Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Elder Leaders Successful in Sports

On Wednesday, October 29, 2008, National Public Radio broadcast a segment entitled "NCAARP? Old Coaches Don't Quit" by quick-witted commentator Frank DeFord, who took note that "there are an awful lot of old folks in sports today."

I don't mean your decrepit 30-something-year-old players, who are invariably called "aging veterans," but the actual AARP geezers who are still breathing and pulling the strings.

Senior citizens, oldsters, who are — ugh — "many years young," graybeards who are — ugh — "up in years." * * *

Here in Pennsylvania, we are proud of our elder sportsmen, like Joe Paterno, head coach of Penn State's football team. Wikipedia describes his accomplishments:
Joseph Vincent Paterno (born December 21, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York), nicknamed JoePa, is the head coach of Pennsylvania State University's college football team, a position he has held since 1966.

Paterno, along with Chris Ault, Bobby Bowden and John Gagliardi, is one of four active coaches who have also been inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Paterno holds the record for the most victories by a Division I FBS football coach. Paterno also has more bowl game wins and more FBS undefeated seasons than any other coach in college football history. * * *
He could have begun studying in 1950 to become a lawyer (see: "Courtroom's loss is college football's gain" by Beano Cook posted 08/14/01 on ESPN), but he loved coaching football too much. That desire still drives him today, and his age does not limit his success.

DeFord noted JoPa's role as a poster-senior for the elder leaders who consistently guide some successful sports teams:

If Penn State keeps winning, Old Joe Paterno — in the vernacular, JoePa, with the emphasis on the latter — will be coach of the national champions at the age of 82.

But then, Pa can't stop coaching. Or Old Bobby Bowden, who is merely 78 and has his Florida State team ranked No. 15, could pass him for most career wins. * * *
DeFord named three old-style play patrons, whom he contrasted with today's new-age sports seniors:
  • Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner (retired at 67) -- 44-year career as a head coach (1895–1938), who coached at (among others) the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Stanford University, and Temple University
  • Bear Bryant (retired & died at 69) -- 37-year career as a head coach (1945 - 1982), with 25 years at the University of Alabama
  • Woody Hayes (retired at 65) year career as a head coach (1947-1978), with 28 years at Ohio State University
DeFord also mentioned another recently successful Pennsylvania sports franchise -- the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team and its "senior" leadership:
Look who's managed the Phillies to the World Series — Old Charley Manuel, a war baby of 64. The general manager, Old Pat Gillick, is a Depression Baby of 71.

And the Phillies had to beat Old Joe Torre's Dodgers to get to the Series.

The commissioner of baseball is Old Buddy Selig, who is 74. * * *
"Talk about reinventing yourself at twilight time" -- that is the point of DeFord's commentary, which you can hear, in replay online, here.

DeFord concluded his comments with an observation: "Sometimes these days, sports looks like an assisted living facility — or the United States Senate."

That is an interesting observation -- one that was noted, and then presented by a reporter to JoPa, in
"Desire to coach still drives 81-year-old Paterno" by Ivan Maisel posted 04/15/08 on ESPN:
Washington is one of the few cities outside of University Park, Pa., where an 80-year-old man yearns to work long hours in the public eye.

Six members of the U. S. Senate are over the age of 80. Two of them, Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), both 84, are running for re-election this year.

"I'm told that 90 is the new 80," Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who turns 91 in November, told The New York Times last week.

If that is true, maybe 80 is the new 65. According to U.S. government data, a man who turned 65 in 1991 had an average life expectancy of a shade under 15 years.

When Paterno hit that demographic wall in 2006 [the year that the photo (above) was taken], his last complete season had come a last-play loss to Michigan away from an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS Championship Game.

Maybe old doesn't have the same meaning that it did a generation ago, a decade ago, or even last week. * * *
Read that article for JoPa's characteristic, somewhat gruff, response to the injection of age into a substantive conversation.

Go Lions! Go Phillies!! and Go seniors!!!

"Believe deep down in your heart that you're destined to do great things."

-- Joe Paterno