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Paterno Milestone Touches Players

September 13, 1998

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ Penn State’s players followed their coach’s lead all week: Joe Paterno’s milestone 300th win would be just another game.

However, when arriving at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, quarterback Kevin Thompson sensed something different.

Somehow, he felt more nervous about this early-season breeze against Bowling Green than he had about a tough Southern Mississippi team in the opener. And that was his first start at quarterback.

``I didn’t want to blow it for him,″ Thompson said. ``This was his day.″

In the end, the No. 8 Nittany Lions did just what they needed. They scored the first two times they touched the ball and went on to crush Bowling Green 48-3 as Paterno became the sixth coach to reach 300 victories.

``I’m too moved right now,″ Paterno said. ``It’s amazing ... you think you know yourself.″

The fans stuck around until the end, rejiggering every cheer with the words ``JoePa″ and ``Joe Pa-ter-no!″ A couple of players tried to douse the 71-year-old coach with ice water, and when he sprinted away (``He has pretty good quickness for a 70-year-old,″ one offensive lineman said), linebacker Brandon Short returned with a second shot that drenched him.

Thompson and defensive tackle Jason Wallace carried Paterno to the center of the field for a celebration. And, with a white towel slung over his drenched neck, the head coach for 33 years _ the guy who said No. 300 wouldn’t mean so much _ bared his emotions.

``I’m so overwhelmed. I really can’t tell you how welled up I am with the memories,″ he said, his voice breaking. ``All the years!″

He joins Bear Bryant (323 wins), Pop Warner (319) and Amos Alonzo Stagg (314) as the only major-college coaches to reach the mark. Eddie Robinson won the NCAA record 408 at Division I-AA Grambling before retiring last year and John Gagliardi has won 342 at Division III St. John’s, Minn.

But he understands that his place in college football history goes far beyond the numbers. Before the game, he recited for his team a quote from H.L. Menken. The writer once said there were two kinds of great stories: the ones about the wonder of life, and the ones about the shame of it.

``We’ve had the wonder of it in Michael Jordan and McGwire and Sosa and then we’ve seen some of the shame of it in some of the other things going on now,″ he recalled telling his players. ``I want us to be the wonder of it.″

Tight end, Brian Brozeski brought a camera onto the field and hoisted himself on the biceps of two teammates to snap a photo.

``I told my mom I don’t know what it feels like to win 300 games, but it feels great to be a part of it. I’ll be able to tell my kids about it someday,″ tackle Floyd Wedderburn said.

One of Paterno’s grandsons, Matthew Giegerich, may not remember it, but he brought Paterno a game ball.

On any other day, Penn State would have had to pass out a lot of them.

Cordell Mitchell took the first handoff 77 yards untouched for a touchdown. The next time the Lions got the ball, Bruce Branch returned a punt 73 yards for a TD. And three series later, LaVar Arrington returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown and Penn State led 21-0 with only seven minutes gone.

Mitchell scored another touchdown, as did backup tailback Omar Easy and fullback Mike Cerimele. And Joe Dawkins took another interception back 30 yards for the TD that made it 48-3 early in the second half.

Everybody played, even safety Dave McHenry _ at quarterback for one handoff.

``I think that may have been the only play he knew,″ Paterno joked.