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Patriots, Paterno have history of close calls

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / November 20, 2011

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The sex-abuse scandal at Penn State has thrust the football program and former coach Joe Paterno into the news like never before.

But for fans with long memories, it probably makes them wonder how the course of history for Penn State and the Patriots might have been different.

Not once but twice did Paterno turn down offers to coach the Patriots, including in 1973 when he verbally accepted the job.

Upton Bell, the local media personality who was the Patriots’ general manager at the time, related the story.

“About a month before I was fired [in 1972], [then-owner] Billy Sullivan asked me for a list of coaches that I would either recommend or possibly hire at the end of the year,’’ Bell said. “He wanted both college and pro coaches. The first two names on the college coach side were Paterno and Chuck Fairbanks [Oklahoma]. The first coach on the pro side was Howard Schnellenberger, who I preferred because of his pro coaching experience with Don Shula and the Dolphins.’’

After Paterno and Penn State lost to Fairbanks and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, Paterno agreed to become coach and general manager of the Patriots.

The board of directors and Sullivan wanted one person to do both jobs because, like Bobby Grier and Bill Parcells and Pete Carroll down the road, the conflict between Bell and the head coaches could never be resolved.

Like Bill Belichick, Paterno was viewed as the choice to get everyone on the same page behind one unified voice.

Jim Tarman, who went on to become Penn State’s athletic director, would have been Paterno’s head of operations with the Patriots.

Before the final agreement was reached, some of Paterno’s confidants contacted Bell.

“They wanted to know if this was a good situation,’’ Bell said. “I told them that it was not my position to discuss what happened here but they can pass it along to the coach that if he does not have full power, he has no chance of succeeding.

“I have no idea whether that played any role in his final decision to turn it down, but on the day that he was due to come up to sign on he called Billy and said that he thought he would be better off at Penn State.’’

Fairbanks took the job and, after six successful seasons, walked out because Chuck Sullivan, Billy’s son, usurped Fairbanks’s personnel powers and reneged on contract offers to John Hannah and Leon Gray.

After being successfully sued by the Patriots for breach of contract, Fairbanks went back to college coaching at Colorado.

Can you imagine if that had been Paterno instead of Fairbanks? Paterno also turned down the Patriots in 1982.

Patriots deal with the pain

Since the Patriots are less than forthcoming regarding injuries, we decided to give you a rough idea of what we’re looking at for the rest of the season on a few key players.

Quarterback Tom Brady has been dealing with a bone bruise in his right arm near the elbow since being hit against the Cowboys Oct. 16, according to two league sources.

It is a minor injury and one that should improve and even clear up completely as the season goes along, according to Mike Ludwikowski, a renowned athletic trainer at Susquehanna Health in Williamsport, Pa.

“It could very well get better before the end of the season,’’ he said. “It’s definitely manageable. I’m sure the trainers are doing stretching and icing.’’

Brady was seen icing the elbow during the Cowboys game, and has been wearing a black band below the elbow, which is usually associated with tendinitis, in subsequent games. That would be a byproduct of the contusion, as would any unusual inaccuracy.

“If he’s wearing the band, it could be he has a little inflammation or tendinitis,’’ Ludwikowski said. “For a quarterback it’s usually more extensor tendinitis because that’s how you deliver the football.

“It could affect his release because the triceps tendon attaches right there, you have all your forearm muscles there, your extensors and flexors to hold a football. If you get a bone bruise, he’d accommodate his release a little bit to accommodate the bone bruise.

“Sometimes you wear the band because it feels good, and if it feels good, you’re going to play better.’’

The Patriots are also dealing with a rash of knee sprains: tight end Aaron Hernandez (left) and linebackers Jerod Mayo (left) and Brandon Spikes (right).

“It could potentially be with them the rest of the season, until they can actually take time and allow it to heal,’’ Ludwikowski said. “It’s an uncomfortable injury. Even when you gain some stability and integrity back in the ligament, it’s still there in a sense. I’m sure they’re gutting it out.

“The problem they would encounter is cutting away from it. If it’s the right knee, it’s planting that right leg and going to your left. It’s really putting stress on the leg and it’s uncomfortable. Straight ahead isn’t a problem.’’

Hernandez was removed from the injury report this week, whatever that’s worth.

It’s impossible to know the details of Marcus Cannon’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but we do know he had chemotherapy treatments.

No matter what grade of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma Cannon had, doctors would keep careful watch on his heart and nerves to see if there were any lingering effects, according to Dr. Jack Jacoub, a highly regarded oncologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

“Even if he had high-grade lymphoma, he has a chance of beating it, but the first two years are very crucial for him because he could relapse at that time,’’ Jacoub said. “If he hasn’t suffered any significant effects from chemotherapy that is long-lasting - heart, nerves, bone marrow function - he’s probably in pretty good shape. Typically young people with cancer respond better to treatment, tolerate treatment better, and tend to have a minimization of the long-term effects that chemotherapy can give people.’’

Jacoub said that outside conditioning concerns, Cannon should be ready to play NFL-caliber football at this point and not be at any higher risk of injury than his teammates.

“He should frankly go back to leading a normal life,’’ Jacoub said. “They’ve watched him now for an additional three months, I think they feel pretty comfortable thinking that he can go back, and that’s a very good sign for him.

“His physicians will be watching him the first two years very closely, usually every two to three months, and there’s blood work done, a physical exam, scans done. If anything is out of whack, it’s further scrutinized.

“They think physiologically that he is near normal, if not normal right now. I don’t think this is a risk for him. This is a disease of the blood system. If it’s completely gone - and it would be since he’s cleared - he’s really like his teammates. Maybe his fatigue level might be a little bit more pronounced, but that will come back once he gets back into it fully.’’

New England update

Some locals should be getting into the lineup this weekend. Breno Giacomini (Malden) has a chance to be the Seahawks’ right tackle for the rest of the season, starting today at St. Louis, after James Carpenter tore an ACL and is out for the season. Giacomini, who sold hot dogs at Fenway Park as a high school senior, made his first and only career start in the season opener when Carpenter had to play guard. Giacomini has played in every other game this season as an extra lineman in short-yardage situations and on special teams. “I’m just going to go out there and play my game.’’ said Giacomini (6 feet 7 inches, 318 pounds), who was a fifth-round pick of the Packers out of Louisville in 2008 . . . With Michael Boley of the Giants unable to practice because of a hamstring injury, former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich could see his first NFL action on defense tonight against the Eagles. Herzlich and fellow rookie Spencer Paysinger could be in a rotation. “He’s a big man and he is physical. Mark is a go-getter,’’ said Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. ‘He’s one of those 100 percent guys that, if he sees something, he’s going to go smack it and ask questions later. The thing that I really like about Mark, he is a student of the game.’’ . . . Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who was born in Springfield and attended Worcester Academy, figures to get more looks for jobs with Green Bay’s run of success, but last week he denied an ESPN report that he had been contacted about the head-coaching opening at Tulane. “All I can tell you is I’ve got a great job here,’’ said Philbin, who coached at Northeastern and Harvard. “I would think that thousands of guys would trade places with me. Anything more than that, I really don’t have anything to say, other than that there is no substance to it, I’ve got a great job where I’m at, love what I’m doing, and to comment, when you’re an assistant coach I think your job is to help your players reach their full potential. We’ve got a group of guys that has worked extremely hard and they’re doing some good things, and I’m looking forward to seeing this thing through.’’ Philbin is in his ninth season with the Packers, his fifth as offensive coordinator. In 1984-85, he served as a graduate assistant at Tulane. Philbin earned his master’s degree in education at the school in 1986. “I definitely think he’s deserving [of consideration for other jobs],’’ Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this month. “I think we have an excellent staff. It’s a very talented staff and there are guys with different levels of experience. He’s definitely put together a heck of a résumé.’’

Nickel package

1. Suspended Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly was sentenced last week to six years in prison after his third arrest on codeine-related charges. Jolly only recently said he was an addict, and pleaded with the court. He could very well be an addict, but this is more about how he was also caught with marijuana and a handgun while he was on probation. I investigated Jolly thoroughly in my time covering the Packers, and in my opinion this wasn’t about addiction, it was about a guy who thought he was untouchable. Such a shame. So much talent. But he repeatedly refused warnings from the Packers about his behavior and refused to accept help along the way.

2. I know Patriots fans really want to bury the Jets, but we wouldn’t do it just yet. They were 4-5 in 2009 before making the AFC Championship game. That was a strange year, yes, and the deck is stacked against New York this time around (five conference losses), but just wait until they bury themselves.

3. But, oh boy, how much do you think the Giants - and especially their fans - would love to put an end to the Jets’ postseason hopes in their game Dec. 24? Ever since Rex Ryan came to town and went to two conference title games, he’s been rubbing it in that the Jets own New York. The Giants are coming to roost at MetLife Stadium.

4. The fact that Bill Belichick allowed guard Brian Waters to speak last week to reporters shows how much respect Belichick has for the former Chief. When fullback Heath Evans signed with the Patriots after being cut by the Dolphins, Belichick forbade Evans from speaking the week of the Miami game. That’s just one example.

5. From what we hear, it would be surprising if Eagles coach Andy Reid is fired after this disappointing season.

By the numbers

0-11: Saints’ fate on coin flips this season. “It’s kind of ridiculous at this point,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said. The odds of a team losing 11 consecutive coin flips are about 2,000 to 1, according to STATS LLC.

1: Touchdown needed tonight by Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to become only the second player since 1970 to score a touchdown in each of his team’s first 10 games of the season (O.J. Simpson, 1975).

7: Punt-return touchdowns of at least 80 yards through the first 10 weeks of the season, a league record since at least the 1970 merger.

25: Drives that the Browns have gone without a touchdown at home. That’s more than 131 minutes.

122.1: Passing yards per game the Jaguars and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert are averaging, last in the league. Jacksonville faces the Browns and their league-leading pass defense (163.3 yards per game) today.

Short yardage

The winner in the AFC North showdown between the Bengals and Ravens will pull into a tie with the idle Steelers. But we really want to find out how good these Bengals are. Their six victories have come against teams with a combined 22-36 record. The Ravens have won six in a row at home and 14 of 15, but will likely be without linebacker Ray Lewis (toe) . . . Eagles receiver Steve Smith said that despite his team being 3-6 and his former team, the Giants, being 6-3, he has no regrets about signing with Philadelphia. “It’s a business,’’ he said. “I would rather have more money in my pocket and be able to play football.’’ . . . Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said his team’s matchup with the Browns should have been moved for television. “Both of us are 3-6, both love to run the ball, play solid defense, two young quarterbacks, definitely prime time,’’ he joked. “It should have been a Tuesday night game.’’ . . . After losing their first seven games, the Dolphins could get their first three-game winning streak since 2008 when they host the Bills today . . . The Bills averaged 30.1 points in the first seven games (5-2). They have two touchdowns the past two weeks, one coming in garbage time. “I think it’s just a phase, and it’ll pass,’’ receiver Stevie Johnson said. “We know what we’re doing wrong.’’ . . . Amazing that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, the 12th overall pick in 2007 by the Bills who had 1,000-yard seasons his first two years, put together his first back-to-back 100-yard games the past two weeks . . . The Buccaneers have six interceptions in two games vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and have held him to a 54.6 passer rating. Apparently they have the secret formula, which we guess will expire today . . . Tony Romo is Mr. November? The Cowboys quarterback is 17-2 (.889) in November, best mark by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He has 46 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions, and a 113.1 rating all-time in November. That should continue against the Redskins. Washington hasn’t scored a first-half touchdown or held a lead since Oct. 2. Yikes.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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