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Paterno: How Brooklyn kid became top coach
Until this week, hardly anyone questioned Paterno’s values.
“Deep down, I feel I’ve had an impact. I don’t feel I’ve wasted my career,” Paterno once said. “If I did, I would have gotten out a long time ago.”
A year after he began his head coaching career, Paterno began a 30-0-1 streak fueled by players such as Jack Ham, who went onto fame with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the Nittany Lions fell short in the polls, finishing No. 2 in 1968 and 1969 despite 11-0 records, and No. 5 in 1973 despite a 12-0 record.
In 1969, Texas edged out Penn State for the title with help from an unlikely source: President Richard Nixon declared the Longhorns No. 1 after their bowl game.
“I’d like to know, how could the president know so little about Watergate in 1973, and so much about college football in 1969?” Paterno said in the aftermath, showing off a wry sense of humor that mixed Brooklyn smarts with mid-American sensibility.
Elite status finally arrived in the 1980s. The Nittany Lions claimed national titles in 1982, with a 27-23 win over Georgia at the Sugar Bowl, and in 1986, intercepting Miami’s Vinny Testaverde five times in a 14-10 win at the Fiesta Bowl.
In all, Paterno guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons, and he reached 300 wins faster than any other coach, making himself a legend before his career had even reached its halfway point.
The Nittany Lions have made several title runs since those 1980s championships, including the 2005 trip to the Orange Bowl and an 11-1 regular-season campaign in 2008 that ended with a spot in the Rose Bowl and a 37-23 loss to USC.
The school estimated there have been at least 888 head coaching changes at FBS schools since Paterno took the job. He is the all-time leader in bowl appearances (37) and wins (24). And he sent more than 250 players to the NFL.
All he wanted to do, he had said two days earlier, was “hopefully have a little luck and have a little fun doing it. I’ve been lucky enough to be around some great athletes.”
He said the success came because “the good Lord kept me healthy, not because I’m better than anybody else. It’s because I’ve been around a lot longer than anybody else.”
Taxpayers must pay the freight for over-budget train projects
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