NEW YORK -- When he returned to Brooklyn in 1979, Joe Paterno thought about quitting.
Alabama had just defeated his Penn State football team in the Sugar Bowl, and the then-52-year-old coach went back home to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He reflected for three days. He had been coaching Penn State for 13 seasons, and the loss stung.
"Maybe it's time to get out of it," Paterno recalled thinking.
Paterno stayed. And 28 years later, he has built the Penn State program into one of the strongest in the country, helped transform State College into a mini-metropolis and became a coaching legend in the process.
Yesterday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, he again returned home, but this time to receive the highest of honors. He was inducted, with 12 players and one other coach, into the College Football Hall of Fame.
"I owe a lot to an awfully lot of people to get me here," Paterno said at the morning media session.
Paterno received a standing ovation after capping the momentous day with a humorous yet impassioned acceptance speech at a black-tie dinner last night.
He ribbed other inductees, playfully poking fun at former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie for racking up most of his passing yards in garbage time against Penn State and telling former Southern California linebacker Richard Wood that he was a cocky high schooler when Paterno recruited him from Elizabeth, N.J.
Paterno ended the speech with a pep-rally-like kick, raising his voice and rousing the large crowd of college athletic directors, football coaches and current and former players.
At one point, he asked all the former college football players to stand. He then asked who regretted their experience to sit down. No one sat.
"We're involved in the greatest game," Paterno said at the dinner, "and the greatest experience anybody could want. ... If you lose what we have in football, we're going to lose in awful lot in this country, and we have to remember that."
Paterno said his only regret was that he did not have the chance to be inducted alongside Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. If not for the broken leg he suffered last season, Paterno would have been inducted with the 2006 class along with Bowden.
"I'm only sorry, really," Paterno said, "that I wasn't here last year with Bobby Bowden."
In explaining Paterno's impact, the numbers alone suffice. He won two national titles, finished with five undefeated regular seasons and was a coach of the year honoree five times. He is second all-time in Football Bowl Subdivision wins (371) behind Bowden (373).
"It's a great honor certainly for Coach Paterno but also for Penn State, particularly because he had his whole career here at Penn State," Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley said about Paterno's honor in an interview earlier this week. "It just shines a big spotlight on the university that he's been able to stay here this whole time and accomplish some great things. ... He's made us a better university because of his presence here."
Along with the 13 other inductees, Paterno spoke at a brief press conference and media session in the morning before the formal dinner last night. Paterno arrived a few minutes late for the morning session because he was out late Monday for a reception in his honor.
About 400 people attended the program Monday night, including Penn State President Graham Spanier and nearly 200 former players, including linebacker Greg Buttle (1973-75), Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti (1972-73), quarterback Todd Blackledge (1980-82) and current Temple coach Al Golden (1989-91).
"It's obviously a great honor for him," said Paterno's son and Penn State quarterbacks coach, Jay Paterno. "But Joe's the first to tell you it's an honor for everybody that's worked for him, everybody he's coached."
A handful of Paterno's elementary school classmates also attended -- faces from St. Edmund the coach hadn't seen in nearly 75 years.
"It is special," Paterno said. "I'm a New Yorker. I'll always be a New Yorker."
Paterno, who grew up no more than a half-hour subway ride from the Waldorf-Astoria, didn't have time within the schedule to take his five children to Flatbush, as he had planned.
Nevertheless, the past two days have been a fitting homecoming for the 80-year-old. He long ago decided to leave the city, choosing to move to a farm town in the middle of Pennsylvania.
"Pop, I'm going to coach," he remembered telling his father decades ago.
Then 23, Paterno nixed plans to attend Boston University law school. His parents, at first, weren't pleased, a story Paterno recounted yesterday.
"What'd you go to college for?" asked his mother, Florence.
"Whatever you do, have an impact," his father, Angelo, told him. "Don't waste your life just winning football games. Have an impact."
Yesterday's Hall of Fame homecoming once again signified Paterno's impact -- not only on Penn State but on college athletics, too.
Even after such a long, distinguished career, Paterno, who will turn 81 later this month, wants to add to his legacy. He told The Associated Press last week he plans to honor his current contract, which runs through the 2008 season, and possibly even coach for a few years longer than that if his health permits.
"I admire all of you guys out there and all of the families who are playing this game even though you may not be Hall of Famers," Paterno said in his closing remarks last night. "I'm a Hall of Famer not because I'm better than anyone else. I'm a Hall of Famer because I'm lucky."