His voice was weak and he looked frail. Joe Paterno had not only lost weight, he had lost a step.
That was the consensus among Penn State reporters at Big Ten media days in Chicago. Paterno, 83, had not made a public appearance since March, and his trip to the podium Monday only added to concerns that the 2010 season will be his last.
Paterno hasn't been on the road recruiting since January 2008 when he visited Terrelle Pryor at Jeannette (Pa.) High, and a "gastrointestinal problem" forced him to cancel appearances at three Penn State alumni/booster club gatherings throughout Pennsylvania earlier this year. Paterno tried to joke about his health, but no one was laughing.
"As Mark Twain said, 'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.' "
He added: "I didn't miss any time. I just had no control over certain things and had to make certain I didn't embarrass myself. I had to miss some public appearances. I didn't want to be standing up here and then have to leave."
David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News writes: "[Paterno] maintains, using delicate terms, that what's wrong with him is nothing but the old-man runs. I believe that. But he is 83 1/2 and for the first time he looks it. His demeanor and wit is notably slowed and his speech elongated and hushed.
"When asked if he planned to walk the sideline this year, he said, 'I hope I'm ready to go. I think I am.'
"Boy, based on what I'm seeing now, I can't imagine it. The difference in him is noticeable."
After 17 minutes of questions, Paterno slowly made his way out of the room. Minnesota's Tim Brewster, the next coach at the podium, actually started talking before Paterno entered the hallway.
Once he cleared the doorway, Paterno was surrounded by reporters and questioned for another 10 minutes. Penn State sports information director Jeff Nelson finally had to end the session, and Paterno tried to poke fun at himself under his breath: "OK, where's a bathroom?" Jones writes: "Almost no one heard him because his voice was so soft."