Many focus on victims as Penn State loses game

Penn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a pre-game prayer before an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Penn State and Nebraska players gather at midfield for a pre-game prayer before an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (AP)
Posted: November 12, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Two teams gathered to play a football game at Beaver Stadium on a crisp fall afternoon, but at times, that seemed beside the point.

The sex abuse scandal that rocked Happy Valley loomed large - from the moment of silence for victims of child abuse to the Penn State squad walking onto the field arm-in-arm, a marked departure from their former entrances, running behind now-former coach Joe Paterno.

More than 100 former Penn State players gathered to support the team, which kneeled with the Nebraska squad at midfield before kickoff. Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown led the teams in prayer.

"The scandal is everywhere," said Katie Delach, a Penn State alumna who lives in Collingswood but traveled to State College for the game. "It's definitely hanging. Outside, tailgating, inside, everyone is talking about it."

From her perch above the student section, Delach, 29, watched students waving signs touting fundraising efforts for childhood cancer and child abuse.

There was a sea of blue, including some shirts supporting Paterno, who was fired by the Board of Trustees earlier this week.

"We're not saying that football is more important than those victims," Delach said, "but we're here to support the team."

Penn State ultimately lost, 17 to 14, but the energy inside the stadium was positive, she said.

"I've never seen so much blue in all my life," said Delach.

Even Nebraska fans were touched.

"We're here during a very important day," said Anson Flake, a Cornhuskers supporter who lives in Enola, Pa.

The scene at Beaver Stadium was, he said, "a little bit like 9/11 - people get a little more friendly."

Fellow Nebraska fan Patrick Hald said he had sympathy for Penn State and its fans, as any big-time football program could potentially fall victim to scandal.

Ed Albert, superintendent of the Tulpehocken Area School District in Berks County, said he had one word to describe how he felt.

"Sad," said Albert. "Sad for the victims, sad for a lifetime of dedication of one individual. Sad for a process not in place to correct what was wrong. And sad for the victims who will be scarred for the rest of their lives."

Reminders of the scandal were everywhere. In a parking lot, a Penn State flag flew at half staff. A plane flying overhead pulled a "Pray for the Kids, Not the Cowards and Liars" banner.

The university received an anonymous bomb threat for Beaver Stadium Friday night, authorities said, but security personnel and bomb-sniffing dogs who combed the stadium Friday and Saturday morning found nothing.

The FBI and the police are still investigating, officials said.

A dozen state troopers on horses patrolled the area, a first, observers said.

A crowd of thousands gave a thunderous ovation to the Penn State team as they arrived at the stadium on buses.

Paterno's traditional seat - the front row, passenger side on the first bus - was vacant. Today's game is the first Penn State home game without Paterno as a coach since Harry Truman was president - Oct. 29, 1949.

An emotional Jay Paterno was one of the first people to go through the tunnel.

Jay Paterno, the team's quarterbacks coach and son of Joe Paterno, quickly blew through the phalanx of screaming fans behind fences on both sides of the path leading into the stadium. He almost ripped the arm off a guard who engaged him in a handshake.

Paterno has not commented on Wednesday night's firing of his father by the university's Board of Trustees.

Interim head coach Tom Bradley, who was be the first person not named Joe Paterno to be in charge of a Nittany Lions football game since 1966, walked through the crowd looking businesslike and a bit bemused.

Bradley went directly into the stadium before going to the locker room, high-fiving students who had arrived early.

Quarterback Matt McGloin slapped as many hands as he could as he walked through the path.

Jay Paterno, who usually coaches from the booth in the press box, was on the sideline Saturday sending in plays to the offense. That had been the job of former receivers coach Mike McQueary, who was told Thursday he would not be coaching in the game, and was placed on paid administrative on Friday.

Jay Paterno wore his father's coat, the same one Joe Paterno wore when he passed Bear Bryant for most career wins in 2001.

Hours before kickoff, the street outside Paterno's house was quiet, except for a neighbor, wearing a Penn State shirt and using a leaf blower.

Jay Paterno stopped briefly at his parents' house, telling reporters that "he had a job to do."

"We support you!" a man yelled at Jay Paterno as he walked up the sidewalk.

A young woman dropped off flowers outside the Paterno front door.

"WE LOVE YOU JOE," a gray-haired man wearing shorts yelled as he walked past the house.

One man angrily shouted at the small media contingent on the sidewalk across the street from the Paterno house.

"Why don't you go to Sandusky's house?" he yelled.

Inside the stadium, there was a healthy dose of Nebraska red but mostly Penn State blue. Students had called a "Blue Out" for child abuse awareness.

Many of the t-shirts students wore were tributes to Paterno: "We (heart) Joe", "We Still (heart) Joe", "Coach Paterno: Only One Thing: Thank You", "Don't Blame Joe, Bro."

After the game was over, Delach watched as the stadium erupted in a "We are Penn State" cheer as her team left the field.

The outcome of the game was tangential, she said.

"I don't think today was about winning a football game," said Delach. "It was about the Penn State family, the community, showing support for the victims, and the team, and each other."

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag.

Inquirer staff writers Frank Fitzpatrick and Jeff Gammage contributed to this report.

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