Things are getting somber in Happy Valley, where Penn State coach Joe Paterno has been stuck on 322 career wins—one short of Bear Bryant's Division I-A record—since last November. The Nittany Lions are 0-4 for the first time, with formidable Northwestern and Ohio State coming up. If JoePa can't get Penn State untracked, he could be beaten to Bear's mark by Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who has 318 wins. Paterno isn't the first sports figure whose wait to reach a milestone turned into a weight around his neck.
White Sox pitcher Early Wynn entered the 1962 season with 292 career wins and seemed a lock to reach 300 that year. But after Wynn amassed a 7-12 record to reach 299 wins on Sept. 8, he dropped his last three decisions. He didn't get number 300 until July 13 of the following year, pitching for the Indians. Wynn finished 1-2 for Cleveland and retired with exactly 300 victories.
That number is also a benchmark for catchers: Only three had hit 300 home runs before Gary Carter of the Mets did it in 1988. He swatted number 299 on May 16 and then didn't hit another for 225 at bats over nearly three months before belting number 300.
Jimmie Foxx's dry spell, between 499 and 500 homers, wasn't as long. Still, it represented a tortuous span for a slugger who had averaged a round-tripper every 14.2 at bats when the 1940 season started. Foxx belted number 499 on Sept. 4. It took him 20 days to reach 500, which is what he finished the year with.
Sometimes No. 1 is the toughest mark to reach. Golfer Bobby Wadkins failed to win an event in 712 attempts on the PGA Tour, from 1975 to 2001. He holds the record for most Tour earnings (more than $2.8 million) without a win. Wadkins, though, found new life at 50: In August he won in his first time out on the Senior tour.
Then there are the guys who come up just short. On Sept. 24, Tuffy Rhodes of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes tied Sadaharu Oh's Japanese single-season record of 55 home runs. Alas, in the final five games he failed to bag number 56. Seems Tuffy, an ex-Cub, will have to wait till next year. Paterno, who doesn't have a patsy on his schedule, might have to do the same.