There were a lot of whispers among Penn State followers these last few weeks that today's game with Michigan State could be Joe Paterno's final game at Beaver Stadium.
And it could be.
The man will be 84 in a month, and there are numerous reasons why it would make sense to call it a glorious career after this season.
He already holds the major-college record for most wins with 401, and the ceremony to celebrate 400 earlier this month surely can not be duplicated.
His health seems better, and, unlike 2006 and 2008, he can physically walk away this year, having coached on the field all season.
He's always said he'd like to leave "some meat on the bone," meaning a good team, to his successor, which he said Rip Engle did for him (though that was an in-house transition, which may differ from what is or what isn't developing with the current administration).
He's sometimes disconnected from the staff in that he spends at least part of his work day watching film and doodling plays at home and sometimes from the players in the sense that, at least this year, he has often traveled back from road games with the administration in a smaller plane that doesn't require the lengthy security check of a full team charter.
He doesn't recruit off campus in a sport that lives off charming 18-year-olds, and their parents, in their homes.
And he's definitely more isolated from the fans in that he no longer takes calls on a weekly radio show that was a great showcase for his personality, and after missing only a couple appearances during his entire career at the weekly Quarterback Club luncheon, he made just three appearances this year.
Then there's the small fact that he doesn't beat Top 10 teams anymore, and that he's 3-16 on the road vs. the Top 25 since 2000.
But those reasons apparently outweigh his desire to forge on. Maybe he's still working on an in-house succesion plan. And maybe, with a contract through the 2011 season, he truly does want one more shot.
Either way, it was the first question at his press conference Tuesday, and for reasons listed above, I thought maybe JoePa would deflect it by saying he wanted to "sit down with some people" next month or after the bowl game. Of course, that would have fueled speculation.
Instead, he put the ball right in Graham Spanier's court by saying he planned to return, that he thinks he has a very good team coming back and, "I'd like to be part of it."
Having been around Paterno for 30-plus years, I will admit I smiled.
Like many of us, I've enjoyed watching this Hall of Fame career from up close, even as the Ohio State and Iowa losses have added up, and realize we're never going to see another coach like him.
As Todd Blackledge has said, and it's true, "we're lucky for every day that we have with him."
Conversely, part of me, like most of the Nittany Nation, thinks the latest declaration is sad and would hope there is a life beyond football for him. Imagine the ambassador he could be - making appearances with the many Pennsylvania communities that have supported him and Penn State football - even if it meant having those events in State College. We could thank him and pay tribute to him and vice versa.
Surely, that would be more fun and more gratifying than standing in the cold in Columbus and Madison, where the final two games will be played in November of 2011.
JoePa clearly has not been able to face life without football, but is he being honest with himself as to his ability and willingness to do everything the job demands, everything he used to do in building his empire through the previous four decades?
As we all convened with family over Thanksgiving, I pictured the Paterno table, and I wondered whether any of his loved ones raised the retirement subject.
Or if they knew that doing so meant JoePa wouldn't pass the cranberry sauce.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.