Penn State is quiet after week of woe
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Nearly 108,000 people filed into Beaver Stadium and millions more tuned in Saturday to watch a Penn State football game in which the outcome seemed like an afterthought.
In the wake of a child sex abuse scandal that has tarnished this once proud program and led to the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno and the resignation of university president Graham Spanier, Saturday became a day of duality.
Before they turned into opponents violently crashing into one another, Penn State and Nebraska players embraced and knelt together in prayer at midfield.
When the crowd reached its loudest point in anticipation of the Nittany Lions running on the field from their locker room, players somberly walked out arm-in-arm instead.
Everyone wearing blue -- from the seats to the sod -- was out to prove there was pride left in "We Are Penn State," though many still feel so much shame.
The Nittany Lions lost to Nebraska, 17-14, but for three hours the game provided a respite for a university that has spent parts of the past seven days rallying, rioting and reflecting.
"I felt today, just maybe, the healing process started to begin," interim football coach Tom Bradley said.
There were constant reminders of just how different this university is since the last time a crowd gathered at Beaver Stadium.
It was the Nittany Lions' first game without Mr. Paterno on its coaching staff since 1949. It was also the team's first game since a grand jury in Harrisburg charged former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with sexual abuse of eight young boys, including two on campus.
Besides Mr. Paterno and Mr. Spanier's departures, senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz has retired, and athletic director Tim Curley and assistant coach Mike McQueary have been placed on paid administrative leave. Mr. Schultz and Mr. Curley have also been charged with perjury.
When the Penn State team buses pulled up at Beaver Stadium at about 10:20 a.m., they were met by thousands of huddled fans who wanted to show their support for the players.
Mr. Bradley left Mr. Paterno's customary first seat in the first row open on the team bus, and Mr. Paterno's son Jay, an assistant coach, appeared emotional as he walked toward the stadium. Jay Paterno walked the sidelines wearing a jacket he pulled from his dad's closet.
"I couldn't really let the emotions get the better of me. When the game got over, they obviously caught up with me," said Jay Paterno, who began to cry during an on-camera interview at the end of the game.
Most fans seemed to be supportive of Joe Paterno.
The student section chanted "Joe Paterno" at the start of the second half, and then "JoePa" shortly after the start of the fourth quarter. Several fans brought signs honoring Mr. Paterno.
But students also noted the changed circumstances in a number of ways. The "S zone" in the Penn State student section in which the students form a block "S" by wearing blue-and-white shirts also included the image of a blue ribbon, honoring victims of child abuse. There were two moments of silence for the victims described in the grand jury report -- once before the teams took the field and another as the teams gathered in prayer at midfield, led by Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown.
"I thought it was one of the most moving and genuine expressions of support that I've seen here," Penn State president Rodney Erickson said after the game.
The game was a hard one for the players.
"It was really tough emotionally," Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still said. "We were going out there, on senior day, without our head coach."
After the game, a small contingent of people held an hour-long candlelight vigil and information session about child sex abuse outside a gated entrance to the Penn State campus. About two dozen people, including organizers from the Foundation to End Child Sex Abuse and partnering groups, gathered on the corner of College Avenue and Allen Street holding signs saying "Silent no more" and, quoting Albert Einstein, "The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing."
Before, during and after the game, there were people gathered outside Mr. Paterno's home.
Early Saturday morning, several people wandered by the Joe Paterno home on McKee Street to pray on his front lawn. Others stopped by with flowers, notes and signs for Mr. Paterno, including a framed passage from Corinthians, "and now these three remain, faith, hope and love."
Among those who trickled past was Cathy Taylor, of Roanoke, Va., a Penn State alumna who wrote a message to Mr. Paterno on a poster board, then propped it up against a car parked in his driveway.
It read, "Despite everything, someone like you deserved to be treated with more dignity and respect than a phone call to your home," referring to the call Mr. Paterno received from trustees last week informing him he was no longer the Nittany Lions' coach. "And for that, we are sorry. Thanks. Enjoy your retirement. You've earned it."
Ms. Taylor said Mr. Paterno should be remembered for his contributions to the university off the field.
The day wore on without any sight of Mr. Paterno. Relatives came and left in silence. A crowd of students gathered on his lawn after the game, chanting his name and leaving handwritten messages.
Jay Paterno returned about 5 p.m. He called out to the cheering crowd, which stood as he walked up to the house: "We Are!"
They yelled back: "Penn State!"
"Tell Joe we love him!" one man cried out.
Jay Paterno left without addressing the students or a group of reporters and camera crews gathered across the street. He flashed a peace sign as he drove off.
He did leave a letter to his father; in it he wrote: "You and I through my life haven't always seen eye to eye. Generally, it's because I had to grow up to catch up and make eye contact with you."
Later his mother, Sue, briefly came outside and spoke to the students who now filled her lawn. A police officer lingered nearby. In a soft voice, she described the recent days as difficult but made tolerable by the Paterno supporters, whom she thanked.
"I've always felt Penn State was a family. ... We will be again," she said. "We'll be back. We're not going anywhere."
Later her son David came forward with a police officer beside him.
"Joe is not coming out tonight," David Paterno said. "He's been very busy, and he really appreciates your being here."
He accepted flowers from some of the students before disappearing into the house. A police officer, who ordered students and reporters to stay on the sidewalks and off the property, allowed only Mr. Paterno's friends inside.
The students said they were there to support the former coach and they stayed there, chanting his name as the night fell and temperatures dropped.
The campus remained quiet in the hours after the game.
First Published November 13, 2011 12:00 am