Three rings, four rings, five rings ...
"Hello ... you've reached the Paternos. Joe and Sue aren't available to take your call. Please leave a message."
"Joe, this is Paul Bryant ..."
SuePa gets ready to hit the delete button.
"It's just a funny-phone call," she says.
"Wait," JoePa says, grabbing her hand. "Remember he called here a few years ago, when I was trying to break his record? I can't forget that voice. It's him. It's The Bear. And his voice is even deeper. He even sounds like God."
SuePa takes a step back. Both sit down quietly at the kitchen table, and the message continues.
"I see you're still at it, and you're coming down to my old stomping grounds this weekend. You are one of my heroes, you old son of a ... gun. I know you're busy trying to get that freshman quarterback ready. I saw some highlights; he looks good. Try to keep the pressure off him, though. Don't let him talk to the media."
"Oh, you won't have to worry about that," Sue interjects.
"Joe, I read the transcript from your press conference. We get the internet up here so I printed it out and took it to the weekly card game just to show Woody and Bo. We all got a good laugh. Those guys said if they had known you'd be in the Big Ten this long, hell, they wouldn't have gotten out of coaching so soon, not that Woody had a choice, if you know what I mean."
Joe and Sue snicker.
"And you know what? I run into Rip once in a while. We've had coffee a few times, and we talk about the '59 Liberty Bowl. He's real proud of you."
JoePa hits the pause button.
"How long can these messages run?" he asks SuePa.
"Joe, I didn't mind that you didn't want to talk much about me the other day, that you want to keep the focus on the game. But when I saw you on ESPN, heck I wanted to brag to all my friends up here that I was 4-0 against the winningest coach in Division I-A football and that it was once my record that you broke."
"I knew he'd bring that up," JoePa whispers to Sue.
"And I think you were smart to tell those writers you're undermanned for this week. I saw your offensive line didn't really move those boys from Youngstown, but I sent an e-mail to Coach Saban to not get overconfident. I know you weren't showing much on defense. And I know that every time we matched up with you, it was a tough, physical game. We may have won them all, but our boys always had a lot of respect for you and your program.
"I better go now, Joe. My cell phone plan doesn't include Pennsylvania, but I just had to call. I admire what you've meant to Penn State and the game, and I look forward to seeing you one of these days. But hang in there and don't hurry.
"And good luck against my old Tide. I'm afraid you're going to need it."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.