SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Joe Paterno doesn't have much use for numbers.

Sure, the legendary head coach has been at it for 42 years, his 500th game is set for Saturday, and he turned 81 last weekend.

But JoePa isn't worried about all those figures, or any applause that comes with them.

"I don't even think about it, to be frank with you. Whether it's 499 or 501, I don't really know," Paterno said before Penn State's first practice ahead of Saturday's Alamo Bowl matchup against Texas A&M.

"The profession we're in . . . is one where you've got to understand, they love you one day and two days later - 'How dumb can you be?' " Paterno said. "So to be able to have survived this long, I think that's a credit to the institution more than it is to me."

The veteran is about to enter the last year of a four-year contract that expires following the 2008 season, and speculation is building over whether he will retire. Paterno, who took over at Penn State in 1966 from Rip Engle following 16 years as a Penn State assistant, said he was just glad to keep doing what he does.

"You try to, just try to do the best you can and make sure that what you've got can help the whole university," Paterno said. "You don't know whether you're 80 or you're 81. You get up in the morning, you get a little stiffer."

The sometimes grouchy Paterno, who shooed cameras away on Sunday, then later apologized that he "blew my stack," said the game between his Nittany Lions and the Aggies was essentially an away game for Penn State.

"It's loud, and [A&M fans are] enthusiastic, and I think it'll be a good football game," Paterno said.

In contrast to his decades of experience with one team, Paterno will be coaching against Gary Darnell, A&M's defensive coordinator, who was named interim coach last month after Dennis Franchione resigned. Darnell has experience, but has been with A&M since 2006.

"I'm sorry to see the coaching switch, but Gary, this is his opportunity," Paterno said.