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One tough guy: To no one's surprise, Paterno bounces back from collision


August 16, 2011
By Cory Giger,
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Devon Smith, who clobbered Joe Paterno in practice 10 days ago, just smiled, shook his head with respectful disbelief and stated the obvious.

"He's tough," the Penn State receiver said Tuesday about his 84-year-old coach.

So tough is Paterno that he has every intention to shake off that violent collision and coach from the sideline in the Nittany Lions' season opener Sept. 3.

"Absolutely," JoePa said while sitting in a very unusual position during his media day press conference.

It might have been the first time in college football history a head coach conducted a full-fledged press conference from a golf cart. It was peculiar, to say the least.

Paterno looked OK -- considering. Not great, and clearly not as good as before the bone-crunching hit from Smith that landed him in the hospital for a couple of days.

Understandably, he appeared weak and didn't look like a coach who would be able to stand on the sideline for more than three hours for a game in 17 days. Then again, we are talking about one of the toughest and most stubborn coaches to ever live, so if Paterno says he can be on the sideline, there's a good chance it will happen.

"I feel great, except I'm in a lot of pain," Paterno said.

"It hurts," he later added. "If I told you I could get up here and run around, no, I can't. In about eight or nine days I should be able to do everything without having some guy driving me around telling me what to look at."

Sources said shortly after the collision that Paterno suffered hairline fractures of his right pelvis and arm, but the coach strongly refuted that Tuesday.

"I do not have a fracture," he shot back when asked. "When they first did X-rays, the doc said, 'Hey, you've got a couple of cracks, but you'll be OK.' Maybe four or five days later, he said, 'Let's go do some more X-rays because I want to make sure.'

"So they took me over there, put me on my back ... he said, 'Hey, good news, you don't have any kind of fracture.'"

A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that Smith is only 5-foot-7 and 157 pounds -- not some gigantic player -- and was wearing just shoulder pads and helmets instead of full pads. Regardless, Smith, speaking publicly for the first time since the accident, confirmed he was running full speed when he drilled Paterno.

"I had to have been going full speed just because my eyes were on the ball and couldn't see him," Smith said.

He couldn't recall exactly which part of his body hit Paterno where.

"I just know we hit head on with me trying to catch the ball -- something he couldn't see, something I couldn't see," Smith said.

"Just feeling bad," he said of the incident, "but it was something that I just couldn't avoid. It was a collision that neither one of us could avoid, but I just felt kind of really bad. But everything was OK."

Paterno likes being in the middle of the action, always has, so collisions are nothing new for him. He told a story Tuesday about when Tom Bradley, now the defensive coordinator, collided with him when he was a player back around 1975.

Or back when Paterno was a young 49.

"[Bradley] ran over me one day, but I saw him coming," Paterno said. "He was running a passing lane, and he ran over me and he bounced me off the ground a little bit and that hurt a little bit, but I knew I was getting knocked down."

Not knowing makes a world of difference.

"I didn't see [Smith], so I didn't take the fall in a good way," Paterno said.

We'll see If JoePa suffers any lingering effects from the hit as the season goes on. It would be a surprise if he doesn't, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he has to spend at least one game coaching from the press box.

No matter what Smith does for the rest of his career, one big part of his Penn State legacy will always be colliding with the legendary coach -- much the same as everyone remembers former tight end Andrew Quarless doing so in practice and in a game at Wisconsin in 2006, the latter resulting in a broken leg for Paterno.

Penn State released a video of Smith going up to talk to Paterno at practice last week, with the receiver saying he wanted to apologize to the coach.

"He just said, 'Don't apologize. Everything's OK,'" Smith said, "and he just kind of laughed it off."

As Smith succinctly pointed out a few seconds later, "It doesn't get any tougher than that."

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or

Article Photos

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Joe Paterno conducts his media day interview from a golf cart in front of reporters and photographers Tuesday.

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