Is This It?

Joe Paterno may be coaching his final home game

The Happy Valley faithful may shed a tear should the Lions win Saturday -- not out of joy because Penn State downed Michigan State but because their hero may be taking his final bow before the roaring Lions crowd.

Saturday night could be a milestone on the field as the Nittany Lions earn their first Rose Bowl berth since the mid '90s -- but the story won't be on the field as much as it will be up in the booth where the legendary Joe Paterno has coached since injuring his hip early this year.

The reason that fans may be paying extra attention to Paterno is because he may be coaching his final game in Happy Valley. It isn't because of performance (the Lions are 10-1 this year) but because with advanced age comes uncertainty and a need to plan for the future.

The Penn State coach with his 382 career wins, 23 bowl game victories, three undefeated seasons, two National Championships and millions of adoring fans could be finished at Beaver Stadium.

2009 could find a new chief at Penn State for the first time since 1966 when a young Brooklynite Joseph Vincent Paterno (before anyone would affectionately call him JoePa) took the field to guide the Lions to a 5-5 season. 

Paterno, 81 years young, the lovable and fiery coach, has no contract beyond this season.

The relationship between the man behind the soda-bottle-thick-rimmed glasses and the people of Central Pennsylvania may be nearing a break up even though the hearts of both will continue to year for one another. It sounds almost blasphemous to mention Penn State football -- make that just Penn State period -- without immediately talking about JoePa. 

JoePa and university president Graham Spanier remain mum on Paterno's future on the Penn State sideline (or coaches box). The most information being given is by Spanier who has said he will meet with Paterno after the season.

The only certainty that awaits the Nittany Lions nation is that they can pack their bags as Big 10 champs for (most likely) Pasadena, Cal. with a win over the Spartans.

Joe Pa's focus seems to be on the game -- not the future.

"Come to the game and enjoy it," Paterno said. "It's a big football game for this team, for Penn State. If we win, a lot of good things can happen. Maybe bigger things than we think. But I don't think they should come because it's my last game. Please. Let's get off that.... I haven't thought about that. I really haven't, and I'm not trying to be cute. I'm not trying to be dishonest. I really haven't thought about it."

The biggest long-term concern for Paterno may be the hip surgery he will require at the end of the season.

Fans should feel free to share their Joe Paterno memories below because even if this isn't his last game there can never be too much JoePa love.

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