SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
November 11, 1968
A Beethoven symphony swirls through the mind of a defensive tackle. A linebacker earnestly dashes to physics class on the morning of a game. Test tubes intrigue a cornerback, math fascinates a center, engineering problems make a safety swoon. And while the youthful keeper of all these characters, 41-year-old Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, should be fretting about his team's possible climb toward No. 1 or an Orange Bowl bid, he stares at the boutique-colored leaves of the pastoral Alleghenies, thinks about romantic poets and longs to drive his kids over to Waddle or Martha Furnace or Tusseyville so they can sit down and talk to a cow. Is this the atmosphere that has produced the best college football team the East has seen in years? You can bust everybody in Potters Mills if it isn't.
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November 11, 1968

The Idea Is To Have Some Fun-and Who Needs To Be No. 1

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"I tell the kids who come here to play, enjoy yourselves. There's so much besides football. Art, history, literature, politics. The players live all over the campus. I don't want 'em to have a carpeted athletic dorm, or be bunched in together where they can't associate with all types of students. When a kid takes a look around here and says, 'Gee, there's nothing to do,' I tell him I suppose there was nothing for the Romantic poets to do in the lake region of England. As far as getting an effort on the field is concerned, we stress the fact that this is the only time in a kid's life when 50,000 people are gonna cheer him. He can write the greatest novel ever, but 50,000 people aren't going to cheer him at once where he can hear it."

So Penn State players give their best for Paterno and listen for the cheers, and they really don't worry about No. 1.

"You know what happens when you're No. 1?" says Paterno. "Nobody is happy until you're No. 1 again, and that might be never."

But being No. 1, or undefeated, might make Joe Paterno the Coach of the Year. How about that?

"You know what that would mean?" Paterno says. "It would mean I could go to some clinics and make a little money. It would mean I'd have a $14,000 mortgage instead of an $18,000 mortgage. Big deal."

Joe Paterno swears he is happier relishing the truer satisfactions of coaching; knowing, for example, that he has a 6'3", 240-pound tackle from Altoona named Mike Reid who plays the church organ and the piano when he isn't crushing runners like few other interior linemen can. Or he is happier knowing he has a fanatical linebacker named Denny Onkotz from Northampton, Pa. who once jumped out of bed early on the day of a game to take a physics exam. "Let me call the prof and get you off," Paterno had told him. "I want to go," said Onkotz. "I wouldn't sleep anyhow."

Paterno does not hesitate to admit that he has a few team members who think physics is a gym class and Beethoven is a town on the Susquehanna. Kwalick, a 6'4", 230-pound tight end, is no dummy, but Paterno believes that "what God had in mind there was a football player." Kwalick is a phys. ed. major, like Bob Campbell, the halfback who ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Army. They will be first-rate pros, and football is their major interest. But overall, Paterno's squad has carried a higher academic mark for 16 straight semesters than the average of the rest of the male student body.

"That is important to me," the coach says. "But just as important is my own association with the kids. You can't con 'em. They're not hypocrites. They're sophisticated. They want to take you on, head to head, intellectually. Why, when I played football you never saw a book. But when our teams these days get on a plane, out come the books. I know that isn't the public's idea of college football, but that's the way it is. Everything is changing, and the kids want to change this world. The thing I most hate to see is an unhappy kid today. That's partly because I always had it good. Things have been easy for me, and I guess I expect good things to happen."

So, apparently, does the Penn State football team. And so far good things have happened. Wouldn't it be something if the best team in the U.S. just happened to turn out to be the most hidden, the most intellectual, the most relaxed—and the one with the coach who was least predictable? But no matter how it turns out, Joe Paterno isn't blowing this game at all.

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