“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, November 07, 2010

JoePA, 400 wins in season 45 with Penn State

This video is from game 381 but still relevant to the man

With No. 400, Paterno adds to his legend

Take a good look. There won't be another like Joe Paterno, the eternal Penn State football coach who won the 400th game of his singular career Saturday.

How could there be? There was never another like him before.

JoePa is living, breathing, coaching history, in his 45th season walking the same State College sideline. He has been Penn State's coach for more than half his 83 years, and he will be for as long as his mind and body allow.

No. 400, over very talented Big Ten Conference rival Northwestern, required a dramatic comeback from a 21-0 first-half deficit. The 35-21 victory didn't just flip Paterno's win-o-meter over from 399 to that nice round number, it qualified the team for its 37th bowl game under Paterno.

If the game of football passed Paterno by as long ago as some of his critics suggest, apparently it has come back around his way again. He has a 6-3 record in 2010 despite juggling a couple of inexperienced quarterbacks. It was Matt McGloin, who made the team as a walk-on, who engineered Saturday's Happy Valley comeback.

Not bad for a coach who, if you listened to a number of very vocal alumni and boosters, has been too old for his job for at least 10 years. Guessing when Paterno will hang up his black cleats - or when the university will figuratively push him out on his ice floe - has been a PSU parlor game for longer than most big-time college coaches hold their jobs.

It's just a hunch, but even mortality will be but a mild inconvenience. In 10 or 20 years, you'll find Paterno's spirit stalking that same sideline, wearing those same bulletproof-glass spectacles and too-short black trousers.

Paterno was typically phlegmatic as the run-up to 400 neared its inevitable end.

"When I'm down and I'm looking up, they're going to put 399 on top of me or they're going to put 401," Paterno said over the summer. "Who the hell cares? I won't know."

And it's true. The 400th win is not all that remarkable. It was the 399 that came before, the year-in, year-out excellence that allowed Paterno to add eight or nine or 10 wins a year to his tote board.

What No. 400 really represents is a chance to appreciate the wonder that is Joseph Vincent Paterno. He may have no use for that kind of sentimentality, but so what? That grumpy frumpiness is part of what makes him special. In a profession full of slick operators with thousand-dollar suits and slippery ethics, he is as no-frills and as unpretentious as the Nits' unadorned uniforms and helmets.

He is an analog coach in a digital world, your great-granddad's pocket watch keeping perfect time in a Rolex culture.

Paterno has been rock steady through decades of changing fashion, in football and in society.

He coached the Nittany Lions through the Vietnam era and the enormous changes it wrought in society and in the way young people viewed authority. He was Penn State's coach for the moon landing and the Watergate hearings and the Iranian hostage crisis. For punk rock and disco and the birth of hip-hop. For the Reagan years and the Clinton years and both Bush presidencies. He was coach when the World Trade Center was being built in Manhattan and when it was attacked. He has coached through the advent of the cell phone and the Internet.

One of his first great players, linebacker Jack Ham, went on to play 12 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ham won four Super Bowl rings, went to eight Pro Bowls, retired in 1982, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. That was 22 years ago, and still Paterno is coaching at Linebacker U.

All that, and you get the sense very little has changed for Paterno personally. Same values, same principles, same job. Heck, he probably has clothes older than his current seniors.

"I'm literally a 15-minute walk from the office, I'm three blocks away from the campus, I'm right down from one of the town parks," Paterno said recently. "I'm around young people all the time, so I horse around with them, have a couple laughs, have some fun with them and the whole bit. Hopefully that keeps you young."

He has not remained young. Paterno has aged, sometimes gracefully and sometimes not. He is stubborn and occasionally seems oblivious to the world beyond Happy Valley. He has dealt with injury and illness and ever-changing social mores.

But he has always, always been true to himself and to his mission. He is a true original, the first and last of a kind.

"Football to me has been a vehicle by which I can have some impact on some people in a very impressionable part of their lives," Paterno said last week.

In that, he has more than 400 victories. A lot more.

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  1. A comeback from 21-0. Now that's college football.

    Still PA football uniforms are clean of all garnishment, no hash marks on helmets, no names on backs of jerseys and JoePA still with the clipboard.

    There is nothing more exhilarating than being at a big university football game in the fall.

    Nothing better worth watching while you clean your hunting gear after a morning hunt.

  2. Well....I remember times in the mountains with the shotgun, the dog, the ripping girl, the vodka and orange juice, the blankie.....and the radio to listen to the Vandies.

  3. Out this way it's harder to get excited---we've been to two bowl games in our entire history.

    My wife thinks we ought to chuck the football program, and go rodeo.

    She loves Ohio State, though.

  4. And the old University of Kentucky basketball teams where she went to school.

  5. The man is a legend. He is a fixture in our lives. Stalking the sideline in those dark glasses with the "Coke bottle bottom" lenses. His legend will increase with time as the stories, books and movies retell the life of the man.

    Year in and year out, mostly good years for the Nittany Lions. The fact that he has turned his team around is a testament to the man.

    I was a mere lad in 1965 when he became head coach at Penn State. We were doing the twist and listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys and riding the Honda Dream. Flat tops were still worn by the older boys but the Beatles were changing that. Many of us had still never heard of Vietnam. And Joe Paterno was a young head coach just starting out at Penn State University. Through all the years, he never seemed to change, his uniforms (ugly as they are. :) never changed and we never heard a bad word about the man.

    I seriously doubt that anyone will ever be the head coach at one university for as long as Joe Pa has been. He's a throwback and from a mold that's been broken.

  6. Joe Pa's 400th is a reminder that the years pass too quickly and that even with a good long life, we're only here for a moment.

  7. From Wikipedia:
    Paterno is in his 61st season on the Penn State coaching staff as of 2010, holding the record for most seasons for any football coach at any university. The 2009 season was Paterno’s 44th as head coach of the Nittany Lions, passing Amos Alonzo Stagg for the most years as head coach at a single institution in Division 1.[6] Paterno has been on Penn State's coaching staff for 682 of their 1,204 games, 56.6% of all games played by the program dating back to its inception in 1887.
    The Pittsburgh Steelers offered their head coach position to Paterno in 1969, an offer he considered seriously. The Steelers ended up hiring Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls in his first 11 years, and coached for an additional twelve seasons.

  8. He graduated from and joined the coaching staff of Penn State in 1950. Worked for 16 years before becoming head coach.

  9. Somewhat similar but in basketball was John Wooden of UCLA.

    He is 96 now I believe. I saw them play in Pullman several times.

    A Christian man, he took great personal interest in all his players, on and off the court.

    A real credit to American sports.

  10. There is something very serious and sober about those uniforms. They are work uniforms as opposed to dress uniforms. I would miss them.