Joe Paterno isn't his own worst critic. For 21 seasons Joe, Penn
State's football coach, has been subjected to the sometimes
withering scrutiny of his kid brother, George. As the color man
on Nittany Lions radio broadcasts, 67-year-old George routinely
second-, third- and fourth-guesses his 69-year-old sibling. "I
get asked if Joe's wife, Sue, ever considered spiking my coffee
with arsenic," George says in his sandpaper-on-sandpaper
Brooklyn accent. "I say, 'Nah, she knows there's no viciousness
in my comments.' But if I'm at the house for postgame lasagna,
sometimes she won't give me an extra serving."
Being denied seconds of Saturday-night lasagna is about as
chilly as it gets between them. "Joe and I are very close, but
we do engage in polemics," allows George. "Joe will say, 'You're
knowledgeable about football, but you're not as knowledgeable as
you think.'" Yet George knows Joe well enough to sometimes
foretell his next move on the field. "We're like the Corsican
brothers, feeling each other's pain," says George. "In certain
situations I feel what Joe will do."
Eccentric and independent, George commutes to Penn State games
from his home in the seaside town of Southampton, N.Y. "In the
winter, it's gorgeous," says the lifelong bachelor. "Solitude's
different than loneliness. I'm a solitude guy. I take
photographs, I write, I paint. Joe's a pragmatic idealist, and
I'm a romantic idealist."
There are other differences. "I was the frivolous one," George
says. "I wouldn't say I was a bon vivant, but I let it all hang
out. Joe dominated. Even as a kid he was giving orders."
September 15, 1996
Young George also liked taking on kids bigger than he was. "One
day George took on a kid a little too big," Joe recalls. "When
George came home, my father laughed and my mother cried. George
had that schnoz of his broken."
"What do you have to bring that up for?" deadpans George.
The Gold Dust Twins is what the Paterno boys (they have a
younger sister, Florence) were called at Brooklyn Prep and,
later, at Brown University. They were college roomies. "For one
semester," George says. "Joe didn't like me playing pinochle."
"I was a conscientious student," says Joe, who spent two years
in the military after high school.
"I had more fun."
"A little more."
"A lot more. But that's besides the point."
"The point," says Joe, "is that everybody in our dormitory
petitioned to break us up." With senior quarterback Joe calling
signals and senior fullback George barreling over linebackers,
Brown went 8-1 in 1949. When coach Rip Engle left for Penn State
in '50, Joe forsook plans for law school to become Engle's
assistant. George, in the meantime, patched together a living as
an insurance investigator and a cop in Brooklyn before becoming
an assistant coach at Brooklyn Prep. He was named coach of the
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, at Kings Point, N.Y., in '65, a
year before Joe took over at Penn State.
"Joe was an overachiever," George says. "I was an
underachiever." George is too modest. In nine seasons (1965-68
and 1971-75) at Kings Point he guided the Mariners to a 46-32-3
record; in 1969-70 he was an assistant at Michigan State.
"George was a magnificent coach," says former Kings Point
assistant Bill Polian, now general manager of the Carolina
Panthers. "He was a terrific teacher, motivator and innovator.
As a strategist he had a great feel for exploiting an opponent's
George quit coaching at the top of his game in 1975 because the
school wouldn't grant him tenure as a coach. On Joe's
recommendation he joined the Nittany Lions broadcast team in
'76. "Did you ever hear of Dr. Frankenstein?" George asks. "Joe
might have created a monster."
Because he doesn't apotheosize his brother, George has won a
cult following in Happy Valley. In the Penn State-USC game on
Aug. 25, George criticized Joe for not having the quarterback
sit on the ball, rather than handing off, reasoning that chances
for a fumble would be lessened by such a play. But Joe called
for a handoff, and the running back fumbled.
George's own ego has been sorely tested by Big Brother's
success. "Being viewed as Joe's spear-carrier can be difficult,
but I've handled it as well as I could," he says. "At times I
wish I could be down on the field with the players. But you
can't have it both ways. This is my vicarious way of still
staying in as a coach."