Collier: Does PSU still need him at 84?


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If the place where you work is the kind of place that has a statue outside, and that statue is of you, you've probably worked there long enough.

If you've made a habit of drawing crowds to something called "An Evening With Joe," but now "An Evening With Joe" begins promptly at 4 p.m., you've probably worked too long.

If you're still going to your high school reunions just to see if Adam and Eve are still together ... all right, that'll do.

That's about as politely as I can put this week's business about Joe Paterno, still the football coach at Penn State even if his primary function seems to that of the obstinate octogenarian. Double O Joe.

I fear for the guy, that's the impetus here. I don't want to see him die in the saddle, even if that's what he wants. That's what he has called the perfect ending, complete with a game-winning field goal, of course. Paterno's a guy who has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he gets what he wants, and that's exactly what scares me.

I was sitting in the old Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom on the fourth floor Jan. 26, 1983, when word reached us that Bear Bryant was dead. The Alabama coaching icon had been retired less than a month. Don't remember anyone saying, "This will shake Paterno to the core," but that's precisely what it did.

Ever since, Joe has associated separation from coaching with imminent death, at least his, and running from Bryant's ghost never was much of an issue when Paterno could still run.

Once he began closing in on 80 though, Joe could no longer get out of the way. Not in any sense.

He couldn't get out of the way when university president Graham Spanier belatedly asked him to step down in 2004, couldn't get out of the way when tight end Andrew Quarless barreled into him in a September '06 practice, breaking three of Paterno's ribs, couldn't get out of the way two months later when Quarless and Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy barrelled into him on the sideline, breaking his left leg, and couldn't get out of the way Sunday when Devon Smith's pass pattern sent him smack into the coach's pelvis at an indoor practice.

You can call Sunday's event the Moo Moo Miracle.

Smith, a junior wideout who answers to Moo Moo, just happens to be the smallest player on the team if not the smallest in major college football. He's listed at5 foot 7, 157 pounds on the official roster, meaning he's almost certainly smaller, thus this collision occurred between a guy who's probably too old to coach and guy who's probably too small to play.

Nothing against Moo Moo, but, if he's running at speed into an 84 year old and causing nothing but hairline fractures, how do you like his future against Nebraska linebacker Sean Fisher, who is 6-6, 235?

Paterno was planning to return to practice today, having been released from the hospital, and reports were that he would be coaching from a golf cart. Might I suggest an armored car?

There are dozens of practices to survive before the Nittany Lions welcome the Indiana State Haven't Been To A Bowl Game Since The Year After Bryant Died Sycamores to Beaver Stadium Sept. 3.

Say you're a typical 84 year old of median health and you visit your doctor Sept. 2, and you tell him this:

"Hey Doc, I just wanted to mention that tomorrow I'm going to go out stand on a field for 3 1/2 hours in front of a 110,000 screaming people watching me make decisions while I dodge any number of young people, some of them weighing up to 320 pounds, travelling at high rates of speed, wearing suits of armor.

"That OK?"

No it's not OK. It's insane.

But, somewhere in Centre County, there's a kindly country doc saying: "Don't see why not. Ya might take a rain hat."

There's no crime in getting old. In most cases, it beats the alternative. But there's no logic in trying to reach 85 on the sideline.

This is how old I am: Athletes who were the children of athletes I covered have retired from sports. That's old.

This is how old Joe is. When I became a Penn State student in 1971, Joe already had been there for 21 years. Now my son's graduation from Penn State is three years into the rear-view mirror. And Joe is still there.

Not even Lennon and McCartney, on their busiest psychedelic pathways, could envision something like that. The song wasn't called "When I'm 84."

But there's Double O Joe.

Reading the game plan, digging the tweets

Who could ask for more?

Will ya still need me, will ya still heed me, when I'm 84?


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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