- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Paterno wheeled around, a look of surprise on his face. "What do you mean? Where'd you hear that?"
"You said it last night, Joe."
Paterno hesitated before speaking. "But you wouldn't want me to leave, would you, Jackie?"
"It sure would make things easier on me if you did," Sherrill replied.
Paterno started heading off again, and Sherrill called after him, "Hey, Joe, you'd better get ready. You're going to be in for a long afternoon."
Through a spokesman Paterno says he has "no recollection of that ever happening." But the incident remains sharp in Sherrill's memory. He can repeat the exchange verbatim, along with the outcome of the game. Pitt won by 15 points, and as Sherrill will tell you, the Panthers beat Penn State the next year too, becoming the only visiting team ever to prevail at Beaver Stadium two years in a row.
There are still other stories about Sherrill's proud, defiant nature, one of which comes from Jimmy Johnson, the Dallas Cowboys' coach. As Johnson tells it, several years ago he and his wife at the time joined Sherrill and his wife at the time on a trip to Fishers Island, N.Y., a tony summer community on Long Island Sound. Johnson was then Sherrill's assistant head coach at Pitt, and he had looked forward to that holiday as a chance to relax and enjoy himself. The two couples Hew to the island on a private plane. According to Johnson, Sherrill argued with the pilot when the man refused to let him take the controls.
"I'm thinking, To hell with this," Johnson says. "Let's go! I want to get to that island! But there's Jackie—he doesn't even have his license yet—and he's trying to pilot the thing!"
That night, Johnson says, the two couples went to dinner at a country-club restaurant whose menu was so expensive that prices weren't even listed. A fellow at the next table was describing his trip to the island and lamenting the fact that bad winds had kept him from flying in, forcing him to take a boat. Sherrill was eavesdropping, Johnson says: "You could see he was really getting interested. Finally he turns to face this guy, and he says. "Why didn't you just fly?'
"The man looks at him and says, 'The wind was too bad, and I fly a Cessna such-and-such, and the runway at the airfield wasn't long enough to accommodate me.' Then Jackie tells him, 'You'd've had enough runway if you'd landed into the breeze coming off the surf.' The man looks at him awhile and then says, 'Hey, buddy, listen to me. I've been flying 45 years now. I should know what I'm talking about."