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JoePa can't justify grudge holding Pitt rivalry hostage

| Friday, May 13, 2005

On Thursday night, Joe Paterno, often accused of being out of touch in recent seasons, displayed a keen understanding of what a great many Pennsylvanians have always suspected is the main reason, the only reason one of college football's storied rivalries has been put on hold.

"I'm the bad guy, and I'm the guy in the black hat in this one," Paterno offered prior to a Nittany Lions' gala at the Duquesne Club.

"But I'm not."

Sensing a more detailed explanation was necessary, Paterno expounded.

The game can't be played, he maintained, for a variety of reasons.

Such as:

  • Paterno's disdain for the 12th game approved for 2006.

  • The potential need to play a I-AA team in that 12th game to maintain a level playing field with the competition.

  • Penn State's commitment to Temple for a two-for-one, three-year series, beginning in 2006 ("We have the same situation in Philadelphia that we have in Pittsburgh, with all kinds of alumni down there and all kinds of pressure to go to Philadelphia," Paterno said in an assessment Pitt ought to find insulting).

  • The poor job Pennsylvania has done fulfilling its commitment to state-supported education.

  • The need for Penn State to help satisfy its fundraising jones, the one that fuels 29 varsity sports, by playing in California, in Texas and in the Southeast.

    Forgive Dave Wannstedt and the people at Pitt, the people across the state and the people across the nation for that matter if they remain appalled and bewildered by such rationalizations.

    Pitt wants the series to resume on a home-and-home basis badly enough that Wannstedt made a priority of reaching out to Paterno upon taking over in Oakland.

    "Dave talked to me, and I tried to tell Dave, I said 'Dave' -- look, I tried to get Dave out of high school, and I think Dave's gonna do a heck of a job for Pitt, and I think that's great -- but Penn State's gotta take care of Penn State.

    "We're not an Eastern institution as far as football goes. We're a national institution playing in the Big Ten, OK?"

    Actually, it's not.

    Penn State remains first and foremost a Pennsylvania institution, but that seems to have been lost on Paterno, just as 27 Big Ten games have been lost by Paterno since Nov. 6, 1999.

    Eventually, JoePa grew tired of even his rhetoric yesterday.

    Once that happened, he established that his memory is as sharp as ever.

    "Pitt years ago, when I tried to put the Eastern Conference together, Pitt decided to go in the Big East for basketball," Paterno said. "Fine, they had to make that decision. Now, though, everything's kind of become convoluted.

    "We'd all like to re-evaluate how we got where we are and the whole bit, but you know when Pitt went in the Big East, that cut my legs out from me, what I was trying to do, because I felt we needed an all-sports conference."

    Because Paterno didn't get it, the rivalry is held hostage.

    "We can't look at what's best for Pitt," Paterno added. "We gotta look at what's best for Penn State.

    "That sounds very callous, but if we start playing Pitt home and home, I'm not going to be here, I'm not going to be coaching. You're looking five, six, seven years down the road."

    Until then, the black hat still fits, even if the Emperor never notices when he looks in the mirror.

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