If all goes as expected, the Outback Bowl not only will feature a program (Tennessee) back on its feet, but a surgically mended coach (Penn State's Joe Paterno) in the upright position as well.
As was widely projected, Tennessee (9-3) was named late Sunday afternoon as the 8-4 Nittany Lions' opponent for the New Year's Day game at Raymond James Stadium.
But in response to a far more intriguing question - from where will Paterno view the game? - the Lions' octogenarian coach said he plans to be on the sideline, only eight weeks after surgery to repair two torn knee ligaments and a broken shin bone in his left leg suffered during a Nov. 4 sideline collision.
"I think I'm way ahead of the game," Paterno said by teleconference from his home Sunday evening. "I don't have any pain in it. I'd be disappointed if I'm not going to be on the sideline. I'm expecting to be on the sideline."
Paterno, who turns 80 on Dec. 21, said he currently gets around primarily in a wheelchair, though he has a walker that allows him to get in and out of bed.
Though "bored silly" most of the time, he said he has kept busy by watching game tape, meeting with his staff, catching up with correspondence and undergoing steady rehab.
His goal is to start putting weight on the leg a week from today - a week ahead of his doctor's timetable - and be walking when the Lions arrive in Tampa on Dec. 23. He will, however, miss Thursday's formal contract signing party at Raymond James.
Vols coach Phillip Fulmer, whose club rebounded from a 5-6 mark last season to finish second in the SEC East, said he "really wouldn't have expected any less" than to see Paterno on the sideline Jan. 1.
"His whole story is amazing," added Fulmer, whose team will arrive in Tampa on Christmas night.
"To be in coaching and do it like he's done it and win at the level he's won for so many years and do it the right way as a coach is quite remarkable. Even physically, overcoming this injury would be phenomenal."
Tennessee is making its first bowl trip to Tampa since 1993, when it topped Tom Coughlin's Boston College team 38-23 when the game still was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl.
Penn State is making its third Outback trip, and first since 1999. The teams' combined seven losses all have been to squads ranked in the top 12 of the Associated Press poll released Sunday.
"Both of us have played tough schedules, and I think both of us have something to prove," Fulmer said.
Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Florida bowls
CHAMPS SPORTS: Maryland vs. Purdue; 8 p.m., Dec. 29; Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando; ESPN; www.fcsports.com
OUTBACK: Penn State vs. Tennessee; 11 a.m., Jan. 1; Raymond James Stadium, Tampa; ESPN; (813) 287-8844 or www.outbackbowl.com
CAPITAL ONE: Arkansas vs. Wisconsin; 1 p.m., Jan. 1; Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando; Ch. 28; www.fcsports.com
GATOR: Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia; 1 p.m., Jan. 1; Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville; Ch. 10; www.gatorbowl.com
ORANGE: Wake Forest vs. Louisville; 8 p.m., Jan. 2; Dolphin Stadium, Miami; Ch. 13; www.orangebowl.org
Meet the Vols
Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Enrollment: 26,100 (fall 2005)
Famous alumni: Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning, former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, sports columnist Woody Paige, major-leaguer Todd Helton, WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw.
Previous Outback appearances: One, sort of. The Volunteers topped Boston College 38-23 in 1993, when the game was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl.
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