Penn State expects Paterno to return this weekend

Updated: November 16, 2006, 1:24 AM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The rolled-up khakis, the thick-rimmed glasses, the nasally voice. The familiar sights and sounds of Joe Paterno could be back this weekend at Penn State.

More than a week after undergoing left leg surgery, the 79-year-old coach feels well enough to return to practice -- and might even be back in a Beaver Stadium press box for this weekend's regular-season finale, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said Tuesday.

"We're assuming that's where he'll be, but you never know where he might end up," Bradley said with a sly grin. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's on the 50, OK? Somehow, some way."

That might be a stretch, given that a team doctor has said he would allow Paterno to return on game days only if he's calling the shots from above the field -- not on the 50-yard line -- provided his recovery is progressing well.

It's going well enough, though, that Paterno returned to practice Tuesday as the team readies for Saturday's contest against Michigan State (4-7, 1-6 Big Ten). Paterno still must stay off his feet for at least another five weeks, so the coach would likely have to survey his team from a golf cart, with his injured leg propped up.

At least Paterno will get to see his Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) again in person.

Paterno had surgery last week to repair a broken shinbone and two torn knee ligaments in his left leg, injuries sustained after getting hit along the sideline by two players on Nov. 4 at Wisconsin.

Adhering to doctors' orders, Paterno sat out last week's 47-0 win against Temple, missing just his second contest in 41 years as head coach. The only other JoePa-less game in that period was in 1977, after Paterno sat out following an accident involving his son, David.

Instead, Paterno watched his team from home Saturday, forced to play armchair quarterback.

On Sunday afternoon, team captains Levi Brown and Paul Posluszny showed up at Paterno's doorstep to present their coach a game ball. It was the first time Posluszny had seen Paterno since the Wisconsin game.

"Personally, it was good to see coach," Posluszny said Tuesday after Bradley and offensive coordinator Galen Hall substituted for Paterno during the coach's weekly news conference. "He talked about the game, said he was happy with the way we played, and said that he wanted us to have a good week of practice leading into this game."

JoePa might have even more incentive this week to return to Beaver Stadium: It will be the last home game for star linebacker Posluszny and 22 other seniors -- a group that helped Paterno restore a winning tradition.

Whenever he does return, Paterno might rattle off one of his familiar mantras: eliminate distractions. A win this week for Penn State means a likely berth to the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.

"You can't be bothered by all these different things, and most have adhered to it," Bradley said when asked if things were returning to normal following last week's attention on Paterno's injury. "They know what they have to do to get themselves ready, whether their coach is on the field or not."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press