- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As the sun set on a dark day in Happy Valley, Matt Williams and his friends decided to pay Joe a visit.
Wearing Penn State T-shirts, Williams and his three companions approached the Joe Paterno statue flanking Beaver Stadium. Until their arrival, the statue had been by itself. A Penn State traffic unit officer, in place to prevent any vandalism and to keep cars moving along Porter Road, was the only one there. Few folks had stopped by, the officer said, and there were no problems. Two flower bouquets rested at the base of the statue.
Williams and his friends snapped pictures on their smartphones and posed, even copying the statue's pose -- one finger raised.
"We just thought it was necessary, considering the actions that happened today with JoePa's name getting put out there," said Williams, a junior at Penn State who grew up in nearby Altoona. "We just wanted to come show our support. Even though his name's getting dragged through the dirt, we're still supporting him and we still love Penn State."
There was another reason they visited the statue. They don't know how much longer it will be there.
The release of the Freeh report on Thursday painted Paterno, the late Penn State coach, in an extremely negative light. Judge Louis Freeh and his investigative team concluded that Paterno, along with three other senior Penn State officials, had knowledge of the heinous crimes committed by former longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky but did little to stop them.
Paterno's legacy has been "marred," in the words of board of trustees chair Karen Peetz. And many are demanding that Penn State remove the statue of its iconic coach.
"To take his shrine down, that would be the most disrespectful thing you could do," Williams said.
They think it could happen. Not this weekend, as thousands of people descend on State College for the annual arts festival. But maybe before the season kicks off in September.
And if it did?
"It would be worse than November," said Ashley Patton, who visited the statue with her sister, Taylor, a Penn State sophomore. "For sure."
November brought mass rioting and demonstrations, mostly by Penn State students, in the wake of Paterno's firing.
Penn State's campus had a much different vibe Thursday after the release of the Freeh report.
"It was very somber," Williams said. "And you got a little bit of closure because they came out with the final report. November was just insane."
Taylor Patton followed Thursday's news, mostly on Twitter, and was saddened by the report as well as the condemnation of Paterno.
"We do process it," Patton said. "We're saying it doesn't make him a bad person. He could have done more. We all know that. But think about everything that he's done for Penn State. You can't just make him out to be a bad person for one thing he did, when he's done so much for this university."
As the four friends left, several groups of others arrived to take pictures and pose. One man shouted, "JoePa, forever!" as he walked away.
Explained Williams: "It's a Penn State thing."
6mDavid M. Hale