The most significant big-picture development concerning the Penn State football program so far this season is not the Nittany Lions' 3-0 start.
It's that Joe Paterno is no longer running out onto the field.
In fact, JoePa isn't running anywhere: He's even having trouble walking.
Mirro photo by Teri Enciso
Joe Paterno is seen here on the sidelines during the Nittany Lions’ game at home against Oregon State two weeks ago.
Paterno was not present at the team's practice Monday, and he was in a golf cart Tuesday.
He mentioned to reporters prior to Tuesday's press conference that his right leg was sore. Thirty minutes later, he gingerly left the stage and took awhile to get into his car.
Approached after leaving the media room, Paterno didn't want to make a big deal out of it.
"I got a sore leg, simple as that," he said.
Paterno broke his left leg late in the 2006 season when he was run over on the sideline at Wisconsin.
The leg he broke is fine - "[Dr. Wayne] Sebastianelli did a great job," he said - but Paterno admitted he aggravated his right leg when he "started showing off kicking the ball [at practice] and [doing] things I shouldn't have."
He tried to force a smile.
"I did some stupid things," he said.
The 81-year-old isn't sure whether he'll be able to run out on the field again this year.
"I don't know," he said.
His discomfort also has cost him one of his favorite hobbies.
"I haven't been able to do a lot of walking," he said.
He hasn't run out for any of the Lions' three games. He tried to jog a couple of steps when the team took the field against Oregon State but quickly stopped and walked the rest of the way.
He's been walking with a noticeable limp, and he could be seen bent over, hands on his knees, a couple of times against the Beavers. Sebastianelli and team trainer George Salvatore stood close to him much of the game.
Paterno was even less mobile on the sidelines Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Like he did in the two previous games, he walked out of the tunnel, alongside his players, and didn't do nearly as much pacing as he has in the past.
Then again, the Lions beat Syracuse, 55-13, so there wasn't much need to coach.
Paterno, tied with Bobby Bowden for the most victories in Division I-A football history with 375, is in the final year of his contract.
He's long taken pride in being able to run on and off the field, and he's often said when he couldn't or if he couldn't run around demonstrating at practice, he would consider retiring.
This could be one of those sad signs that the end is indeed nearing.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.