Where can I get a piece of that action?
On Aug. 7, the 84-year-old coach was blindsided by a 155-pound receiver in practice. He was knocked to the ground and sustained injuries to his right arm and hip. One team source described the injuries as “hairline fractures,” but at PSU Media Day Aug. 16, Paterno insisted they were merely “cracks.”
As if there is a difference.
At Media Day, Paterno was forced to conduct interviews from a golf cart. Yet he said he would “absolutely” be on the sideline for the ISU game. Doctors, he said, told him, “We've just got to get you started now on some therapy and then in 10 days you should be 100 percent.”
Tuesday's press conference was a full two weeks removed from Media Day and more than three weeks from the original injury. And Paterno most certainly was not at 100 percent. Not even close.
He was driven into the stadium and dropped off right next to the media room. With the use of a cane -- and with nervous handlers watching his every move -- he slowly climbed the gently inclined ramp to the main dais and took a moment to settle onto a stool that was higher than the chair in which he usually sits. They had to stuff media guides under the microphone to get it up to his new level. It took him even longer to leave the press conference.
So when he said, “It's probably 50-50 whether I'm going to [be on the sideline] this weekend,” there were more than a few skeptics in the crowd.
He added, “I've got some medical people who want me upstairs (in the press box) and I want to be downstairs. That being upstairs is for the birds. You just don't seem to be in it. I like to be on the sideline and get a feel for things and be able to grab a kid and do certain things. So I'm gonna try hard to be on the sideline.”
Paterno added that there were still several days left before the game, and that a lot could change -- as if he were talking about a fullback with a sprained ankle. As if he ought to be on the injury report in the weekly press release: “HC Joe Paterno, cracks, 50-50.”
The fact of the matter is, Penn State has a highly qualified and highly reputable medical team and training staff, and they won't allow an 84-year-old who can barely move to stand anywhere close to the action.
So why all the bravado from Paterno?
Because he thought his 7-6 team was soft in 2010, and he spent the entire offseason trying to toughen 'em up. By his twisted, stubborn logic, if he can't man up after being hit, how can he expect them to.
He's admitted as much.
“I talked to the squad earlier that day, before I got hurt,” Paterno said at Media Day. “I said, 'You know what I'm tired of? Some of you guys babying yourself. You get knocked down and get hurt a little bit and you walk around like, oh boy, does it hurt.'
“After my thing, they joked around: 'Bounce back kid. Let's see how tough you are,' ” he added.
Now he's trying to show them. He's trying to show everyone.
The thing is, nobody has ever really questioned Paterno's toughness. Not after he returned from a shattered leg in 2006 and hip replacement surgery in 2008 and the mystery illness he had in 2010. Nobody has ever questioned his determination either, even when he's been forced to work from the press box. You don't get to 401 career wins without a certain measure of stick-to-itiveness.
But that same determination can also be his biggest fault, especially when it comes to something like, say, pushing the envelope to get back on the sideline when doing so will quite literally put him in harm's way.
Forget about the 50-50 talk. Paterno will be in the press box Saturday, even if he doesn't want to be. And he ought to stay there for at least half the season, then re-evaluate after that.
Because at his age and in his condition, it'll take more than a thick skull to stay safe on the sideline.
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