It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. But on October 29, 2011, Penn State delivered victory #409 to their 84-year-old leader Joe Paterno, making him the coach with the most wins in NCAA Division I football history.
Ranked #19 prior to kickoff and playing at home, 7-1 PSU was heavily favored over unranked Big Ten rival Illinois, who were 6-2 coming into Happy Valley. But by all accounts, it was a miserable game for both teams till the last few minutes.
On Saturday, one of the worst blizzards in history came upon the Northeast. Beaver Stadium was draped in heavy wet snow. Pre-game, the grounds crew did their best to clear the turf, but the white stuff kept falling and left the surface slushy and slick.
Penn State fumbled the ball six times, losing two of them plus an interception to the Fighting Illini, who led 7-0 going into the fourth quarter. With seven minutes left, Anthony Fera’s 30-yard field goal put the Nittany Lions within four. Then, with just 1:08 to go, sophomore RB Silas Redd lugged the slippery pigskin three yards to the endzone for a 10-7 lead.
But the game wasn’t quite over. On the next possession, Illinois started in its own 17 and drove all the way down to the Penn State 25. That gave kicker Derek Dimke an opportunity to tie it with a 42-yarder, but as time expired his attempt bounced off the right upright, giving Paterno the historic win.
Just how awesome is his record? Florida State’s Bobby Bowden won 377 times prior to retirement, while Alabama’s Bear Bryant got only 323 wins. Woody Hayes never even reached 250 at Denison, Miami and Ohio State combined. The man JoePa left in second at 408 victories was Grambling’s Eddie Robinson, whose feat was once thought to be unbeatable.
En route to this amazing accomplishment, the Brooklyn native, who played both quarterback and cornerback for Brown University in 1946-49 before serving 15 years as a PSU assistant coach, guided Penn State through 46 seasons. He got his team to two national championships and five undefeated, untied seasons—more than any coach in NCAA football history.
Paterno well deserves the accolades he has received, as well as the short rest that next week’s bye will afford him. Win #410 is not going to come easily. The Nittany Lions face #10 Nebraska next, followed by Ohio State and then #20 Wisconsin to close their 2011 regular season.
Should Penn State win the Leaders Division, as expected, they will face the best team in the Legends Division for the first ever Big Ten Conference Championship game. That will take place in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011.
Many say that could be the maestro’s last concert. It would certainly be a fitting way to end a glorious career if it ended in one more triumph—a final feather to add to JoePa’s war bonnet and one more victory beyond what any other coach in Division I has ever accomplished.
Hats off to JoePa!
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