Paterno had been double-teamed by a broken leg and hip replacement in recent years, so he no longer leads the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel in a full sprint, as he did at age 75.
Instead, he signals his players to take the field with the wave of a hand, then steps aside to take a safer route, weaving his way to the sideline through the less-aggressive brass section of the university's wonderful Blue Band.
In recent years, Paterno has said he's delegated more authority to a staff of assistants whose longevity and loyalty to him are almost as astonishing as the length of Paterno's tenure in Happy Valley.
But Paterno also has said, "I still try to stick my two cents in."
A longtime observer of Paterno watched him stick his two cents in during a routine 24-0 Penn State victory over Kent State on Saturday and came to the conclusion that Paterno may be selling himself short.
Strategically, the biggest impact Paterno had on this game day came at halftime. Unhappy with the Nittany Lions' inability to firmly establish a running game during the first half, Paterno interrupted assistants who help devise the offensive game plan - Galen Hall, Dick Anderson, Jay Paterno, Bill Kenney - and handed them a list of running plays he wanted to use in the second half. Paterno had been scribbling plays on a rolled-up piece of paper he carried in his right hand.
"At halftime he had a list of plays he'd put together, and we ended up using most of them," said Jay Paterno, the quarterbacks coach and Joe's son. "He kept saying, 'You've got to run these plays.' They were the runs he wanted. He wanted to establish the running game. And when he says that, you do it."
On their third possession of the second half, the Nittany Lions went on a 17-play drive, and 11 of those plays were runs.
"He says he's delegating more," Jay Paterno said. "But he was in Mike McQueary's ear all day saying, 'Tell those guys I want this. Tell those guys I want this.' "
McQueary is the wide receivers coach who takes plays from Hall and Anderson and Jay Paterno through a headset. Paterno has never worn a headset, so one of the more common sideline scenarios has Paterno saying something to McQueary, then McQueary pulling off his headset and leaning in to hear what Paterno is saying, then McQueary putting his headset back on and telling the assistants in the coaches box upstairs what the boss wants.
As the messenger, McQueary bears most of the brunt of Paterno's wrath. One of the more common questions from those who watch Penn State football on television is, "Who's the big redhead Paterno's always screaming at?"
But the high-pitched voice that used to snap his players to attention is mostly gone, and so are many of the angry outbursts at players. Paterno's voice has weakened, and the histrionics largely have dissipated.
For the most part, Paterno watched the action impassively and with his arms folded across his chest. Perhaps mindful of the broken leg he suffered when two players rolled into him during a game at Wisconsin in 2006, Paterno tries to stay out of harm's way by watching the action from behind the offense.
Wearing a blue windbreaker over a sweater on a perfectly sunny day with the temperature in the mid-70s, Paterno gave his only show of emotion when he shook his head after freshman quarterback Rob Bolden threw his second interception. But when Bolden went to the sideline after his miscue, McQueary spoke to the quarterback while Paterno walked away.
Along the sideline, Paterno appears to be about as involved with his coaches and players as an 83-year-old man can be. When McQueary huddles the offense during time-outs, Paterno frequently, as he said, sticks his two cents in. Paterno has a more difficult time counseling defensive coordinator Tom Bradley because Bradley is the most animated among the sideline assistants, constantly on the move.
"On the field, I don't coach as much as I used to," Paterno said recently. His assistants "are doing most of the coaching on the field."
Those who saw a wan and frail Paterno at the Big Ten Conference media sessions nearly two months ago said he looked much stronger Saturday. Paterno spent much of the summer racked by a bad reaction to antibiotics he had taken to counter a dental infection.
"Joe had hardly ever taken any medication in his life, and the reaction he had from the antibiotics had him in pretty bad shape," said Guido D'Elia, the university's director of communications and football branding and unofficial personal aide to Paterno. "It took him a while to get over that. I mean, the difference between him today and the way he was two weeks ago is very noticeable. He's almost back to being himself. His strength is now to the point where he's back to his walking regimen."
Most of Paterno's input comes during staff meetings. In the days after last week's lopsided loss at Alabama, Paterno apparently was his old cranky, demanding self.
"He was on everybody," Jay Paterno said. "At every meeting, he was saying, 'I want this in the passing game, this in the running game, I want this on defense.' I mean, he's obviously not in there drawing up the X's and O's on everything we do. But he's still very much into everything we do."
Pete Massaro, a sophomore defensive end from Marple Newtown High, confirmed Jay Paterno's claim that the loss to Alabama had rekindled JoePa's fire.
"He was very intense," said Massaro, who added that Paterno was demonstrating techniques.
"It was awesome," he said. "I hope I'm able to do that when I'm 83 years old."
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or email@example.com.