Penn State Football: Past and Paterno Not Part and Parcel of Blue-White Game
For decades, the late Joe Paterno eschewed the sideline during the Blue-White Game and spent the day in the radio or TV booth.
For that matter, Paterno spent several regular-season games over the past few years in the press box as well.
So, in that sense, his absence in Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t all that noticeable in the physical sense.
Besides, new head coach Bill O’Brien was a transforming presence on the sidelines, dressed in a gray sweatshirt, an untucked blue workout shirt, blue sweatpants and blue Penn State ball cap, sporting a whistle and headphones.
O’Brien called plays, consulted assistant coaches, repeatedly ran onto the playing field, pointed and shouted at players, directed referees and generally ran the whole show. He was the head coach.
Dozens of former players lined the sideline, an announced 60,000 fans watched from the stands despite heavily overcast skies, and the Big Ten Network covered the game. So it was more like watching O’Brien – and his team and the game and the quarterback derby – than truly missing Paterno.
Still, even the memory of the longtime Penn State icon seemed to be missing during Saturday’s scrimmage and accompanying festivities.
That wasn’t by accident.
Blue-White morning began with Woodring’s, a State College florist, delivering 409 blue and white carnations to the base of the Paterno statue located outside the east side of Beaver Stadium. It was a homage to Paterno’s major college football record of 409 victories, achieved against Illinois in his final game inside that very stadium on Oct. 29, 2011.
But, save for T-shirts honoring Paterno and those cardboard Stand-up Joes displayed at tailgates and in the windows of RVs, the man who coached at Penn State for 62 years, 46 as a head coach, was largely absent.
Of course, Sunday a 5K road race originally conceived by Sue Paterno and benefiting Special Olympics, was held in the late coach’s name. It was wildly successful. The race finished inside Beaver Stadium and raised a whopping $275,000. Jay Paterno thanked the 3,000 participants on behalf of his family and his late father.
But Saturday was about Penn State football. Present and future, not past.
That point was driven home in the official 2012 Spring Football Guide. Inside a two-paragraph mention of Paterno’s passing on page 1 and a 26-line biography in the “Hall of Fame” section, the same length as bios for John Cappelletti and Curt Warner.
In the “All-America” section, the bio of the legendary Jimmy Kennedy ran one line shorter than Paterno's, while both Larry Johnson Jr. and Kerry Collins got more ink than their former coach. There were three Paterno pics, one a full-pager, plus very small mentions elsewhere in the 180 pages.
Clearly, Penn State has tried to move on.
Mostly, too, has the media. In his 13-minute, 58-second post-game press conference, O’Brien wasn’t asked one question about Paterno.
And, from what I heard in about six or seven succeeding mass media interviews with players and assistant coaches, neither were they. The closest came when quarterback Matt McGloin was queried about the QB “situation” in 2011, and he answered with his typical candor – but named no names.
None of this is meant to disparage O’Brien.
I’ve been at several O’Brien press conferences, both formal and not, and have seen him speak at or read his comments from a dozen or two more. And he is always respectful of Paterno and Penn State’s football past.
He did, however, give short shrift to a question last week from the Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine about succeeding Paterno. O’Brien wasn’t rude by any stretch, but you could tell he’d had his fill in the 108 days since he was named Penn State’s 15th head coach.
But, overall, O’Brien has done a masterful and seemingly genuine job moving forward. His open practices, personal outreach to high school coaches, myriad public appearances, countless interviews and planned bus caravan are public relations measures reminiscent of Paterno’s early years.
Even O’Brien’s format of the spring game – offense vs. defense, with a scoring system akin to cribbage or cricket – was brilliant. It was innovative, new and put the focus on the field and on the players, both on offense and defense.
That O’Brien is the product of a college education from Brown and an on-the-field football education from Belichick continues to be evident.
The focus on football, for most Nittany Lion fans, is back on the playing field.
As much as some people – especially alumni – have been in an uproar over that Paterno was dismissed as head coach and how it was done, the turnout at Saturday’s meet-and-great with about 60 Board of Trustees candidates indicates the issue may be a bit less hot-button these days.
A Penn State official reported that about 240 people attended the event, held inside the IM Building, within easy walking distance of Beaver Stadium. That’s about four people for every one candidate.
That’s not to say alumni aren’t interested in the future of their alma mater; by all accounts they are, and record numbers of advance online voters so far bears that.
But they had a choice on Saturday of a different kind.
And that was between going inside Beaver Stadium to watch Penn State football and/or meeting five dozen candidates for the Penn State Board of Trustee candidates. (Although some did both.)
Football won, 250-1.