Jan. 4, 2006
MIAMI (AP) - The longest game in Joe Paterno's 40-year head coaching career had been over for half an hour when he emerged from the victorious Penn State locker room.
Waiting at the door, wife Sue shouted his name three times before he heard. She dropped her cane as she rose from a chair, gave him a hug, kissed his cheek and rubbed his back.
"It's late," Paterno said.
Way past his bedtime, in fact, as he wryly noted. But the 79-year-old coach showed in the Orange Bowl that he's still spry enough to win a marathon.
Paterno's Nittany Lions needed 4 1/2 hours, three overtimes and three tries at a game-winning field goal to beat 76-year-old Bobby Bowden and his Florida State Seminoles, 26-23. The epic ended at 1 a.m. Wednesday, and Paterno found the result worth the wait.
After consecutive losing seasons left restless fans in Happy Valley grumbling "Joe must go," Paterno quieted critics with an 11-1 record marred only by a last-second loss to Michigan. His first Orange Bowl win since 1974 could vault the Nittany Lions to No. 2 in the final rankings Thursday.
"To think that people actually wanted him to give up the game, to call it quits - I'm at a loss for words," Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson said. "He's a great coach."
Five victories separate Bowden and Paterno, who rank 1-2 in Division I-A wins, and the margin between them was even slimmer in Miami.
Smothering defense and sudden scoring strikes - including an Orange Bowl-record 87-yard punt return by Florida State's Willie Reid - kept the teams close. So did errant kicks by both sides that could have won the game.
Gary Cismesia missed first: His failed extra-point attempt in the second quarter was his first in 46 career attempts.
Penn State's Kevin Kelly, hampered by a shaky hold, was wide left on a 29-yard field-goal attempt with 35 seconds left in regulation, and the game went into overtime at 16-all.
Florida State had possession first, and Cismesia missed again, this time on a 44-yard field-goal attempt. It was all painfully familiar to Bowden, beaten by archrival Miami six times because of missed or blocked field goals.
"When they pick the all-time missed field-goal coach, I'll probably get the award," he said.
Kelly then attempted a 38-yard game-winner. Bowden started onto the field, thinking the kick was good, but Kelly pushed it left.
When the dejected freshman reached his bench, Paterno gave him a pat on the back.
"He said to me, `Coach, I'm sorry,"' Paterno said. "I said, `You're going to have another chance to win the game. Forgot about that one. Just get your head on right to get the next one."'
In the second overtime, each team scored a touchdown - and even managed to kick the extra point.
Then Cismesia misfired for the third time, his 38-yard try bouncing off the right upright as thousands of Florida State fans groaned in unison.
Penn State picked up a first down at the 13. On second-and-9, Paterno ordered a fake field goal and sent Kelly back into the game.
Quarterback Robinson argued with his coach.
"He kept jabbering at me, `We don't need to do that,"' Paterno said. "He wanted to run the ball."
Florida State's defensive alignment negated plans for the fake, and Kelly instead split the uprights for his first game-winning field goal since ninth grade.
No. 22-ranked Florida State finished 8-5, Bowden's worst season since 1981. For the Seminoles, the ending could have been so much sweeter.
"It came down to one play," said Paterno, munching on a breakfast roll Wednesday at the team hotel after sleeping less than two hours. "His kid hit the goal post and it goes out, and ours goes in."
To Paterno, the shame about the game is that many fans missed the wild finish because they were asleep. He dislikes the way the Bowl Championship Series allows television to dictate starting times, and would prefer an earlier kickoff.
That's especially true with two septuagenarian coaches involved.
"My daughter said to me, `When you and Bowden are going to play each other again, they have that early-bird dinner. Why don't you have an early-bird TV game?"' Paterno said.
"I thought that was pretty good. I'm going to propose that to ABC - that we play the game at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I'm sure they'll be very happy with that."