A Year Behind Schedule, Paterno Gets Hall Of Fame Induction
1984 Heisman Trophy Winner Doug Flutie also a member of class
Dec. 4, 2007
NEW YORK (AP) -The College Football Hall of Fame news conference had already started by the time Joe Paterno showed up and grabbed his seat at the end of the dais.
"I apologize for being one year and 20 minutes late," the 80-year-old Penn State coach said.
No apologies necessary, JoePa.
The second-winningest coach in the history of major college football was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, but his induction had to be put on hold because this time last year he was recovering from a broken leg which was the result of two players ran into him during a game.
The rest of the class of 13 new hall of famers, including 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and former Oregon star Ahmad Rashad, were voted in earlier this year and were to be inducted at a banquet Tuesday night at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Paterno, who led Penn State to an 8-4 record this season, was hoping to take his children back to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn while he was into town, but he's been too busy.
"I'll always be a New Yorker. It's great to come back," he said.
On Monday night, Penn State threw a reception at another Manhattan hotel for Paterno. About half of the 400 people who showed up were Paterno's former players, including Franco Harris, John Cappelletti and Lydell Mitchell and Todd Blackledge.
"So many of the kids came back," Paterno said. "It was very emotional. I didn't get to spend enough time with any of them. It was like holding court."
Paterno will complete his 51st season as head coach at Penn State in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 19 against Texas A&M. No other major college coach has been at one school longer and his 363 career victories ranks second only to Bobby Bowden (366).
Bowden and Paterno were supposed be inducted into the Hall of Fame together last year, but Paterno was still gimpy from surgery to repair a broken left shinbone and torn ligaments in his knee.
"I'm only sorry I wasn't here last year with Bobby Bowden, somebody I respect so much; somebody I think has done a magnificent job at his school," Paterno said. "We've been very fortunate. God's given us good health. Every once in a while you get a little sloppy on the sideline and let somebody run into you."
Paterno became the head coach at Penn State in 1966, before any of the 12 players in the latest hall of fame class started college.
Chris Zorich, who played defensive tackle for Notre Dame from 1988-90 and was the youngest member of the induction class, marveled at how Paterno's career has spanned generations of college football players.
"He represents what college football is supposed to be about: Tradition and building character," Zorich said. "It's not about hiring a new guy every three, four years."
The rest of the new Hall of Famers were: Oklahoma center Tom Brahaney; Michigan defensive back Dave Brown; Clemson linebacker Jeff Davis; Texas defensive back Johnnie Johnson; Ohio State quarterback Rex Kern; Indiana running back Anthony Thompson; Houston defensive tackle Wilson Whitley; Dartmouth linebacker Reggie Williams; and Southern California linebacker Richard Wood.
Former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi, who led the Chippewas to 14 winning seasons from 1978-83, was the other coach going into the hall.
Brown and Whitley, the 1976 Lombardi Award winner, are both deceased and were represented by their wives.
"It's a huge validation, knowing he made a contribution to this great institution of college football," said Norma Whitley, whose husband died in 1992 of a heart attack at the age of 37.
Brown, part of a Michigan defense from 1972-74 that recorded 11 shutouts in 33 games, died in 2006 at 52 of a heart attack.
"He was an exceptional man. Not only an exceptional football player, but an exceptional father and an exceptional husband," said Rhonda Brown, who attended the news conference with her sons, Aaron, 27, and Sterling, 25.
Paterno, who said recently he feels like he can coach at least another three more years, didn't anticipate a long coaching career when he got into it as an assistant at Brown, his alma mater.
"My dad wanted me to be a lawyer. I started coaching to save some money and pay off some debts we had before I started Boston University Law School," he said. "Then I get hooked.
"My Mom got on the phone and said 'What did you go to college for?' My dad said 'Whatever you're going to do, have an impact.'
"I think he'd be proud."