Lions' Paterno turns in feisty performance

Penn State coach Joe Paterno shares a laugh with ESPN color analyst Todd Blackledge (center), a former Lions quarterback, and LSU coach Les Miles at the Capital One Bowl kickoff luncheon in Orlando, Fla. Game time is 1 p.m. today.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno shares a laugh with ESPN color analyst Todd Blackledge (center), a former Lions quarterback, and LSU coach Les Miles at the Capital One Bowl kickoff luncheon in Orlando, Fla. Game time is 1 p.m. today.
Posted: January 01, 2010

ORLANDO - In his first news conference as an 83-year-old, and his one and only news conference for the Capital One Bowl, a tanned Joe Paterno was at times funny, foggy, argumentative and ornery.

"So do all of you have your questions answered?" he said yesterday as he reached the podium at the Renaissance Orlando Resort. "Can I go back to sleep?"

Actually, Paterno, whose birthday was Dec. 21, hasn't had much of a chance to sleep this week. His 17 grandchildren (the oldest is 14) have been getting up at 6 a.m. and wanting to say good morning to Grandpa. They put on a show for him earlier in the week in his suite.

One of the main discussion topics was Florida coach Urban Meyer, who announced his resignation last Saturday, then reconsidered the next day and was allowed to take a leave of absence of undetermined length.

"I think Urban Meyer is a great guy," Paterno said. "I've been on a couple of trips with him, both he and Bobby Bowden. We spend a lot of time sitting around the pool talking football and talking about what's going on.

"I hope Urban is able to stay. I was glad to see after he said he was going to retire - and I hadn't read the papers . . . but as I understand it, he's now thinking maybe it's just a question of getting away and then getting back into it. I hope that's true. He's a heck of a guy, a good football coach."

As for Bowden, a close friend who will coach his final game for Florida State in today's Gator Bowl, Paterno said, "I hate to see us lose a guy like Bobby Bowden, unless it was on Bobby's terms."

"A lot of people don't understand what college football should be. For kids 18, 19, 20 years old . . . you guys only look at the pros and the hotshots. But for every five pros, there's 50 kids that are never going to play after they get out of college. Their whole life will be influenced by their experience in college football. That's what the game is all about."

Asked about his own longevity, Paterno, who is in his 60th year at Penn State - the 44th as head coach - replied, "A lot of garlic, a lot of olive oil," breaking up the room.

"As a kid, when we'd get a little this or a little that, my mother would throw me in a tub of hot water and rub olive oil on my head and shove garlic down my throat," he said. "She'd ask, 'You OK?' and if you didn't answer, you'd get more olive oil and more garlic, so you were better off saying, 'Yeah.' "

But Paterno didn't care for a question asking about Penn State's "ups and downs" in the decade just completed. Paterno chose to look at the Nittany Lions' 50-13 record the last five years, not their 26-33 mark from 2000 through 2004.

Reminded of the earlier years, he asked, "You want to go back to the '90s, then?"

He also questioned a suggestion that Penn State had "high expectations" entering the season, and that it needed a win against LSU today to salvage the year.

"I don't think we have to prove anything," he said.

Paterno also discussed his recollections of the only other time Penn State played LSU, in the 1974 Orange Bowl, but said the final score was 7-0 when it actually was 16-7. He also referred to "Mike Johnson" as his quarterback in the 2005 Orange Bowl instead of Michael Robinson.

Asked about the poor field conditions at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Paterno said that he thought the grounds staff would do what it could, and that he didn't want to worry about things he couldn't control.

He then looked at the reporter who asked the question.

"I didn't even think about the field until you brought it up," Paterno said, generating laughter from the room once again. "You an agronomist? He probably can't even spell it."

The show lasted 24 minutes. Paterno's audience was riveted.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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