CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - If you're lucky, you've had a brush with greatness, a chance meeting with someone famous that provided an interesting story you've told over and over again.
A couple of random guys who were doing one of the most boring things in life - riding an elevator - enjoyed their brush with greatness Saturday morning.
The elevator stopped on the third floor of Penn State's team hotel at 10:30 a.m., the doors opened and there was Joe Paterno.
The next 20 seconds provided those two guys with 20 years, at least, of interesting stories.
"It was just a quiet thrill," said John Banionis, a 27-year-old Penn State alum wearing a gray Nittany Lion sweatshirt. "It's like, 'There he is.' He's exactly like I expected, just completely unassuming, nice guy."
Of course Banionis was thrilled. The Philadelphia native is PSU proud, was in town to watch his alma mater play Illinois and got a chance to chat with one of the greatest coaches of all time.
The other guy in the elevator, Jonathan Rubenstein, was there to root against Paterno's team. The 54-year-old from the Chicago suburbs attended the game with his 18-year-old son, Benjamin, a freshman at Illinois.
Rubenstein's first thought when the elevator doors opened was, "It's like, 'Oh my God, it's Joe Paterno, a legend.' It's exciting."
Every time you're around Paterno - for those who have had such fortune - you know you're in the presence of greatness. It was a clear reminder to me, as the third random guy standing in that elevator, to see how his presence affects others.
"I had a regular conversation with him," Banionis said. "Very cool.
"I said, 'Hey, Joe, how's it going?' We just started talking about the game, and he just said he was ready."
Very ready, it turned out, as the Nittany Lions pounded Illinois later in the afternoon, 35-17.
Rubenstein took a different approach to his 20 seconds with Joe. He stood back, remained quiet out of respect and observed the coach from the opposite corner of the elevator.
"You have mixed feelings when you run into somebody that's famous," Rubenstein said. "In a sense, you don't want to bother him because you feel that most people try to bother him.
"The thing that strikes you is he's a legendary guy and a famous guy, but he's just a regular guy. He walks on both feet just like anybody else, and he's entitled to have his private time."
Paterno doesn't get much of that. No matter where he goes, he's always the center of attention.
Great people always are.
Some people dislike Paterno for various reasons, sports or otherwise. But even if you're a Penn State hater or think the coach is too old and should retire, I'll guarantee if you were standing in that elevator, you would have been thrilled to have met the man.
"The legend of his coaching and the years he's put in and the success and his reputation transcends football," Rubenstein said. "No matter what your allegiance is toward the team you're rooting for, you've got to root for him."
Shortly after getting off the elevator, Rubenstein called his two sons and told them he had met Paterno. That thrill undoubtedly softened any disappointment he may have felt later on when his team got licked, as JoePa always says, by Penn State.
Banionis got a double thrill, getting to meet the iconic 82-year-old coach and watching the Lions win.
Which one do you think he'll remember most?
"This is a life story now," Banionis said, "for the next 40, 50 years."
Just about the time Paterno will be getting ready to retire.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.