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Dave Rowe: Coach Joe Paterno...Where do I start???

Friday, October 16, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 1:50 PM, under , ,

Coach Joe Paterno...Where do I start???
by Dave Rowe

Interestingly, Joe Paterno was an assistant Coach when I was recruited to Penn State. 15 years an assistant to Rip Engle, you would think that I made it through my senior season without any Joe Paterno influences or stories… NOT!

Joe was always the coach at Penn State. Even as an assistant he still pretty much ran the show. It’s been more than 40 years but he has held on to that “Squeaky Brooklyn” accent through it all. It’s also interesting because as I watch him I see no noticeable change in his demeanor, style of coaching or looks. I wonder how that hair stays black when mine is gray?

I have played at what I would call three distinct levels of football. High school where it is pretty much fun and games, college is where emphasis on winning is fairly important and professional where winning is not everything…. IT’S THE ONLY THING!

At each level I have been coached by someone who I would find out later in life would change my life. Coach Roy Pickens – Deptford High School, Deptford New Jersey. He would start the values. He instilled values in me that I would never change. Things that today are still building blocks of my life. Joe Paterno – he would teach me the greatest lesson in life! And of course, John Madden who would coach me in such a special way that I would experience all that football has to offer.

Confused person at laptop
No Back Seat Taken: Former Penn State Great Dave Rowe says that Joe Paterno, shown here as a Penn State Assistant Coach to Coach Rip Engle (left), really ran the show even then.
Photo courtesy of Penn State Department of Public Information

But back to Joe Paterno and his “LIFE LESSON.”

I was a senior. It was my last year at Penn State. I started and played every down so it wasn’t like I was threatened. I knew I was pretty good. I had a little, what do you call it, “moxy, swagger, puffed up head,” whatever – I was a senior and ready to get out and go on my own.

Pre-season was fine. I was in shape and ready to play! We played our first game versus Maryland, winning 16-7. Good game. I played well. Defense scored 3 safeties. First time I ever saw that – three safeties in one game.

After the game HEAD Coach Paterno comes into the locker room and congratulates us. AND says there will be an 11:00 PM curfew tonight, AFTER the game!

I had been married for only three weeks before I left for pre-season. Faith, her mom and Dad were up – guess who missed curfew? RIGHT, ME! I remember saying don’t worry Coach Paterno will understand, tomorrow. WOW, was I wrong. He threw me off the team!

What I was shocked! I was out with my wife and her parents. I don’t drink! I don’t party! I don’t do any of those things!!! COACH…. No response, you are off the team!!! Stunned I walked back to the dorm. What does that mean? Does that mean I don’t come to practice or play in the games or enjoy my senior year? Does it mean that I have to give up my scholarship? YOU ARE OFF THE TEAM!!! Oh, do I remember those words… STUNNED!

Monday, Paterno calls me in to his office. “I’ve decided to let you finish out the year on the scout Squad.”

Unbeknownst to me, on Thursday, several of the seniors met with him and said, “Coach listen"… "NO I WILL NOT!!!” “Coach we don’t want to play Michigan State without Dave…In fact, we won’t!" "I’ll take all freshman," was the reply. "The freshman won’t play either!”

This is a group of players that actually run the opposing teams plays. I am just happy to be anywhere on the field. The scout Squad will be fine. Only problem is that I play scout plays at FULL speed! Stop ROWE he yells! But I am at full speed taking out all my aggressions on players. I am so happy to be back that everyone else is practicing at ¾ speed, but NOT me! FULL BLAST!

Unbeknownst to me, on Thursday, several of the seniors met with him and said, “Coach listen"… "NO I WILL NOT!!!” “Coach we don’t want to play Michigan State without Dave…In fact, we won’t!" "I’ll take all freshman," was the reply. "The freshman won’t play either!”

I will never know if this persuaded him or what, but BAM! He called me into his office and said “ROWE, if you break any rules, you as much as pick a flower without my permission YOU ARE GONE!!! UNDERSTAND?” Yes sir, I was back!

The incredible life lesson I learned was when you break the rules you pay the consequences! You had to give up something I loved. TOUGH! Yes, but I do not know if I would have survived my senior year had he not brought me back.

My poor wife, Faith, blamed herself for years. Definitely a “LIFE LESSON” I went through 13 years of professional football and NEVER broke a rule!

Other Paterno/Life Lessons will follow in the future. People always ask me, “what was it like to play for Paterno…?” My answer, “People do not understand Penn State football. The uniforms and Joe Paterno are all a part of that mystique. I greatly appreciate the stability Coach Paterno has in life and has given Penn State.

Today, he still lives in the same house as he did when he was an assistant coach. When I look at him pacing on the sidelines during a game, my mind flashes back more than 40 years…. He’s just like he was when I was at Penn State in 1967, his first year! “SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE” and I’m glad they don’t


Former Oakland Raider, NBC Analyst, and College Football Analyst Dave Rowe recently retired to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina after more than a 50 year association with the game of football. Eye on Sports Media approached Dave and asked him if he would like to write a series of guest articles recounting his history with the game. The man, who proudly states that his rear-end is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thought it would be fun.

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