This time, though, Sacca just continued to flash a smile and begged off. Perhaps it was his subtle way of declaring some sort of truce with Paterno, whose highly touted Nittany Lions will open preseason practice today for the Aug. 28 Kickoff Classic against Georgia Tech at Giants Stadium.
Now in its fourth year, the relationship between Sacca, who likes to throw,
throw, throw, and Paterno, who likes to run, run, run, has never had a honeymoon stage. It probably never will. It has never been bitter. Just exasperating for both sides.
Paterno likes his players to say all the right things. Sacca likes to say what's on his mind. Inevitably, clashes have ensued. Now, it seems, they have agreed to disagree, for the physically gifted Sacca is Paterno's quarterback in this season of high expectations.
"Yeah, we've had our differences in the papers, but I think a lot of it has been blown out of proportion," Sacca said yesterday, when Paterno evaluated a team that has 13 returning starters, including nine on defense,
from the one that went 9-3 last season. "I've been called in (to Paterno's office) a lot over the past three years, but I don't look to have any problems this year.
"Besides, I can sit here and cry . . . all I want, and it's not going to make a difference. If I've rubbed off on him, it hasn't showed. I just want to go out and have a good year. This is my senior year. I want to make the most of it."
Asked if he believes Sacca is ready to do things Paterno's way, Paterno, who begins his 26th season as head coach with a 229-60-3 record, laughed and replied, "Maybe after three years of listening to Tony, maybe I should do it his way.
"Really, though, Tony was a good leader in our spring practices, on and off the field," Paterno added. "I think he's ready for a big year. He has to make better decisions at the line of scrimmage, and he has to avoid the careless sacks. You know, we didn't catch the ball that well in some games. He would have had better stats if we did. He's very critical to how much success we have this season. The passing game will be crucial to that success."
Paterno always leans heavily on his seniors, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out he must lean heavily on Sacca, who has started 25 games and had to be force-fed to the college football wolves as a freshman.
While the Lions' defense should be among the nation's best, the offense is still sorting things out. An offensive line must be built. There is a bevy of promising tailbacks, most notably Richie Anderson, but promise is all they can offer right now. The backup quarterback, Matt Nardolillo, has thrown only three passes.
That will leave the offense up to Sacca and perhaps the swiftest trio of receivers in State history - Terry Smith, O.J. McDuffie and Tisen Thomas - until the line and running game get cracking.
"I'm glad to have more of the offensive load on my shoulders," Sacca said. "I have to have a good season for us to play well, but that's the way I like it."
It remains to be seen, but Sacca may be more at ease now that Tom Bill is gone. For a change, State has no quarterback controversy, as in should it be Sacca or Bill? In the past, Paterno wouldn't hesitate to yank Sacca in favor of Bill.
"I know Joe doesn't have the luxury of going to a Tom Bill this year," Sacca said. "But that should have no effect. I still have to perform, with or without Tom Bill warming up on the sidelines. Tommy was a good quarterback and he deserved to play most of the times he was in there. He helped me a lot. The bottom line is I have to go out and play well."
Certainly, the strong-armed Sacca has proved he can be a premier quarterback. He comes into this season off the good vibes of a strong finish to last season. Last November, Sacca destroyed top-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., completing 20 of 34 pases for 277 yards and three touchdowns. It was his finest moment. The next week, he showed his excellent speed with runs of 55 and 50 yards in a win over Pitt. And in the Blockbuster Bowl loss to Florida State, some dropped passes at critical moments and the Seminoles'
raging blitz hurt Sacca in an otherwise admirable performance.
This year, Sacca must be more consistent against a killer schedule that includes road games against Southern Cal and Miami and home games against Brigham Young, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
With teams like those on the agenda, it seems as though Sacca and Paterno have much more to worry about than each other.