There's an eight-page feature story on Joe Paterno in this week's Sports Illustrated that includes a great picture that makes him look closer to 62 than 82.
As if he needs another jinx.
Paterno is 0-5 in his last five trips to Michigan Stadium.
Mirror file photo
Michigan Stadium hasn’t been a pleasant place for Joe Paterno and Penn State in their last five visits there.
During that 11-year stretch, he's seen the black and white stripes officials typically wear turn to maize and blue; he's actually seen the home team get away with honoring a retiring referee; he's seen time added to the clock benefiting Michigan in the waning moments; and he's seen the only loss on the game's final play, in 2005, of his incredible 44-year career.
He was apparently so mesmerized by the Nittany Lions' late comeback and looming victory in '05 that he brain-cramped and decided not to squib a last-minute kickoff away from Michigan's most explosive player whose return to midfield set up the game-winning touchdown.
So this is perfect timing, of course, for SI.
But JoePa doesn't believe in jinxes or curses. Never has. During the 10-year series with Notre Dame in the '80s, he scoffed at Touchdown Jesus, saying "the Gipper's not going to make any tackles."
He believes the better team will overcome and win, and during most of the time during the frustrating series with Michigan, that's been true.
Including last year, when the Lions mercifully put an end to Michigan's nine-game streak - easily the longest against any JoePa team - with a 46-17 victory at Beaver Stadium.
But not before the Wolverines took an eerie 10-0 lead and maintained it, 17-14, at halftime - and that was a Michigan team that finished 3-9 under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.
Paterno doesn't expect the Nits to run off 32 straight points this time around. He expects a tight game, and he's curious how his team will respond.
After all, even he said, "the only tough game we've been in [vs. Iowa], we've lost."
Last year's offensive breakout was unusual in this series in that the Lions have managed more than 30 just once, with the 1994 juggernaut, and six times during the course of the losing streak were limited to 11 points or less, including two shutouts.
Michigan's defense under RichRod, though, doesn't seem to rate with the same priority it was under Lloyd Carr. The Wolverines have been lit for 30-plus three times already this year, including 33 in an escape against Indiana.
If the Lions' defense is called upon to win the game, it appears to be capable. Penn State remains the only Division I-A team in the country that has not allowed a first-half touchdown. As encouraging is the fact that the Lions are just starting to get all their expected contributors, such as Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and A.J. Wallace, on the field simultaneously.
But while the Nits lead the Big Ten in many statistical categories, that must be tempered by the quality, or lack, of opposition, and they can not afford to button up the offense, as Paterno sometimes does in big games.
To that end, this is a great test of where both of these programs stand - Michigan, in trying to stamp progress into RichRod's second season, and the Lions, trying to maintain their toe in the door of Big Ten title contention.
If he can find success at Michigan Stadium today, JoePa will really feel 62.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.