"When Joe suddenly passed away 15 years ago after a full and happy life, we were in a bit of a bind," said Penn State president Graham Spanier. "We didn't really have a high-profile successor available, and Joe was so much the face of the program that we were worried what would happen to Penn State football if he was no longer the coach."
One thing led to another and before Spanier and other Penn State officials knew it, a man dressed up as JoePa was on the sidelines for the 1996 opener against USC.
"We won the game and we went on from there," said Spanier. "No one ever asked if the costume guy wasn't Joe, so we never said anything. Plus, Joe had long since become sort of a mascot anyway, so making him a true mascot didn't feel too misleading."
No one person has served inside the Paterno costume, with the task rotating between a series of athletic department staffers and also a few students who pledged a vow of secrecy. But with Paterno's supposed age getting even more advanced, Penn State felt it was time to reveal the truth.
"We realized we had to put an end to this before it got out of hand," said Tim Curley, Penn State's Director of Athletics. "We're trying to pretend that Joe is now almost 85 and still coaching? It's absurd. Why would any supposedly serious college football program do that? Plus, our JoePa costume was starting to look pretty haggard."
Penn State also announced their acting head coach for the 2011 season will be an urn holding the ashes of the real Paterno.