Morelli OnLion: The Blind Side

Penn State has its first injury of preseason practice and it wasn’t to a player.

It was an injury to coach Joe Paterno.

News traveled fast on Monday when it broke that Paterno had been hospitalized after getting knocked down by a wide receiver during a drill at Penn State’s indoor practice facility.

In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion,we’ll take a closer look at Paterno’s injury and what it means to the program.

The Blind Side

Penn State coach Joe Paterno endured a brief trip to Mount Nittany Medical Center after being hit by wide receiver Devon Smith during a passing drill inside Holuba Hall on Sunday afternoon. Paterno was knocked to the ground during the drill but stayed for the remainder of practice.

Smith stands about 5-foot-7, 157 pounds, so the fact that it was Penn State’s smallest receiver may have been a blessing in disguise.

Upon further review, however, it was revealed that Paterno had injured his shoulder and pelvis during the collision. He was taken to Mount Nittany where he was kept for observation. He was released on Tuesday, according to Penn State Sports Information.

The 84-year-old coach was eager to return to practice on Wednesday, according to a brief statement released by the university.

“It’s time for everyone to turn the attention to the team,” Paterno said. “We have a lot of hard work ahead in order to be as good as we think we can.”

Paterno’s right. It’s August. We should be talking about the Nittany Lions. Instead, we’re talking about the health of PSU’s iconic coach.

But that’s going to happen when your coach has sustained as many injuries as Paterno has during the past five seasons. During that time, Paterno has suffered a myriad of injuries including cracked ribs, a broken leg, a hip replacement and last summer’s bout with intestinal problems that became worsened by an adverse reaction to medication.

The 2006 injury sustained at Wisconsin came from an ugly sideline collision. That injury sent Paterno to the coaches’ box for the remainder of the season. He’s been forced to coach from the box for various ailments.

Following another injury during a collision with a player, should Paterno return to the golf cart during practice?

So now, we are forced to ask the question once again: When will enough be enough for Paterno?

If this were an isolated incident, we could forgive it. But it’s not. Paterno has been knocked down numerous times. Thankfully, this one does not appear to be serious. That’s good. But what if it had happened during a regular season game in front of national TV cameras? We’ve seen that horror movie before.

I thought my colleague, Cory Giger, said it best on his radio show “Sports Central” on Monday when he talked about the difference between University Park, Pa., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. In Alabama, he explained, they’re talking about whether or not the Crimson Tide can win a national championship. At Penn State, we’re talking about the health of an 84-year-old coach. Although Paterno would never admit it, he’s a distraction. Certainly, he’s earned the right to coach as long as he wants to. However, when his health and safety are on the line, his right to coach comes up for debate.

Many experts believe that it will take a good talking to from his wife, Sue, or his son, Jay, to convince the old ball coach to hang up the khakis and Nikes. However, based on what JayPa told the Associated Press, don’t expect the latest injury to drive the elder Paterno into retirement.

“He’s fine … It turned into a little work session,” Jay Paterno told the AP. “I wish I was as tough as he is. This is nothing more than a small blip on the radar.”

Paterno was expected back at practice on Wednesday.

So where does this leave the Penn State football program as it readies for another season under Paterno, who has amassed 401 wins during his storied career? Well, Paterno’s injury doesn’t change the fact that this team is extremely young and will be a work in progress when the season begins on Sept. 3.

And it probably won’t matter if Paterno is on the sidelines, in the coaches’ box or watching from home when Penn State faces No. 2 Alabama on Sept. 10. That game will probably be more painful for Paterno than anything he endured on Sunday inside Holuba Hall.

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at morellionlion@gmail.com. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!

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