UNIVERSITY PARK - For the first time in 45 years, Joe Paterno was not the most famous football coach at Penn State.
On Tuesday, that distinction belonged to Herman Boone, the inspiration for Denzel Washington's character in the 2000 Disney film "Remember the Titans."
Boone, who in 1971 coached the integrated T.C Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., to a 13-0 record and state title, spoke to a crowd of hundreds on campus at the Eisenhower Auditorium as part of the Student Programming Association's Distinguished Speaker Series.
And he knew exactly where he was from the beginning of his speech, saying he was happy to visit "The House that JoePa Built."
"That's the last time I'll call him that," Boone quickly said, acknowledging the 84-year-old Penn State head coach as "Mr. Paterno" the rest of the night.
Boone also took playful jabs at Washington, whom he said he spoke to recently and wished he could have been to the speaking engagement as well.
"You got the better-looking one," Boone playfully told the crowd, before adding, "If anyone believes that, you belong at Ohio State."
Boone, portrayed in the film as a tireless worker who demanded much from his players, cracked jokes throughout the night, teaching the audience the difference between "right now" and "rate now" - the latter serving his North Carolina accent more justice.
"When I say do something 'rate now,' I mean to do it so fast that the Lord won't find out about it till next year," Boone quipped.
Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who played for Boone at E.J. Hayes High School in Williamston, N.C., and later coached at T.C. Williams, was not surprised by Boone's light-hearted nature, saying he has not changed one bit since he last saw him 10 years ago.
The two had dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn before Tuesday's event, and Boone took time out of his speech to praise Johnson and his wife Christine, making them stand up in the crowd so the rest of the audience could give the two a round of applause.
"Everything that he taught us at an early age really came to define me as a coach," Johnson said afterward, "because I believe the same things."
Johnson said Boone's practices were much more demanding than portrayed in the movie. Before Boone's speech, the auditorium showed a clip of Washington waking his players up at 3 a.m. during training camp to run them through the woods to the Gettysburg Battlefield.
Does Johnson work his players as hard today?
"No, they got limitations," he said with a laugh. "Those days you didn't have limitations."