Crowd gathers for funeral procession

Updated: January 25, 2012, 8:50 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Quiet mourners lined the route of Joe Paterno's funeral procession Wednesday, watching with grief and reverence as the electric-blue hearse carrying the Penn State coach's casket slowly drove by.

Some took pictures with their cell phones, or waved to his widow. Others craned their necks hoping for a better glimpse through the crowd sometimes four deep or more.

The private funeral and burial service capped another emotional day for a campus and community pained over Paterno's death from lung cancer Sunday at age 85, and over the way his stellar career ended -- being fired by university trustees Nov. 9 in the wake of child sex-abuse charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Thousands of students, alumni and fans took to the streets in and around Penn State to say their last goodbyes to the football coach who grew into a beloved figure in Happy Valley, not only for his five undefeated seasons but for his love of the school and his generosity.

"He cared about the kids. He wanted to see us succeed. So for a lot of us, he became a grandfather-like figure," Jordan Derk, a senior from York, said after the procession went past Beaver Stadium.

"He loved us and we loved him back," Derk said. "So saying goodbye is very tough."

Jay Paterno, the coach's son and quarterbacks coach, sent a message to the mourners via Twitter.

"Thank you to all the people who turned out for my father's procession," he wrote. "Very moving."

The elder Paterno won two national titles and a Division I record 409 games over 46 seasons as head coach. His cancer was disclosed just nine days after he was forced to leave the football program he had worked with since 1950.

But Wednesday was once again a salute to Paterno's life and accomplishments. The service, a Roman Catholic Mass, was attended by a veritable who's who of Penn State and Paterno connections.

Paterno's family arrived about an hour before the funeral service on two blue school buses, the same kind the coach and his team rode to home games on fall Saturdays. His wife of nearly six decades, Sue, sat in the seat traditionally reserved for her husband and was first off the bus, followed by Jay.

Former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley walked to the service with NFL great Franco Harris. Also in attendance were other ex-NFL players including Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge, both now TV analysts. Nike founder Phil Knight and actor William Baldwin were there, too.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno mourners
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesCrowds lined the streets of State College to get a glimpse of Joe Paterno's funeral procession.

"Today's Mass was a celebration. We laid to rest a great man," Bradley said. "Not so much for the football victories ... He meant so much to so many people."

Charles Pittman, who played for Paterno in the 1960s, also was at the Mass.

"It really focused on the type of person Joe Paterno was -- his devotion to his family, his wife, his grandkids," said Pittman, a senior vice president for publishing at Schurz Communications Inc., an Indiana-based company that owns television and radio stations and newspapers, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Associated Press.

A family spokesman, Dan McGinn, said Paterno's grandchildren escorted the casket down the aisle during the opening procession, and again at the end of the service. Jay Paterno and his brother, Scott, were among the pallbearers.

In between, during the service, all of Paterno's children spoke except for Jay, who is scheduled to talk at a campus memorial service Thursday at the Jordan Center. Two of Paterno's 17 grandchildren also talked and shared the favorite moments collected among the rest of the grandkids -- including one instance when Paterno mistakenly drove over a bicycle after returning home from work.

Former defensive tackle Anthony Adams, who carried a program with a black-and-white picture of a smiling Paterno on the cover, said the service was befitting of his former coach, who loved to be surrounded by family and just talk.

On the other hand, Paterno also was notorious for trying to avoid the spotlight himself.

"He would've been embarrassed. He would've hated it," Millen said. "He would've told us to shut up already. I guarantee it."

Paterno didn't focus on the scandal that led to his stunning ouster, Scott Paterno has said, and neither did mourners.

Sandusky, the former assistant coach at the center of the abuse scandal, has been charged with molesting 10 boys over a period of 15 years. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail, awaiting trial. Paterno was criticized in the days after Sandusky's arrest for not going to authorities outside campus when he was told of an allegation against the retired assistant in 2002. Paterno did notify two of his superiors at Penn State.

Mike McQueary, the then-graduate assistant who told Paterno about the alleged assault, went both to the public viewing and the funeral. Also at the service was former athletic director Tim Curley, who along with former university official Gary Schultz, is charged with perjury and failure to notify authorities about the 2002 allegation.

They melted into the crowd on a day when Paterno was the center of attention.

"The things he did for athletes, the things he did for all students actually -- that alone earns our respect to say one final goodbye," said Alex Jimenez, a sophomore from Manapalan, N.J., standing directly across from Paterno Library. The procession went right past the library to which the Paterno family has donated millions of dollars.

And the procession rolled past Beaver Stadium, the 100,000-plus seat facility that Paterno helped turn into a college football landmark. Thousands watched in silence there until the convoy reached "Paternoville," the makeshift campground outside the stadium used by students the week before games.

There, as the procession slowed nearly to a stop to negotiate a curve, someone in the throng screamed, "We are."

"Penn State!" came the crowd's reply.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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