It's not very often that you can say that a record will never be broken in the world of sports. But when Penn State's head coach Joe Paterno won his 400th game with the Nittany Lions in Saturday's 35-21 victory over Northwestern, that's precisely what we have.....an accomplishment that the odds say will never be broken by any head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
After the win, Coach Paterno, who had been downplaying the significance of win #400 for sometime, said the following;
"People ask me why I've stayed here so long, and you know what? Look around, look around. Now that the celebration's over, let's go beat Ohio State".
Looking around....there were the more than 100,000 people in the stands of Beaver Stadium, making it "the third largest city is Pennsylvania" seven weekends every fall, and the 20,000 students in the "whiteout" student section once again.
To put this into perspective....if a university were to hire a new 35 year old head football coach who was instantly successful and proceeded to win 10 games a year until he was 65, he would fall 100 wins short of Paterno's record.
Joe Pa will be 84 years old next month. My father is only five months younger; he retired in 1993. Paterno arrived on the campus of Penn State after graduating from Brown University in 1950. He began his career as a Penn State assistant at about the same time my parents celebrated their first wedding anniversary. They have been married 61 years as of last July.
Paterno became the head coach at Penn State in 1966 and the Nittany Lions went 5-5 that first season. While Penn State and the legend to be had an up and down season, the following was happening in the nation and around the world in the autumn of 1966..............
The Beatles had just finished their last ever tour of the United States on August 29. Except for their impromptu jam on the roof of Apple studios in 1969, the 1966 American tour represented their last live performances, ever.
On September 8, Star Trek debuted on NBC.
On September 16, the Metropolitan Opera House opened in New York City.
On September 19th, Scotland Yard arrested Buster Edwards in connection with the infamous Great Train Robbery.
In October 1966 Toyota debuted the Corolla, and the Black Panther Party was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
On October 9, the Baltimore Orioles (with Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson) finished their four game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers (with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale) in the World Series.
President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the creation of the Department of Transportation on October 15th. The next day Grace Slick made her debut as the lead singer with Jefferson Airplane.
On October 21, the merger of the AFL and NFL was approved by Congress. Soon plans were made for Super Bowl I, then called "The AFL-NFL Championship Game".
On November 8 Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first African American elected to the US Senate since Reconstruction. The following day John Lennon met future wife Yoko Ono for the first time in a London gallery.
On December 15, Walt Disney died. How The Grinch Stole Christmas debuted on December 18, narrated by the late Boris Karloff( who died in 1969).
And of course, the Vietnam War was dragging on into the new year.
If it seems like it's been a long time, well it has been. I can think of few people who have been doing the same job and doing it so well for so long (with the possible exception of the three remaining founding members of The Rolling Stones) than the Brooklyn born, Ivy league educated man who became a legend in Happy Valley. Our pop culture demands that we manufacture some new icons every few years. But true icons, and legends, do it the old fashioned way.....and Joe Paterno has earned his place in the pantheon of college football immortals. That is, as if he hadn't already.
Congrats Coach.....from a loyal Rutgers guy.