DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Joe Paterno left the flip flops and swimsuit back home.
Just because his No. 11 Nittany Lions are practicing this week on a field lined with palm trees across the street from the beach, it doesn't mean they're on vacation.
Paterno was so eager to start preparation for the Capital One Bowl against No. 13 LSU he arrived with his Nittany Lions nearly 2 weeks before the New Year's Day game. Even at 83, college football's winningest coach likes to have a little fun.
He plans to let players spend time in Daytona Beach, about an hour from the Citrus Bowl stadium, before they head to Orlando on Christmas Eve to practice and enjoy theme parks while they prepare. Many players' families are coming along and so are most of the coach's 17 grandchildren.
"I don't get out much," he joked.
Paterno went for a light walk on the beach early yesterday morning, a day after he turned 83. He did little to celebrate his birthday.
"I prayed," he said.
With unseasonably chilly temperatures dipping into the low 40s early in the morning, the Nittany Lions took to the practice field with a full squad. Some players were delayed a day because of the winter storm up north, but Paterno said everybody had arrived.
Much of the game plan still has to be installed for their meeting with the Tigers, the kind of Southeastern Conference program with speed and quickness that has ripped apart Big Ten defenses in recent bowl games.
Coach Les Miles is 4-0 in bowl games with LSU, including two BCS bowls, and the Tigers have outscored their opponents 157-44 in those games.
"We want to get familiar with what we're going to do against LSU," Paterno said. "LSU does a lot of different things than we're used to, and a lot faster."
All the more reason Paterno wanted to get a head start. Maybe have a little fun, too.
Even with all the distractions at the beach and later when they arrive in the theme-park capital of the world, Paterno doesn't plan to give players a curfew for now.
It's not the first time, either.
On years his team isn't in a BCS bowl, Paterno often brings players down early to a "secondary" site first. For instance, Penn State has stayed at St. Pete Beach south of Tampa before playing in the Outback Bowl in years prior.
The last thing on his mind is players finding trouble.