Bill Conlin: Caution: Greatness at work in Clearwater

Posted: December 23, 2010

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was Legends Day at the sprawling slice of baseball heaven the Phillies call home during spring training: The Paul Owens Training Facility at the Carpenter Minor League Complex next to Bright House Field.

And, yesterday, playing host to greatness in two sports.

Two living legends were in the house on a glorious late December morning. One legend has lived a lot longer, done a lot more. The other legend remains a work in progress. But what a work. And what progress.

Roy Halladay was well into his killer workout when the gates to the players and officials parking area at the Bright House swung open. Three of Clearwater's finest on motorcycles led three Penn State team buses onto the grounds. The buses stopped in front of the weight room, where the Cy Young Award winner was working his toned body into a fine lather.

The coaches parked in the lot and walked down the road in groups of twos and threes. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley did not appear aware he had been passed over for the Temple University vacancy.

Joe Paterno was the last to walk down the road. He is a magnet for back-channel cross talk, even at age 84. Fourteen years after I met him in State College to interview him on his 70th birthday, he was celebrating another one. They gave him a cake at the Clearwater Hilton Resort Tuesday night.

He had no trouble blowing out the candles or hearing the lusty rendition of "Happy Birthday."

And Joe heard every word when we reminisced before yesterday's relaxed "availability," even though we were standing at least 5 feet apart and I was not shouting.

There was a rumor floating that third-string quarterback Kevin Newsome will go the Pat Devlin route and transfer. Newsome, a mobile athlete in the Michael Robinson mold, was favored to win the job going into spring practice. But when a disappointing 7-5 season began, he was third on the depth chart behind true freshman Rob Bolden and redshirt sophomore walk-on Matt McGloin.

And a few hours after the Lions practiced on the Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts fields, JoePa received another honor. The NCAA announced that Paterno is the ninth winner of the NCAA's Gerald R. Ford Award. He is the first football coach to be so honored on a list that includes John Wooden, Billie Jean King and former Notre Dame President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh.

When a Big Ten and Southeast Conference also-ran can play a New Year's Day game that will be broadcast by the Monday Night Football "A" team on ABC, it is a tribute to the Power of the Coach. It is a tribute to the Power of the Conference.

Hanging-in Joe Paterno vs. Urban Meyer, the lamest of lame ducks, about to retire after a second straight bowl game. This time, he really means it.

Because of who they are, two 7-5 teams will line up in an NFL stadium on New Year's Day in the slot the Cotton Bowl owned when all the major bowl games were played Jan. 1.

Anybody who can sell the notion that this is a football game of importance could sell tickets to a wet T-shirt contest at a nursing home.

But Raymond James Stadium will be full. There are two seasons in the Tampa Bay Area: Gators and Everything Else. Everything else includes an excellent baseball team called the Tampa Bay Rays, which plays in St. Petersburg before small crowds, and the Tampa Bay Bucs, who can't sell out their building and have become a blacked-out rumor despite an interesting team. The NHL Lightning plays in Tampa. In the St. Petersburg Times Forum. Go figure.

But St. Pete or Tampa, two cities surrounded and divided by saltwater, are brought together by University of Florida football. Gators rule.

JoePa knows he is up to his butt in Gators, of course. The Lions are 0-2 against Florida on his watch.

With 60 freshmen and sophomores on the youngest squad he has ever taken to a bowl game, this matchup - ho-hum and so-what nationally, but the only game on broadcast TV at 1 p.m. Jan. 1, a hangover special - represents the real reason coaches love bowl games.

I asked Joe if he looked at this Outback Bowl as the last game of the 2010 season or the first game of the 2011 season. Three weeks of bowl prep, followed by spring practice, followed by pre-season practice equals a squad that will need all the preparation it can get for a schedule beyond suicidal:

How about Alabama in Week 2. Iowa in the middle and a finishing death march of Big Ten newcomer Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Wisconsin.

Sure you don't want to retire, Joe?

"This was a combination, really," Paterno said of the game's closer-or-opener (?) implications. "We've got a very young team. We've got maybe 60 kids here who are freshmen and sophomores, some of them pretty good athletes who need more work. In that sense, you hope you get some things done that will carry over to next year. But no matter what, you've got to play Florida . . . "

Florida . . . A year after Tim Tebow, now a program losing one of the really sharp college coaches of this century, gaining a 35-year-old Gator alum who ran the defense for a Texas team that underachieved.

They don't call it the Outback Bowl for nothing, mate. But it was good to see Joe Paterno and Roy Halladay in the same place, doing their thing just yards apart, and each legend oblivious of the other's presence.

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/conlin.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|