WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The visiting coaches box at Ross-Ade Stadium got a whole lot more experience in it Saturday.
Between Galen Hall, Dick Anderson and Ron Vanderlinden, the Lions' eyes in the sky already had more than 100 years combined coaching college or pro football, with each having served head-coaching tenures.
Joe Paterno's arrival stuffed another 59 years - 43 as head coach - into the upstairs mix, and the combination was more than enough to help overmatch Purdue, 20-6.
Paterno woke up Saturday morning dragging a painful right leg that made him decide by 8 a.m. that he couldn't stand on the sidelines.
He participated in the pre-game for about 20 minutes, most of which were spent chatting with retiring Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller, before heading for the elevator.
''He's hurting,'' offensive coordinator Galen Hall said.
Paterno was clearly in discomfort and moving gingerly at his customary media session Friday night, and for the first time was joined there by his son, Jay.
JoePa said his right knee is fine, but the aftermath of his recovery from surgery on his left knee - when he was injured two years ago at Wisconsin, which ironically is the site of this week's game - has aggravated his leg.
It didn't help that he ''horsed around'' kicking a football earlier in the season. He's taken more pills in the last two months, he said, ''than I've taken all my life.''
He spent the second half of the Temple game earlier this year in the press box, but Saturday marked the first time in '08 that he went upstairs from the outset.
He's thought about staying there for the rest of the season, but he's leaving his options open.
''I got a little arthritis,'' he said. ''Some days I feel great. Some days I don't. [Today] was a tough day - especially in the morning.''
While defensive coordinator Tom Bradley ran the team on the field - joking ''welcome to my world'' about his colleagues upstairs - Paterno still made the key decisions and offered in-game suggestions.
''His leg hurts, but he hasn't changed,'' Hall said. ''He's still very much a part of the game.''
Paterno said his presence on the field or upstairs is not a big deal because of the faith he has in his assistants.
''I keep telling you guys what a great staff I have,'' he said.
To that end, with the national spotlight getting brighter, the situation is creating a perfect opportunity for the assistants to further prove that.
Paterno, meanwhile, may need surgery, but he said Saturday - ''I'm not letting anybody get near me with a knife.''
With the Lions now 6-0 for only the second time since 1994, he doesn't have to worry about that. What does worry him is this: For the first time in his career, his health has brought him toward a crossroads.
''I'm literally playing it day by day,'' he said.
Mentally, the 81-year-old Paterno remains sharp and is focused beyond this season. His son said the family has not spoken to college football's winningest coach, about retirement.
''Not yet,'' JayPa said, ''and I don't know that he will [talk about it]. We'll go week to week, and at the end of the season we'll see how he feels, and if they [doctors] can go in and fix him up. His whole discussion the last couple weeks have been in recruiting for a year or two down the road. He doesn't act like that's something for the next guy. Mentally there's not a sign he wants to slow down.''
Physically, though, it's clearly another story.
As Penn State fans cheered his presence following Saturday's press conference, Paterno was helped down a ramp to an awaiting car that contained team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli.
''See you next week, I guess,'' he told the media.
That's probably a safe bet.
Next year, though, may not be.
Rudel can be reached a 946-7527 or email@example.com.