Joe Paterno spent his 84th birthday, as well as many of the previous birthdays he celebrated during his 45 previous years as Penn State's head football coach, fully involved in getting his team ready to play in a bowl game.

But Paterno will observe his 85th birthday Wednesday at his State College home without a team, six weeks after the university's board of trustees fired him in the fallout from the child sex-abuse scandal following the indictment of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno is recuperating from a broken pelvis he reinjured in a fall at home, and is undergoing treatments for lung cancer. He was released Sunday after a weeklong stay in an area hospital, where he was admitted after the fall. He was reported Monday to be "doing well" by his son, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno.

There was no indication how the former coach would celebrate his birthday. Jay Paterno tweeted Tuesday, "Saw boatloads of birthday cards for Joe at the house & realized that I'd better get him one before tomorrow."

A source close to the family told ESPN that Paterno's cancer treatments were "really taking a lot out of him."

"He is determined and he has not lost his spirit, but it's a lot to handle," the source said. "He has his good days and bad."

As they prepare for their Jan. 2 meeting against Houston in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas, the Nittany Lions are thinking about Paterno, who led the team to 37 bowl contests.

"Of course we're worried about him," defensive tackle Devon Still said Monday at the team's media day. "He's the reason why we are the men that we are today. He instilled a lot of values in us to help us grow, not only as leaders but as men. So he's in the back of our minds."

Wide receiver Derek Moye said he thought Paterno has the determination to make a full recovery.

"He's a tough guy," Moye said. "If anybody can get through all this, it's definitely going to be him."

Moye, a fifth-year senior, also said that "not having Joe at practice yelling and screaming, just hearing his voice, is definitely something that's different."

Pelini's denial. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini reiterated that he has not had any contact with Penn State officials about the head coaching position.

"The irresponsible reports that are going on out there aren't true," Pelini told reporters after the Cornhuskers completed practice Tuesday. "I have not interviewed for Penn State, and I'm not saying any more on that."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday that Pelini had met with Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner last week in Texas but is not being considered for the job.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News also reported of a meeting between Pelini and university officials, but Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said he hadn't been contacted by anyone from Penn State seeking permission to speak with Pelini.

Change of heart.

Penn State players did not react kindly to being passed over by three bowl games affiliated with the Big Ten and initially almost decided against accepting a bid to the TicketCity Bowl, a second-year game scheduled for Jan. 2 in Dallas.

But the Nittany Lions gave themselves 24 hours to think it over and wound up agreeing to play Houston.

"We had a team meeting where everybody put their opinions out there on the table," Still said. "I told the team that, in life, you have to play the cards that you're dealt with. When you get in the real world, if something bad happens to you, you can't just stop and give up on it. You have to keep going.

"That's something that the team had to realize. We can't control what bowl we go to. We can't take it out on the TicketCity Bowl because we're grateful that they accepted us."

No bowl for Massaro.

Interim coach Tom Bradley said junior defensive end Pete Massaro, a former Marple Newtown High star, has been ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation of a torn ACL suffered during spring practice but the coach doesn't want to risk playing him in the TicketCity Bowl.

"He looks good to me every day, and I tease him all the time, 'Pete, are you going to do it?' " Bradley said. "Pete is obviously a big part of our program and one of our really superior players and people on this team, and I'd love if he could do it. But I'm not going to do anything to injure his progress."

Massaro, who received his degree Saturday, tore the ACL in his left knee March 25 and sat out the 2011 season. He also sat out in 2009 after tearing his right ACL during preseason practice.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.