Paterno: ‘Speech Slurred, Intellect Seemed Slowed’

This week David Jones of the HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS has a thoughtful piece on what appears to be the failing health of 83-year-old Joe Paterno.

Joe Paterno

Though putting it as delicately as possible, Jones description of Paterno’s Monday appearance at Big 10 media day in Chicago was ominous.

On Monday at the first of two Big Ten Football Kickoff interview sessions, Joe Paterno looked pretty good to the distant eye. Tanned, reasonably ambulatory. Some weight loss, but that’s fine.

It was when the always quick-witted Penn State football coach opened his mouth that everyone here opened theirs. In surprise.

Paterno sounded very much like something he never has — an old man. It was stunning and melancholy and not a pleasant sound.

It gets worse.

Now, he shows no pain at all. It’s just that his speech was slow and slightly slurred, and his intellect seemed a little dulled and delayed — something that’s never, ever been true.

A lot has been made about three promotional dates Paterno missed in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Hershey this summer. He spent a few moments trying to pooh-pooh concerns about his health but there were few laughs, something there have always been here.

“What did Mark Twain say? ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’ or something?

“I didn’t miss any time. The problem I had was not having control over some things, and I had to be careful I didn’t get into a situation where I would embarrass myself. I couldn’t make some public appearances. I didn’t want to be standing up here and then have to leave.”

Stomach ailments aside, he is 83½ and for the first time he looks it. 

Jones was far from alone in his observation. Bernand Fernandez of the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS also noted Paterno’s seemingly uncertain health after the coach’s Monday appearance. And Ron Musselman of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, via the omnipresent Jay Christensen of Wiz of Odds, recently reported that Paterno has not recruited on the road since January, 2008.

Then there’s my own source, a prominent college football media member who was also in Chicago to observe Paterno. His thoughts:

“It was very sad. He talked very softly. Didn’t have his normal fire and passon at all. I’d be shocked if he goes beyond this year.”

Here’s video of Paterno’s Monday appearance:

Reports of Paterno’s demise over health concerns have circulated for decades, but this time feels different.

Hope we’re all wrong. Again.