Players bid Joe Paterno farewell

Updated: January 25, 2012, 12:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- They stood outside for hours, waiting to pay their respects to the late Joe Paterno. The line snaked down a long block on the Penn State campus.

Inside a campus spiritual center, the coach's body lay in a closed, hardwood casket topped by a spray of white roses. About six feet away sat a stylized black-and-white picture of the man who became lovingly known on campus as "JoePa," smiling and peering out through his trademark thick-rimmed glasses.

Three days of public mourning began Tuesday for a Penn State community already wracked by months of turmoil. The 85-year-old Paterno, a Hall of Fame coach and the face of the university, died Sunday of lung cancer. The disease was diagnosed in mid-November, just days after being forced from his job in the wake of child sex-abuse charges against a former assistant.

Thousands of people streamed past Paterno's casket for four hours Wednesday morning; a private funeral is scheduled for the afternoon.

Mourners began entering a campus spiritual center at about 7:40 a.m. ET, with the line stretching down the block and through police barricades. The last of the mourners entered just after 11:30 a.m. ET, when the doors were closed.

"We're not going to focus on the bad, we're going to pull together and focus on the good," Brittany Yingling, 23, of Altoona, said Tuesday. "He's going to leave a lasting legacy on so many people."

And tens of thousands showed up, lining a main campus artery for a chance to make the walk, single file, past Paterno's casket, which had an "honor guard" of two Penn State players -- one past and one present. Some mourners stopped for a moment of reflection, or to genuflect in the interfaith hall.

Others fought back tears and sniffles. The only other sounds were the clicks from media photographers, taking occasional pictures.

Jay Paterno, one of the coach's sons, was still shaking hands with the well-wishers when police shut down the visitation at 10:45 p.m. ET Tuesday, telling a handful of people on their way in that they could come back early Wednesday morning.

Paterno won 409 games and two national championships over his a 46-year career admired by peers as much for its longevity as its success. Paterno also took as much pride in the program's graduation rates, often at or close to the top of the Big Ten.

"I came to pay my respects to a great man, that has nothing to do with victories," said Paterno's longtime assistant and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. "A lot of his victories people don't even know about."

Members of the public were preceded by the family, including two of Paterno's sons. Scott Paterno and Jay, the former Nittany Lions quarterback coach, spent some time shaking hands and thanking well-wishers before they exited Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, where the viewing was held.

[+] EnlargePaterno Mourners
AP Photo/Alex BrandonMourners waited in long lines Tuesday to pay their last respects to Joe Paterno.

"Going in there, waiting two hours in line, it was worth every second of it," said Rob Gressinger, a Penn State junior. "I've lost all my grandparents and the feeling is the exact same thing. ... Feels like you lost one of your own."

Also paying respects privately Tuesday morning were former and current players and coaches, as well as incoming coach Bill O'Brien. Members of the current team wore dark suits and arrived in three blue Penn State buses, the same ones that once carried Paterno and the team to games at Beaver Stadium on fall Saturdays.

Among the former players was Mike McQueary. As a graduate assistant to Paterno in 2002, he went to the coach saying he had witnessed former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky assaulting a boy in the shower at the Penn State football building.

Paterno relayed that to his bosses -- including the head of campus police -- but university trustees believed he should have done more, and it played into their decision to oust the longtime coach on Nov. 9. That came four days after Sandusky was charged with child sex abuse. He has maintained his innocence.

Dressed in a blue coat and tie with a white shirt, the school colors, McQueary declined comment after leaving the viewing.

Earlier Tuesday, former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris, a vocal critic of the university trustees, also came to say goodbye. Others included NFL receivers Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood; Norwood's father and Baylor assistant coach Brian Norwood; and former quarterback Daryll Clark, who also served as an honor guard.

Houston Texans receiver Bryant Johnson, a nine-year NFL veteran, said he decided to attend Penn State out of high school in Baltimore because "he wanted to play for a legendary coach."

"I wanted to play for someone that instilled the values that he believed in," Johnson said. "I wanted to play for someone who believed in guys graduating."

Paterno was beloved as much by others in the community for his philanthropic efforts, such as donating millions back to the university for projects including the campus library bearing the family name. Paterno Library sits a short walk across the street from the spiritual center.

"He did so much for this town and school and the students. It wasn't all football," said Martha Edwards of Jersey Shore, Pa. She isn't a graduate but decided to attend anyway.

"Right over there is the library with his name on it," she said. "Nobody comes any better than him."

On Thursday, the school's basketball arena will be the site of a public service called "A Memorial for Joe." Tickets were quickly snapped up for the event, even though there was a two-per-person limit.

Some tickets were posted for sale on eBay, but the online auction site pulled down those ads because it does not allow the sale of tickets to free events.

The memorial also will be broadcast live on cable TV's Big Ten Network and streamed live on the channel's companion website and the Penn State athletics site.

Classes have not been canceled, but the university said in a statement that provost Rob Pangborn has left it up to instructors if they want to reschedule classes in recognition of students who might attend or watch the service.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is "not planning" on attending the service, spokesman Kevin Harley said Tuesday, according to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

"I am not aware that any members of the (Penn State) board of trustees are attending, at the request of the family," Harley said, adding that Corbett wants to respect that request, the newspaper reported.

The Paterno family was discouraging the trustees from attending as a group, sources told The Patriot-News -- a move that would allow members of the board with ties to the Paternos to attend as individuals.

Penn State president Rodney Erickson said Tuesday he plans to attend the memorial service but won't play an active role.

The 32-member board of trustees has come under fire for its handling of the scandal and the firings of Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier. But a vote of no-confidence in the trustees failed to garner enough support at a Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday on campus in State College. A motion calling for a special committee to investigate the trustees' oversight also failed.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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