Paterno grows old, cranky at Penn State

Amalie Benjamin Column

Joe Paterno’s face is everywhere in Happy Valley. Images of the 75-year-old saturate the little college town that rises out of the middle of farms and fields.

In Penn State’s bookstore, “Joe Pa’sta” is for sale, enabling hungry Nittany Lions fans to create pasta salad in the image of the crusty old coach. Perfect for tailgates.

Dolls in his likeness are available in every store in the downtown area. His name is plastered on everything from shirts to sandwich shops.

JoePa is revered in State College — and that’s putting it mildly. In his 37th year as head coach of the Nittany Lions, he has come to symbolize Penn State football.

But maybe — at least if we’re supposed to judge from his recent behavior — that’s not such a good thing anymore.

Paterno has spent the past few weeks complaining about the Big Ten’s referees, even asking his own athletic director to look into the officiating situation after suffering a few bad calls earlier in the season.

While most coaches are fined for publicly commenting about officials, Paterno has faced no such sanctions. He has been allowed to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, about whomever he wants.

Paterno’s beef started Sept. 28, during Penn State’s game with Iowa. After the game, the 75-year-old ran up to an official, grabbed his shirt and forced him to turn around so he could yell at him. (You should see the video. Paterno looks pretty spry for his age.)

But Paterno’s problem with the referees isn’t quite as bad as he makes it out to be. In 2001, Penn State was assessed just 43 penalties for 340 yards, third fewest in the conference.

And the poor calls that Penn State has received this season have been matched by poor calls directed at many other schools in the Big Ten. (See NU-Michigan State and NU-Ohio State, for example.)

While Paterno doesn’t seem to understand that referees, by nature, are going to make a few bad calls, his own bad calls were the greater issue in last Sunday’s game against Northwestern.

Leading by 49 points in the fourth quarter with less than a minute to play, Penn State ran a blind-side blitz, causing a sack of NU quarterback Tony Stauss. The call was both unnecessary and unsportsmanlike.

And it wasn’t the only one.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions were up 42 points and had a 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Instead of taking the field goal, Penn State went for it. Ricky Upton — a junior running back with all of two attempts this season prior to Sunday’s game — rushed up the middle for the Nittany Lions’ seventh touchdown.

Even Stauss, who was battered and bruised all game as NU’s fill-in signal caller, wasn’t sure what was going on in Paterno’s head in regards to the blitz.

“That’s Penn State’s deal,” Stauss said on Sunday. “I don’t know what they have against us.”

I’m not sure Paterno has anything against NU, in particular, but he seems to have something against the conference.

Paterno’s me-against-the-Big Ten attitude is absurd and unwarranted. He’s treated like royalty, yet thinks he needs to be treated better — with the officials helping out on controversial calls.

Between complaining about penalties and referees and his on-field coaching decisions, Paterno needs to re-evaluate his recent stances. While he has always been — and continues to be — a great coach, Paterno can’t make a mockery of the league, or of its officiating.

He’s been around Penn State for 51 years. You’d think he’d know better by now.

Maybe he does. Or maybe he’s just having a senior moment.

Amalie Benjamin is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]