(NOTE: Be sure to check out the video to the right for up-close footage of JoePa getting carried off the field after the game.)
UNIVERSITY PARK - Joe Paterno looked out at the crowd, at all he has created at Penn State, and shared one of the most magical moments in college football history with 100,000 of his closest friends.
"People ask me why I stayed here so long," the legendary 83-year-old coach said after earning his 400th victory. "And you know what? Look around, look around. I stayed here because I love you all."
A few minutes earlier - as the Nittany Lions were finishing off their 35-21 win over Northwestern - JoePa's wife, Sue, stood with her children and grandchildren outside the end zone with a camera in hand to capture the historic moments. Her other hand wiped back tears.
Sue has watched her husband accomplish so much in 45 years as Penn State's head coach, and on this night, she saw him accomplish a feat that likely will never be equaled in major college football.
Paterno became the first coach in Division I history to win 400 games Saturday night. Two other coaches have reached that milestone at lower levels - Eddie Robinson at I-AA Grambling (408) and John Gagliardi (477 and counting) at Division III St. John's of Minnesota - but neither of those match what JoePa has done in Happy Valley.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State coach Joe Paterno is carried to the center of the field after earning his 400th career victory in a 35-21 win over Northwestern on Saturday.
He has done so much for the football program and the university that, to many people, Paterno is Penn State.
"This is a great milestone for Joe Paterno," PSU President Graham Spanier said. "What he's meant for the university is quite amazing in terms of fundraising, the spirit and unity that he's brought to the university. We're just very grateful for everything that he's done."
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, offensive lineman Eric Shrive and graduate assistant coach Gus Felder hoisted Paterno onto their shoulders for a historic championship ride.
"They had me up there before I knew it," Paterno said. "I was hoping they wouldn't, to be very honest."
He joined his wife and met Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald at midfield, shared some hugs and then headed toward a planned celebration in the south end zone. Almost every fan in attendance stayed put to witness the historic moment.
"I'd be dishonest if I told you it wasn't a moving night for me. It was," Paterno said.
Athletic director Tim Curley presented Paterno with a crystal football "for being the greatest college football coach ever."
"This is just a wonderful day," Curley said. "It's a wonderful moment for college football and certainly Penn State and the Paterno family. It's just a historic day. We're so pleased and happy it happened here in front of our fans."
Paterno spoke to the crowd and said, "I want to thank President Spanier and Tim Curley for making this such a special night. But most of all I want to thank the guys who have played for us, and I mean us. I mean Penn State."
His son, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, teared up during the celebration and again in the postgame press conference. Another son, Scott, was one of two-dozen family members on hand to enjoy the moment.
"It's a tremendous accomplishment," Scott said, "and I think it means as much to every player that was part of it."
Getting to 400 is significant, but JoePa closed his speech to the crowd by keeping the fans fired up about what matters most to him at this point.
"Now that the celebration's over, let's go beat Ohio State," he said.
If that upset happens next week, it would be victory No. 401. And just how many more can he get?
"Who knows?" offensive coordinator Galen Hall said. "He might get 500."
Mirror Staff Writer Cory Giger is at 949-7031.