The Joe Paterno Debate: Whiskey

This is the kind of game you love. I’m going to go home and get in trouble with a good stiff bourbon. Then I’m going to take a nap and get out some Ohio State tapes.

Joe Paterno, October 20, 2001

The origin of the tradition of post-game bourbon toasts to celebrate Penn State wins is oft told by me, but for the uninitiated, here is the story. Penn State started the 2001 season 0-4 with Paterno one game behind Bear Byrant for the all time major college football wins record. After a thrilling last second win, Paterno uttered the quote above. The following week, the Nittany Lions behind freshmen QB Zack Mills came back from 22 down in the second half to beat Ohio State. Following the game, I established the tradition and have toasted to many Nittany Lions triumphs responsibly.

Over the years, the tradition has continued and is enjoyed by several of my friends whether we are together at the time or not. However, one friend, The Maryland Bureau Chief, has on occasion suggested he would rather do it differently. TMBC prefers Jack Daniel’s, which is Tennessee Sipping Whiskey. Though it is similar to bourbon, Jack Daniel’s adds a filtering process that bourbon does not. I prefer the unfiltered Kentucky spirit over the Tennessee one. We are a little uncertain about what Coach Paterno’s preference is though.

From time to time, Paterno is linked to Jack Daniel’s rather than bourbon. I recall when I was an undergraduate, his son Scott mentioned Jim Beam in a Collegian column. However, The Lion in Autumn, Frank Fitzpatrick‘s book about the end of the Paterno era (except it wasn’t! JoePa was right, he just needed a few more players like Derrick Williams, who was mentioned at the end of the book, to show up) in the early 2000s mentioned Jack Daniel’s. So, in short we don’t know his preference, but with a week before practice and over a month before kickoff, I decided to see if I could solve the mystery. Perhaps @JayPaterno can be of help.

UPDATE 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jay Paterno followed up on my tweet about his father’s choice of whiskey:

JayPaterno @doubleuefwhy It is neither Jack nor Jim for Joe–given his choice it is Old Granddad with lots of ice. Fitting for a guy with 17 grandkids.

So, it is official, bourbon is Joe Paterno’s preferred whiskey, not Jack Daniel’s. The great debate has at last been settled. Thank you Jay, you are a scholar and a gentleman. Also, glad you liked the “This Game is Fixed” poster at the 1999 Blue White Game. I really need to find that photo and rescan it.

Oh and as a Maker’s Mark Ambassador, I’ll put in the good word for that fine bourbon, an excellent choice for post-game victory toasts.

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