 362-121-3. Only Bowden has more victories, and 31 of his occurred at Howard College, which has since become Div. 1-AA Samford.

Clearly, Paterno is no ordinary Joe.

"His whole story is amazing," Fulmer said. "To win at the level he's won for so many years – and do it the right way as a coach – is quite remarkable."


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