New Castle News

Penn State Scandal

January 26, 2012

Remembering Paterno: A day of mourning as thousands pay respects to JoePa

STATE COLLEGE — About the time a Penn State football game might kick off, the line of mourners for Joe Paterno's viewing stretched for blocks, from the Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla Spiritual Center through campus.

Pro Football Hall of Famers and former NFL All-Pros had filed past the wooden casket in the morning - a group of current and former players so large it delayed the start of a public viewing for the Penn State football coach who walked the Nittany Lion sidelines for parts of 62 seasons.

It was a day when a school — and a state — paid their respect to the only coach many players and fans had ever known at the school.

Joseph Vincent Paterno came to Penn State in 1950, an unproven and unheralded assistant coach. After he was fired in November in the wake of a child-sex-abuse scandal that enveloped the school, Paterno and his family announced he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He died Sunday, less than three months after earning his 409th career victory — a Division I Record — on a snowy Beaver Stadium field.

On another cold January day, with snow still on the ground, individuals entered the large viewing area. They passed a collection of bouquets and floral arrangements. Cards on the bouquets were addressed to Paterno's wife and family. Other bouquets came from his life in football, including an arrangement of red tulips from the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic -- a bowl game Paterno first won at the end of the 1971 season.

At the front of the room, a large black-and-white portrait of a smiling Paterno was displayed to the side of his closed wooden casket. The casket was covered by a bouquet of white roses. Two Penn State players - one former, one current - flanked the casket throughout the public viewing.

The public streamed past the casket in single-file line, several dabbing their eyes as they approached the casket. Many crossed themselves. Some took a knee.

"It is truly amazing to stand up there and see people from all walks of life to stop and genuinely speak their peace with him — or with whomever they're speaking to," said former Penn State fullback Mike Cerimele, who stood to the right of the casket for about two hours Tuesday. "It was something I'm happy I did.

"All I could keep thinking is look at all the different types of people walking through here. These are people that are genuine fans that maybe never even had a conversation with him and to see the ... emotion."

A member of the class of 2000, Cerimele stepped away from the casket and reached out to hug and hold men and women - many of whom, he would say later, he had never seen before. Toward the end of his stay, he walked over to comfort a woman with tears in her eyes, unable to hold back the emotion of the day. She kissed Cerimele on the cheek as he embraced her.

"There were some people, they needed something," Cerimele said. "You could tell they were by themselves and they wanted to pay their respects, and they were hurting. The least I can do is reach out and kind of be there for them."

Members of the public wore jerseys and sweatshirts. Some students dressed for a funeral, wearing suits and dresses. Others appeared to have come straight from class, lugging backpacks as they passed the casket."

Penn State student Matt Lukasak of Orwigsburg left the spiritual center, his eyes red.

"The other day I was walking through campus for the first time since I heard the news, and I choked up a little bit then," Lukasak

Colby Wilson of Chambersburg, right, hugs Mughan Bechman of Morrysville, left, and Morgan Kimmel of Philadelphia, partially obscured, after the group of freshmen left Joe Paterno's viewing in State College Tuesday, January 24, 2012. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)said. "Knowing I'm walking through a campus he did so much for, and he's not going to walk through here anymore."

Former quarterback Daryll Clark broke down after leaving the viewing in the early afternoon. He had visited with Paterno in late December, after Christmas. Paterno had lost some hair and wasn't walking, but he looked and sounded like the old Joe that Clark knew.

"Still had the personality," Clark said. "You wouldn't have thought he was sick. You would not have thought he was fired, you would not have thought he was hurt ...

"It just went bad ..."

Clark admitted he believed at one time that Paterno used to yell at him for every little thing. But as he prepared to serve as an honor guard, he tried to think of all the times Paterno made him smile - it was all he could do to hold back the tears.

"When it first happened (when Paterno died), I didn't want to believe it," Clark said. "Not Joe. ... Then it started to hit home."

Paterno's sons — Scott and Jay — returned to the center in the late afternoon to greet mourners as they left the viewing area.

On a day filled with tears and bowed heads, little could be heard inside the viewing area other than the click of a camera shutter or Scott Paterno slapping a mourner on the back.

Former Penn State coaches, including longtime Paterno assistant Tom Bradley and former men's basketball coach Ed DeChellis, paid their respects in the early afternoon.

The Penn State men's basketball team stopped in before leaving town for a game at Ohio State. And while the presence of the mourners highlighted the longevity and much of the goodness of Paterno's career, the viewing also featured a reminder of the scandal that prompted the school's board of trustees to oust Paterno in his 46th season. Former assistant coach Mike McQueary paid his respects, and he left surrounded by members of the press - some running to snap his photograph.

McQueary, one of the witnesses in the state's case against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, has testified that he witnessed Sandusky rape a child in the showers of a campus football facility in 2002. He informed Paterno and other members of the administration, but no action was taken to start a criminal investigation.

And yet, on this day, it was the mostly the positives of Paterno's long career that were prominent.

His casket was displayed in the building his donations helped build, across Curtin Road from the library named after him. And so many individuals touched by his life, directly and indirectly, wiped away tears.

In looking at the young players who stood on the other side of the casket from Cerimele, he saw players who didn't have the opportunity to play their entire careers for Paterno. He saw them hold back tears. He saw the raw emotion this death has caused.

"It's a blow to your heart," Cerimele said. "It hurts your heart."

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