Wednesday, at an Orange Bowl press event set up by the Penn State sports information office for the purpose of creating opportunities for dialog between reporters and the the players, something was missing: the players. Our curmudgeonly head coach, Joe Paterno, had announced at the last minute that the players had better things to do and that he would face the press alone.
Joe had done something similar last Sunday, when an initial press encounter had been set up after the bowl announcements. This time, however, there was enough time to have given the reporters advance notice that the players wouldn’t be there. After all, State College is not an easy travel destination, especially given the bad weather of the past week. Predictably, the reporters were pissed off.
So, apparently, was Joe. Instead of apologizing for the faux pas, he took the curmudgeonly offensive. Irascible Joe could never be accused of romancing the sports press, but it seems that this year he has become excessively antagonistic.
“I’m not even sure why we are even having a press conference now this far away from it,” said Joe.
One reporter, Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror, expressed his opinion that the player cancellations had made it difficult for the press to cover the event for the fans. He added that he wondered whether the slight was intentional.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Paterno said. “I don’t care whether it is intentional. I am only worried about the squad.”
“We’ve got exams next week. We’ve got final exams next week and right now, Friday and Saturday we’ve got to practice. And I’m not crazy about practicing Friday and Saturday but I’ve got to. And Sunday we have a senior banquet, and then Monday we start exams. We’ve got 35 kids with exams on Monday.
“And I couldn’t care less. I’ll be very blunt with you, I couldn’t care less about the media. We’re three weeks away from the football game, OK? There’s plenty of time for those kids to associate with you. I have no obligation to you guys. I just want you to understand that.”
Further on, JoePa beat on them some more, castigating the assembled press corps for not giving Michael Robinson enough publicity, thereby denying him Heisman possibilities.
“All I know is that Michael Robinson is not one of the finalists for the Heisman Award. Whose fault is that? Is that my fault? Or is that your fault? Should I be here bitching about you guys or you guys bitching about me? OK? It is as simple as that. I don’t have the slightest idea because I don’t read what you guys write. I don’t mean to be adversarial, but I don’t particularly like people coming here and telling me that my kids have to be here when I don’t think they should be here. That is my responsibility. I think Michael Robinson should be one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy. He isn’t. I think you guys heard me on television enough times to say he made the big difference in our football team. Whether he deserves it more than the two kids at Southern Cal or the kid at Texas, bringing Michael Robinson here isn’t going to do a darn thing about that because you guys don’t have that kind of impact. You have seen him play, vote for him. If you guys have votes, vote for him.”
Exasperated by Paterno’s harangue and by their lack of access to the players, a reporter asked how the players feel about playing in a bowl game after the non-bowl years of 2003 and 2004.
Joe’s response? “You’ll have to ask them.”
Eventually, Paterno felt somewhat remoreseful about his behavior, offering the follow semblance of an apology:
“Let me just say that I know I sounded a little bit abrasive, that is about the easiest way I can put it. I really am concerned that we are so far away from the game and there is so much going on that it bothers me a little bit and it is so close to final exams. So if I am a little bit protective, I would rather be that and alienate you guys and girls than I would to get all caught up in a whole other thing because one thing leads to another. If the kids are available one day, then somebody else wants them the next day and somebody else the next day.”
Of course, Joe is right about that, but he sure as hell could have been smoother in how he dealt with it.
On the evening following that screwed-up press conference, Joe was in Orlando to receive the Coach of the Year award at the Home Depot/ESPN Awards Show. While some might equate Joe’s winning that award this year as tantamount to winning one of those “lifetime achievement awards,” Joe really deserves it for this year’s turn-around.
Also, at the same awards show, Paul Posluszny received the Bednarik Award as the best defensive player, joining prior PSU winner LaVar Arrington. Posluszny beat out Ohio State’s A. J. Hawk for the award. However, Hawk captured the Lombardi award elsewhere. Both men are finalists for the Butkus Award to be presented on Saturday night. DeMeco Ryans of Alabama is also a Butkus finalist.
Here Comes Santa Claus!
In prior years the Nittany Lion Santa Claus had been portrayed by the corpulent Anthony Adams. With the departure of Adams, there is a vacancy for the position this year. Paterno has some ideas on the subject.
“… I was just kidding the kids the other day now that Anthony Adams isn’t with us, he was our Santa Claus for a couple of years, I am looking around and they all volunteered A.Q. Shipley because he is built more like Santa Claus than anybody else. We will see what happens.”
Shipley is listed at 6’1″, 292 pounds.
Williams Could Be Ready for Orange Bowl
Star freshman wide receiver Derrick Williams, previously announced as being out for the season with no possibilities for post-season play, is apparently healing well and is being monitored week-to-week. The notion of Williams playing in the Orange Bowl is not being ruled out.
“The doctor and I have talked and I talked to Derrick the other day and the doc said that he has a chance, but it is not a done deal,” said Paterno. “I am not the doctor, but they are going to watch him week by week and if they feel comfortable that there is no danger, they will probably let him work out, maybe, a week or two and then we will see what happens.”
Williams broke his arm late in the Michigan game in October.