Quiet and supportive scene at Joe Paterno's house

Tributes to the Penn State icon abounded at Beaver Stadium, above, and on McKee Street in State College, where Paterno has dwelled for decades.
Tributes to the Penn State icon abounded at Beaver Stadium, above, and on McKee Street in State College, where Paterno has dwelled for decades. (MATT ROURKE / Associated Press)
Posted: November 13, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Hearing her name chanted from her front lawn, Sue Paterno blew a kiss and addressed the Penn State students who had gathered on McKee Street Saturday night after the game. She had just come from church, she said, had heard a sermon on healing, the topic obviously chosen for the occasion.

"This is the second most difficult week of my life," Joe Paterno's wife of nearly half a century told the students, not elaborating. "You've made it tolerable. . . . We'll be back. I mean, we're not going anywhere."

She told them her husband, not seen all day, would be along in a couple of minutes. Within 10 minutes, an SUV pulled up with the former Penn State coach in the backseat. It pulled into the garage, the door shutting immediately behind. Son David came out and told the crowd Joe wouldn't be out to address them this night.

Former Penn State star wide receiver Kenny Jackson visited the house just after Paterno got home.

"I just wanted to say thank you for all the times - for all he's done for me, for so many of us," Jackson said. "I didn't see Joe or Sue. They're tired, and that's OK. I saw his kids. There will be due time when he can have some peace and go for a walk. He's living in a cocoon. I just know what he's done for me as a person."

Jackson immediately added, "The most important thing is, we've got to do what we can do for these young people that have been hurt."

When Jay Paterno walked down McKee Street, returning from the stadium after the game, students on the Paternos' front lawn started cheering.

"Don't make me cry," Jay told them, then the Nittany Lions assistant coach yelled, "We are . . . ." The students took up the chant.

Sporadically all day, Penn State students and graduates yelled at the media in front of Paterno's house, telling us to get away.

"He should have been fired, but leave him alone," the loudest and angriest media critic yelled after stopping his car and getting out to address ESPN, NBC, and CNN among other cameras. "Go to Sandusky's house! Go cover the trial."

We will, a television producer assured him.

A man bicycled by Paterno's house.

"His first home game, right?" the man quipped.

In fact, Paterno had watched it elsewhere. Sue and her daughters were there, in and out of the house several times during the day. Several close friends came to watch the game on McKee Street, but otherwise, you needed to know the garage-door code to get in.

After the game, a stream of students came and squatted on the front lawn, sidewalk, and curb, growing toward a hundred or so. Fans left items on the walkway to Paterno's front door. Jerseys, flowers, a teddy bear, a pair of Paterno glasses without lenses. Each offering brought a roar from the students.

One student said his calculus class on Thursday wasn't about calculus. Instead students talked about how an administration that was supposed to speak for them had let them down.

Except for a couple of tense moments between students and media, for most of the day this was one of the more peaceful spots in State College. There was a sign at the end of the block saying "Road closed, local traffic only." It was universally ignored.

Those who showed up on McKee Street came to pay their respects, a wake of sorts for an era now over. Probably almost 1,000 people walked by over the course of the day. Except for the huge media presence, you might have thought Paterno had simply retired, that nothing had caused his exit, not anything he had done or failed to do. The word Sandusky didn't come up much on McKee Street. There was no talk of alleged child rape or what the coach or anybody else at Penn State should have or could have done to prevent it.

A sign placed on Paterno's lawn, facing toward the house, had stood most of the day, then blew over in the wind. The sign expressed basic thoughts: "Thanks Joe . . . Penn State forever. We love you." A man came along, took it off the ground, and propped it back up.

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, mjensen@phillynews.com, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus


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