Students flock to Paterno's house to offer support

Scott Paterno, left, looks on as students greet his father, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, as he arrives at his home.
Scott Paterno, left, looks on as students greet his father, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, as he arrives at his home. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Posted: November 09, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Amid rumors that Joe Paterno might be forced to step down as head football coach at Pennsylvania State University, several hundred students converged on the 84-year-old's four-bedroom ranch house Tuesday evening to show their support.

They occupied a large area of the street, many holding signs backing the coach who has become synonymous with the university's football program.

An upbeat Paterno said he appreciated the support. In response to chants of "We want Joe!", Paterno, wearing his trademark Coke-bottle glasses and sporting a gray sweatshirt, shouted, "And I want you guys!"

"It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me," Paterno said amid the mob of students, reporters, and photographers. "I've lived for this place. I've lived for people like you guys and girls. And I'm just so happy that you can feel so strongly about us and about your school."

Paterno then twice shouted the customary "We are!" and got a roaring response of "Penn State!" Aided by one of his daughters, a smiling Paterno slowly made his way back to his front door as students chanted "Let Joe stay!" and "We love Joe!" Paterno raised his arms over his head, then went into his house.

He had arrived home from practice shortly after 6 p.m. After exiting a white van, Paterno was barely visible as he made his way up his driveway.

Minutes later, an emotional Paterno spoke from a window.

"There have been criticisms of the way we've been handling some of the poor victims," Paterno said. "My wife and I, we have 17 grandkids from 16 to 3, and we pray for them every night, and we're going to start praying for those kids that got involved in some of the problems that we talked about. They don't deserve it. We owe it to them to say a prayer for them."

As police told the students to step back from the lawn, Paterno's wife, Sue, replaced him at the window. The cheers continued. One sign read, "Occupy McKee Street." Another read, "We Are (Still) Penn State."

"This brings us together and really shows our Penn State pride," said Karisa Maxwell, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. "It really is the epitome of 'We are.' "

Lois Dennis and her daughter, who live two doors from the Paternos, came outside when they heard the ruckus. Though she moved to town just last winter, Dennis was emotional when discussing the fallout from child-sex charges against Jerry Sandusky, a former Paterno assistant.

"[Paterno] and his wife do so much good for the community, the school, the Special Olympics," Dennis said, struggling to get out the words. "My daughter is a special-needs child. She has met Sue and she is so nice to her. They're just genuinely good people who got caught up in this."

Though Paterno did not come out until about 15 minutes after he had first spoken to the students, most had stuck around.

"I think JoePa is always going to have kind of a different name now, but I think the main part is that we really remember him for what he's done for this university, which I believe is unmatched at any other university," said Gavin Steinhubl, a sophomore majoring in supply chain management.

"I hope people do remember him for being the winningest coach in college football history, building a library, giving back to this university, because that really makes him more of a legend than a coach."


Contact staff writer Jake Kaplan at jake.kaplan1@gmail.com.

 

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