JOE PATERNO : No Playoff? Try Roses : A Title Game Is Preferable, but Coach Will Take Pasadena


Joe Paterno has taken Penn State football teams to 24 bowl games, and has won 15, but No. 25, the Rose Bowl game Monday against Oregon, might be the crown jewel.

It won’t be because of the game’s national championship implications, what with No. 2 Penn State hoping to be more impressive than No. 1 Nebraska in its Orange Bowl game Sunday night against Miami.

It won’t be because a victory over 12th-ranked Oregon (9-3) would give Paterno his fifth undefeated and untied team at Penn State.


It won’t be because this is Penn State’s first opportunity to carry the Big Ten’s banner into the annual New Year’s joust with the Pac-10 champion.

And it won’t be because Paterno, who turned 68 last Wednesday, might not be around to coach many more bowl teams.

It is because it is the Rose Bowl.

“Over the years, I talked with 20, maybe 25, coaches who had been to different bowl games and to a man they told me that nothing compared with the Rose Bowl experience,” Paterno said. “Now that I’m here, I believe them. Nothing approaches it. Like they say, it’s the granddaddy of them all. What more needs to be said?”

Paterno readily admits that the opportunity of coaching in the Rose Bowl played a part in his decision to stay at Penn State when he passed 65.

“I never even dreamed of getting to the Rose Bowl because we were an independent and I knew I never wanted to leave Penn State,” he said. “But the day Penn State became a member of the Big Ten (June 4, 1990), I started thinking about it, and I’d say, yes, the opportunity of coming to Pasadena influenced me in sticking around.”

Although Paterno has never had a team in the Rose Bowl, he has seen one game. After the 1970 season, he was chosen to coach in the Hula Bowl and on his way to Honolulu stopped in Pasadena, where he watched Jim Plunkett and Stanford upset undefeated Ohio State in the 1971 game, 27-17.


“I had a great time that day,” Paterno said. “It was a great game and I sat up in the press box with (announcer) Bob Murphy and didn’t have a thing to worry about.

“I was out here a couple of days and the thing I remember most is how big Los Angeles is and how I kept trying to figure out where I was and how I was going to get to the next place. It hasn’t changed, has it?”

As far as retirement is concerned, the little man with the Coke-bottle glasses says it’s at least seven years off.

“I thoroughly enjoy coaching,” he said. “I am in no hurry to get out of it. I don’t play golf, or fish, or have any other compelling hobbies. There’s nothing I enjoy more than football.”

In his 45th year as a member of the Penn State coaching staff, and his 29th as head coach, Paterno sets records every time he sends a team onto the field. His 268 victories are the most of any active coach and his 15 bowl victories leave him sharing the record with Bear Bryant.

By putting a team in the 81st Rose Bowl game, the 1950 graduate of Brown University joins Bill Alexander of Georgia Tech, Bob Neyland of Tennessee and Frank Thomas of Alabama as coaches who have taken teams to all four major bowl games--Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange. A victory Monday would make Paterno the only one to have won all four.


Bowl games and New Year’s game triumphs aside, Paterno is an outspoken advocate of a national championship playoff for college football.

“We are the only sport that doesn’t have a playoff,” he said. “And even football has playoffs everywhere but Division I. It doesn’t make sense to not have one. I know why we don’t; a lot of coaches like it the way it is.

“In a playoff, when it’s over, only one coach is sitting on top of the world. How many bowl games are there, 18 or so? (Actually, 19.) That means there will be 18 coaches still smiling when their season ends.

“This isn’t something I’m supporting because this year we’re undefeated and only ranked No. 2. It’s something I’ve stood for for close to 30 years. It’s something college football needs. In 1968 and 1969 I became more convinced than ever that a playoff was needed. We had undefeated teams both years and I felt we were as good as any team in the country and never had a shot at the championship.”

Each season, Penn State was voted No. 2, behind Ohio State in 1968 and Texas in 1969. Paterno’s team was also unbeaten in 1973, yet was ranked No. 5.

“I have always kind of resented the fact that we have had only two national champions (1982 and 1986),” Paterno said. “I like to think we had five. I think the 1968, 1969 and 1973 teams were worthy of national championships.”


What does he think of the national championship aspirations of this year’s powerful team, with its two Heisman Trophy candidates, quarterback Kerry Collins and running back Ki-Jana Carter, and its 47.8-point scoring average in 11 games?

“First, we’ve got to worry about beating a very fine Oregon football team,” he said. “The odds, and what you so-called experts write, doesn’t tell the story. We’ve studied the films and we know how good they are, especially on defense. They blitz much more than any team in the Big Ten and that could pose a real problem for us in moving the ball.

“And they have great people in the skill positions offensively. Their quarterback (Danny O’Neil) is a gutty kid who knows how to get the job done and their offensive line is probably as big as any we’ve played all year.

“People have a tendency to look at those two early losses (to Hawaii and Utah) and overlook what they’ve done since. The way they beat USC and then won their last six games was pretty impressive to me.

“You don’t have to look back very far to know what can happen to us in a bowl game against a Pac-10 team. Remember Stanford and the Blockbuster Bowl three years ago?”

Stanford won, 24-3.

“As far as the championship is concerned, all we can do is play our very best football against Oregon and see what happens. We could play as well as we can and it could have nothing to do with being No. 1. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”


Paterno will be watching closely Sunday night, however, when No. 1 Nebraska meets No. 3 Miami.

“I’ll be watching the Orange Bowl, sure, but I would watch it under any circumstances because I’m a college football fan and it should be a great game between two fine teams,” he said. “What happens Sunday night really doesn’t make any difference in our plans for Monday. No matter what, we have to stay focused on the matter at hand . . . and that’s beating Oregon.

“This team has worked too hard not to play well. They’ve got one more game to go, and if they win in the Rose Bowl, this group of players will become one of the great teams in Penn State football history, as good or better than any before them.”

National championship or not.