When the dust settles, Penn State and Indiana players can say casually that they took part in Joe Paterno's 700th game as a coach at Penn State. It's probably one of the least known statistics of a man who has been under the spotlight for so long that he no longer knows the feeling of anonymity. It's difficult to summarize such a career in a way that the brain can manage it, numbers much past 10 are difficult to visualize, let alone grasp the sheer magnitude of.
In football terms Paterno will have seen 2,800 quarters of football. Coached through 42,000 minutes. Will have had 4,200 timeouts. Watched 1,400 half-opening kickoffs. Or as I like to think of it, could have sat through 75 consecutive viewings of the Lord of The Rings trilogy (Non-Blue Ray edition). All of which are feats in and of themselves.
But for Paterno, it's just one more trip around the block. "I've done my penance. I've had 700 press conferences" Paterno said at his 12:30 weekly press conference. It's a remark that embodies the rigors of coaching outside of Xs and Os. That a coaching job consumes your life and becomes who you are. One need not look farther than Florida's head coach Urban Meyer for someone forced to step down in their prime due to the toll coaching takes on the body.
If anything, Paterno's 700 games have been a testament to his perseverance. That when the odds have been stacked handily against him, he has lowered his head and taken them full on. The success resulting from Paterno's ongoing collisions with adversity have been varied, but ultimately the 404-136-3 record as head coach speaks for itself. Perhaps to a man that was, but still to a man Paterno strives to be.
For many Penn State fans the past several years have been a test of their faith. That the Grand Experiment was worth all the money and the losses to Iowa and Ohio State. Certainly these concerns are justified, Penn State is not the program it was, and is not the program it could be, but for all 700 games Paterno has given Nittany Lion fans his best effort. A thin argument to hold up against a struggling program, but no less the truth.
Last week, as he finished talking to media after beating Eastern Michigan, Paterno pulled from his pocket a sheet of paper. Neatly folded he opened it up to reveal a list of points of emphasis in the game plan. That Curtis Dukes needed to pass protect better, that the wideouts needed to run their routes better and so on. Simple points, but important details that could be missed by a casual observer. A sign from a closely guarded man that he might be older, but he is not dumb.
What the future holds for Joe Paterno and Penn State remains to be seen, but in Penn State fan's eagerness for the future, we need not forget the enormity of Joe Paterno's effort over the years. That 700 games later Joe Paterno is still chugging along, hoping to get the upper hand on the next team that walks into town. It might be exciting to think about the future of the program, but it would also be a shame to quickly shut the door on a man before saying thank you.