There are a handful of magical places that dot the American landscape where football seeps from the bedrock and fills every nook and cranny of the community.
Penn State is one of those places: a little whistle stop of a town in the hills of central Pennsylvania, where football has left its unmistakable stamp upon the rural culture of the region.
Much of the credit for Happy Valley's intimate connection with the great American game goes to one person: Joe Paterno, perhaps the most beloved coach in college football history.
Paterno is truly a living legend: a man already immortalized with a statue
outside an arena that's exploded in size (as you'll see below) under his tenure, and where he still coaches today. Penn State fans don't hide their passion for Paterno. In fact, one of the chants you here constantly before, during and after Penn State games goes like this:
"You say Joe-Pa!"
"I say Ter-no!"
"Joe-Pa Ter-No! Joe Pa Ter-No!"
Count the Cold, Hard Football Facts among JoePa's admirers. We've been to Penn State countless times, largely because if you live in our little corner of the world in New England, then State College, an eight-hour drive from Boston, is the closest place where you'll find big-time football. (Puny Gillette Stadium, for example, doesn't hold a candle to Beaver Stadium. One, Gillette would fit inside Beaver Stadium. Two, the parking lots outside Gillette open four or five hours before kickoff; the parking lots outside Beaver Stadium, mostly grassy farmland, open Thursday afternoon. Three, Gillette is probably the quietest arena in sports; Beaver Stadium is one of the most raucous.)
Paterno did not bring football to Penn State. The school began playing the game in 1887, and even enjoyed some fair amount of success, especially in the 1950s.
But there's no doubt Paterno has made Penn State the bastion of football that it is today. And 2008 has been one of his greatest seasons. The Nittany Lions are one last-second, one-point loss away from playing for the national title, but have a fairly significant second-place prize: representing the Big 10 on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl, still one of the most glamorous games on the sporting calendar.
Not bad for a team led by a feisty 81-year-old coach with a bad leg forced to coach from the press box and who most thought was washed up a few years ago.
So, in light of Penn State's impending trip to Pasadena, here's a look at one of the great figures in football history in the Cold, Hard Football Facts style. That is, here's a look at Joe Paterno by the numbers.
Paterno's winning percentage at Penn State (383-126-3).
Number of Heisman Trophy winners who have played for Paterno. John Cappelletti
won football's most famous trophy in 1973, after dedicating the season to his little brother Joey Cappelletti. Joey died of leukemia in 1976, and the brothers' story was made into the TV movie, "Something for Joey
Paterno's undisputed national championships (1982, 1986).
Pro Football Hall of Famers who played for Paterno
as head coach (Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Mike Munchak); Hall of Famer Lenny Moore played at Penn State in the 1950s, when Paterno was an assistant.
The number of undefeated teams Paterno fielded that were denied national titles (1968, 1969, 1973, 1994).
Number of undefeated teams Paterno has coached (1968, 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1994)
Paterno's record in his first year as Penn State's head coach (1966). He's fielded just five teams of .500 or worse since then.
Number of turnovers the No. 2 Nittany Lions forced in their 14-10 upset victory over No. 1 Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.
Number of first downs for the Penn State offense in that same Fiesta Bowl.
Number of Penn State teams Paterno has coached with one loss or fewer.
Brown University's career interception record
, set by Paterno who played defensive back (and quarterback) for the Bears from 1947 to 1949 (tied by Greg Parker, 1993-96).
Paterno's age at the end of World War II (yes, he's old).
Paterno's Top 10 teams.
Penn State bowl victories under Paterno.
Years Paterno has been Penn State's head coach.
Paterno's age next month (his birthday is December 21).
Number of Paterno players drafted by the NFL (1967-2008).
Penn State's point differential in 2008, easily tops in the Big 10.
Paterno's victories as a head coach, most in NCAA Division 1-A (FBS) history.
Number of games Penn State has won with Paterno on the coaching staff, or 61 percent of all the victories in school history.
The number of games Penn State has won in its entire history: 800–348–42 (.670)
Year Paterno joined Penn State as an assistant coach.
Year Paterno became Penn State's head coach.
Beaver Stadium's capacity when Paterno became head coach in 1966.
Beaver Stadium's capacity today.
Paterno's annual salary, the lowest of any big-name Division 1-A coach.