Joe looked up to see his player's face. Curry said, "When you started the game, people didn't even care who the coach was at Penn State. But after you went for it on fourth-and-one, the whole country went, 'Who the hell is the coach at Penn State?'"
So, what, Joe's going to start listening to critics now? No. Joe ain't quitting. He's thriving. His players graduate. The Paterno Library, which Joe and his wife, Sue, helped build, overflows with books. The Paterno Family Humanities Reading Room is huge and beautiful. The Pasquerilla Spiritual Center—Paterno family, major donors, of course—has offices for all the world's major religions side by side by side. The football stadium now seats 107,000-plus. And, yes, the football team went 40--11 from 2005 through 2008, and at 6--1 so far this season, Joe Paterno is holding out hope for another national championship.
"I'm not going to embarrass this university," he says, not angrily but with an edge in his voice, as if he could not imagine how anyone could miss the point: He still has something left to teach these kids. Times have not changed that much. "I think kids today, they are confused," Joe says. "They long for some kind of discipline. They want something bigger than themselves, something bigger to be a part of. We can still offer that here."
As for being out of touch ... Joe relentlessly pleads guilty. He will tell you (and tell you and tell you) he doesn't have a cellphone, and he doesn't have a computer, and he doesn't know anything about all the social networking. ("What's that thing called, Facemask?" he asks.)
He says, "My secretary, Sandi—administrative aide now, that's what they are now, administrative aides—my administrative aide gets a call from the president's office five or six years ago: 'Sandi, the president would like Joe to start answering some of his e-mail.' So Sandi says, 'Well, uh, I'll talk to him about it.'
"So Sandi comes in here and says, 'You know how to get on e-mail?' I said, 'What the heck is e-mail?' I didn't have the slightest idea. I don't need that. If I want some advice, I'll call."
Angelo, methinks the coach doth protest too much. That's the Brooklyn in him. That's the you in him. Let them underestimate Joe. Let them think the world has passed him by. Let them think the old man has gone soft. Nobody needs to know that during the off-season Joe called all his coaches together for their usual meeting.
And, first thing, he said, "Gentlemen, we need to start Twittering."
Maybe he did lose faith for a while, Angelo. Friends saw something flicker in him a few years ago. For more than 30 years, nothing had changed at Penn State. Teams won. Players graduated. Joe taught football and life. Every so often there would be an undefeated season (five in all) or a national championship controversy (once Richard Nixon himself jobbed Penn State by crowning Texas) or a brief burst of complaining ("Joe's too conservative!"), just to give variety to the seasons. But mostly, Joe made sure things stayed the same. Routines. Values. Goals. Same.
Even the Penn State uniforms and helmets stayed the same—as white and clean and plain as Pennsylvania snow. Joe unknowingly picked those uniforms as a young man, back in 1943, before coaching was even on his mind, when his old high school coach, Zev Graham, took him to a World Series game between the Cardinals and the Yankees. Graham pointed out that the Cardinals' shoes were scuffed, their uniforms untucked, their pantlegs all different lengths. The Yankees, of course, were pin-striped and immaculate. "Now," Zev said, "guess who is going to win the World Series?" The Yankees won, and Joe would forever believe in the power of looking businesslike. If Zev had taken him to the 1942 World Series, when the unkempt Cardinals pounded the Yankees in five games, there's no telling what Penn State uniforms would look like.