Thousands bid farewell to Joe Paterno at a public viewing

Posted: January 25, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - They came by the thousands - in Nittany blue sweatshirts and jeans, and in dark suits stretched taut over athletic frames.

They came in snow boots to ward off a tolerable winter chill and, in a style nod to the man they came to mourn, in loafers with stark white socks.

They came in wheelchairs, in strollers, one even on crutches, all to pay their final respects to a coach who left an indelible mark on their university and, for many, their lives.

More than 10,000 Pennsylvania State University students, alumni, former players, townspeople, and sports-world luminaries queued up Tuesday in lines that stretched longer than a football field for the chance to shuffle, one by one, past the casket of record-setting football coach Joe Paterno.

"He's just a legend," said Barb Barkovich, 71, of Johnstown. "He gave to his family. He gave to his community tremendously. He took a small-town school and made it what it is today."

The public viewing ceremony - the first of three memorials planned by his family this week - drew onlookers from as close as a campus dorm to as far away as California.

Paterno's family planned to host a similar viewing Wednesday morning before private funeral and burial services in the afternoon. A public memorial service is scheduled for Thursday at the university's 16,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center.

Penn State officials said they ran out of 10,000 free tickets to the Thursday event within seven minutes of making them available online Tuesday morning. A few appeared later for sale on the Internet auction site eBay.com but were pulled by the company and greeted with angry derision by many who saw them for sale, including the university president, Rodney Erickson.

But, like Paterno himself, who famously lived in a simple ranch-style house in State College, Tuesday's memorial was notable as much for its simplicity as for the overwhelming attention it drew.

The coach's closed, unadorned casket sat atop a dais in the austere Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, a building to whose construction Paterno and his wife, Sue, donated $1 million. A simple arrangement of white roses rested on the casket, a black-and-white photo of the coach in his trademark black-frame glasses to its left.

Throughout the day, a rotating honor guard of two football players - one current, one former - stood to either side, as the throng trundled by single-file for more than 10 hours.

Some walked briskly, stopping only for a quick glance - enough to prove they had been there. Others paused, crossed themselves, and left in tears, muttering "Goodbye, JoePa."

Brothers Ed and Mike Patrick, septuagenarian alums, walked out arm in arm into late-afternoon shadows.

"I just thought he was one of those people that would be around forever, for some reason," Ed said. "It just broke my heart." His brother added: "A loss. The end of an era."

Paterno's family, with some members arriving as early as 8:30, accompanied the blue-and-white hearse into the center. His sons Scott and Jay, the latter Paterno's former quarterbacks coach, greeted visitors as they passed through.

(At one point, Scott Paterno barked at a group of nearby photographers to step back out of respect for his mother. Sue Paterno was not seen outside the center Tuesday.)

Next came three busloads of players in dark suits from Paterno's last team, the one that capped his six-decade career as a Penn State coach. Joined by the university's new head coach, Bill O'Brien, they held a private vigil with Paterno's family.

Leaving the viewing, linebacker Khairi Fortt recalled Paterno's last words of advice to his team.

"He said the most important thing for us was to keep the Penn State tradition going," he said.

Throughout the day, former stars of the Nittany Lions, including Franco Harris, LaVar Arrington, Jordan Norwood, and Deon Butler came to pay their respects.

"Did you see how long we had to wait outside to get a chance to see him?" said Arrington as he left the ceremony. "To see all the lettermen and the alums that really were a part of Coach and his legacy is just amazing."

Also in attendance was Mike McQueary, the Penn State assistant coach who told Paterno in 2002 that he had seen former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky assaulting a young boy sexually in the team's locker-room showers. Though Paterno alerted other administrators to the allegations, he later lost his job after university trustees decided he should have notified police or followed up on the athletic department's investigation.

But with more than 500 current and former players and coaches in attendance, the guest list, in some ways, was more notable for who did not show up than who did.

Sandusky, the man at the center of the child sex-abuse scandal, did not come. Neither did several members of the university's board of trustees.

"Some board members chose to attend the memorial service, and others chose not to for their own individual reasons," a board spokesperson said in a statement. "All board members understand the pain and grief of the Paterno family."

The trustees faced heavy criticism before Paterno's death over their decision to fire him on Nov. 9, along with asking university president Graham B. Spanier to resign. Those feelings intensified this week as many of the longtime coach's staunchest supporters said they believed his brusque dismissal 10 weeks ago led to the rapid decline in his health.

The university's faculty on Tuesday rejected a no-confidence vote in the board for its handling of the Sandusky investigation.

But while relations between Paterno's family and university officials remain tense, Scott Paterno told the Associated Press that his father held no animosity toward Penn State or its administrators in his final days.

"His life is Penn State through and through," Scott Paterno said. "It never once occurred to him to be bitter toward Penn State."


For video from Joe Paterno's viewing visit www.philly.com/

paternoviewing


Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writers Susan Snyder and Joe Juliano contributed to this article.

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