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RAY SWANSON | Keystoner Paterno, fans finally celebrate 324th win



Published: Sun, November 11, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



No big deal.

That's how Joe Paterno approached his bid for his 324th major college football victory.

But, following the Nittany Lions' 29-27 victory over the Buckeyes of Ohio State on Oct. 27, he changed his tune ... completely.

Following that victory, a win that came after the Lions trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half, his mood changed evidenced by the big hug he gave his wife at mid-field while clutching his grandsons and hearing the throng of PSU well-wishers resounding in his ears.

The situation brought tears of joy to Nittany Lions' fans as well as Paterno, who was taken visibly by the astounding applause.

The hug he placed on his wife could have been called a "Bear Hug," as it was the record of Bear Bryant that Paterno had just surpassed.

Entire career: Paterno has been "Mr. Football" at Penn State since he took over as head coach in 1966. Previously, he had been an assistant for the Nittany Lions for 15 years. He has devoted his entire coaching career to the Blue and White.

And now, he's the No. 1 man in all of major college football. He earned it and we hope he continues to coach at PSU for many more years. It just won't be the same without Joe at the helm of teams in Happy Valley.

Paterno's 2001 edition got off to a rocky start, dropping their first four contests before halting that skid with a bitterly fought 38-35 verdict over Northwestern, a win that tied Bryant for the all-time victory mark. Then came the surprising win over Ohio State.

The first words out of his mouth after the win over the Buckeyes were not about his 324th victory, but rather about his players who played their hearts out to nail down the win. That's what makes Paterno a fan's choice. He was proud all right, proud for what he has accomplished, proud to be head coach of the Nittany Lions. The fans were proud, too, that he was their head coach.

Frequent visitor: Paterno has visited the Mercer County area many times. Some of his stops were due to speaking engagements, while others were for recruiting purposes. He used to make house calls on his recruiting trips, hoping to lay claim to some of the outstanding talent the area had to offer. His visits paid off, to say the least.

What kind of a coach is Paterno?

His following was so huge that PSU had to build an addition to Beaver Stadium in order to accommodate the huge crowds that flocked to see his teams perform.

He has an uncanny disposition, is extremely witty and can crack jokes to break up sullen times. Above all, he's a gentlemen, on and off the field. It's no wonder PSU fans hold him in such high esteem. He's a winner, regardless of his record which is an extraordinary one.

Outstanding record: Since taking over the reins from former PSU head coach Rip Engle, Paterno had taken his Nittany Lions to 30 bowl games and came away a winner in 20 of them, more than any other coach. He has coached his teams to five undefeated seasons and to two national championships, in 1982 and 1986. Many of his players have played or currently are competing in the NFL.

Following his 324th victory, workers erected a statue of Paterno which was built outside Beaver Stadium. It was a bronze statue of Joe, which will last forever at the home of the Nittany Lions' football teams. A great tribute to a great coach.

And perhaps to top off that, the Senate in Washington, D.C., passed a resolution, praising Paterno for becoming the only coach in major college football to win 324 contests.

The resolution pointed out Joe's attributes including "constant integrity, professionalism and strong focus on character building, and for his lifetime emphasis on academic achievement.




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