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Black Shoe Diaries Q & A With Lou Prato, Part One

Well after watching BSD almost melt down yesterday, I thought this would be the perfect time to spoil you with another Lou Prato visit to BSD.  Legendary Lou took some time (a lot of time) answering some questions we had for him.   Also, be sure to check back tomorrow for part two.

It's always nice to get the historical prospective on all things Penn State and Lou did an excellent job with that.  Yesterday, I took a look at this seasons loss differential (to date).  We'll revisit that topic once the bell sounds on the 2010 season.  For now, enjoy the conversation with Lou. 

QBsneak12: We are at the halfway point of the 2010 season.  Give us a historical perspective of how this season compares to years past, particularly since Joe Paterno has been the head coach.

Lou Prato: I started thinking about this a couple of days before the Illinois game, believing the outcome could set the tone for the rest of the season.  If that's now true, then 2010 will not turn out well.  Most BSD readers lived through the worst years of the Paterno era --2000-01 and 2003-04.  Judging by the internal turmoil and sniping that became public in the aftermath of the embarrassing loss to Illinois, 2010 looks like it will be much worse than we all anticipated.

At 3-3, this is by far a better start than any of those 2000 teams, and even better than Paterno's 1983 squad, which, like the 2001 team, lost its first three games of the season (with the 2001 squad also losing a fourth straight before a win).  What's troubling is the way this team was beaten by a so-so Illinois team.  Sure, there were too many key players missing because of injuries, which meant the use of a lot of inexperienced players.  But there seemed to be a lack of desire, a lot of confusion and downright ineptness on the field in the play calling and execution of the plays.

With the caliber of opposition ahead, it may be difficult for this team to even with the minimum of three more games to get a lesser bowl game.  However, the challenge is there, if the players and coaches develop the right attitude on and off the field.  The 1983 squad reversed the losing, winning seven of the next eight games, tying Pitt and then beating Washington in the Aloha Bowl.  There is even a better example of a team overcoming adversity and heavy criticism from the fans and the media in Penn State's 1964 team, which also lost three straight at the start of the season and four of its first five.  The next week, the '64 Lions upset No. 2 Ohio State, 26-0, in Columbus, won their last four games, finished No. 14 in the country, won the Lambert Trophy as the best team in the East, and rejected a bowl bid because the players said they had nothing else to prove.

Then there was the 1988 team.  They were 4-2 at the halfway point, and then lost their last five games to give Penn State its first losing season in 50 years.  There were a lot of similarities between the makeup of that team and the 2010 squad - with a lack of leadership, erratic play on the field, injuries, and a true freshman quarterback in Tony Sacca.  Joe Paterno called the season "the Hellfires of '88."  We can only hope 2010 will not become "Hellfires Part 2."

QBsneak12: With the way Nebraska is now playing, and is once again a serious contender for the national championship, do you have any thoughts about Nebraska coming into the Big Ten next season?  And what's your perspective on Nebraska as Penn State's rival game with the other conference, and the fact that Penn State will no longer be playing Michigan State on an annual basis?

LP: Like a lot of other Penn State fans, I think Nebraska's entry into the Big Ten is a big coup for the league.  I don't have to go into details because so much has already been written or broadcast on radio and TV.  I am only disappointed that the annual game with Nebraska won't be played at the end of the season to make it a bona fide "true," anything-can-happen rival game, ala Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, USC-UCLA, etc.  Now, Big Ten officials say that could change in the future, but for a least two years, our end of season rival will be Wisconsin.  According to what I have read in the Wisconsin media, Wisconsin's athletic department isn't happy with that situation either, even though Coach Bret Bielema told Rivals' Tom Dienhart a few days ago that he likes Penn State as the end of season game.  We'll have to see how it all plays out over the next couple of years.

So, for now, playing Nebraska at mid-season won't stop all the complaining from the fans who remember those great, end of season games against Penn State's so-called "bitterest" rival, Pittsburgh.  Michigan State seemed like a natural to replace Pitt when Penn State went into the Big Ten in 1993.  Not only were the schools two of the original Land Grant Institutions, but there had been 10 games between the schools long before 1993, going back to 1913.  However, for one reason or another, neither Penn State or Michigan State fans or the players ever developed the animosity and/or emotion that many true rivals have towards each other.  I don't believe there is or will be that kind of enmity in the Nebraska-Penn State rivalry either, at least for the foreseeable future.  This rivalry is one of mutual respect because of the great games the teams have played over the years, plus the national championship controversies that surrounded the 1982 and 1994 seasons.

As for not playing Michigan State annually, I won't miss that game in particular.  what I will miss is an annual fall trip to Michigan or Michigan State, which hasn't always happened in the last couple of years anyhow.  That's because the Detroit area has been like a second home since I was a kid.  I even worked there for several years in the early 1970s when I was in broadcast news, and I still have some relatives and a lot of old friends back there.  In fact, some BSD readers might find it interesting to know I was once a big Michigan fan and was part of the homes game's broadcast team for our radio station as the spotter for the play-by-play man.  I spent many Saturday afternoons in the Big House watching the "Big Two and the Little Eight" with Bo and Woody going at each other.  In 1972 I wrote a tongue-in-cheek story for the Penn State-Pitt Game day program about being a Penn State fan in Big Ten country entitled, "A Heathen Among Missionaries."  Nowadays, I can't stand those arrogant Michigan fans.

QBsneak12: Let's talk about another sport, ice hockey.  Are you a hockey fan, and how do you think the addition of a varsity hockey team will affect Penn State athletics overall?

LP: My Detroit roots turned me into a hockey fan no thanksgiving night in 1952 when I saw my first NHL hockey game with the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadians tying 1-1.  I was hooked.  I saw a couple more Red Wings games in the 1950s and I remember seeing a Johnstown minor league team play a time or two - before the team become famous when Paul Newman's classic movie "Slap Shot" was mad there.  Then, in 1967 I covered the milestone draft in Montreal when the NHL expanded from six to twelve teams and created the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers.  Hockey News, the bible of pro hockey, asked me to be its Penguins stringer for two years and I did that until moving to Detroit.  After that, I saw many games in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, and even Cincinnati.  I haven't seen too many of the Icer games here because of various reasons, but I still watch hockey on TV, and with the HDTV you can finally see the puck.

There's no doubt in my mind that hockey will go over big at Penn State.  There already is a built-in fan base from the students who live in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York-New Jersey areas.  Many of these students played hockey as kids and that is still going in.  In many areas, the hockey arenas are open all night or very early in the morning for all the kids and adults interested in playing.  Do you realize the Penn State ice hockey summer camps are among the most popular?  Those kids who come here every year are also going to be instant Penn State hockey games.  And once people outside of the hard core hockey nuts see major college hockey they are going to be hooked, too, like I was at my first NHL game.  If you like football, you should like hockey.  If you get into it, the game is even more exciting than football, and, in my mind, basketball, too.  That's why I think they will pack the new Penn State arena.  Right now, Penn State officials have said they want to build an arena with a seating capacity of 6,000-8,000.  That's probably a smart idea since State College is still a relatively small town in a basically rural area.  Men's basketball is a good example.  The weekend crowds are almost always much bigger than weeknight crowds because of the distance some of the fans have to travel to get here.  So, a 12,000-16,000 seat hockey arena might have too many empty seats for too many games.  But I hope that it is big enough because I think hockey will eventually become one of the three Penn State varsity sports that make a profit (along with football and men's basketball).  What's also going to help is the Big Ten network broadcasting the games.  I'm quite excited about it and very happy for Joe Battista who has been dreaming of this for a long, long time.

Great stuff some far.  A lot of great information in those answers.  Check back tomorrow for part two.