Wounded Penn State bleeds blue as team loses to Nebraska
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Tailgaters fired up their grills. The Blue Band marched, played and formed big letters. It was Senior Day. All appeared normal and right before a big college football game between Penn State and Nebraska at jam-packed Beaver Stadium on a crisp and bright autumn Saturday.
But just before noon, reality again intruded, normalcy again displaced. The public-address announcer asked the crowd to stand for a moment of silence for victims of child sexual abuse. Former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with such crimes, the focal point of perhaps college sports' ugliest and most damaging scandal.
Then both teams and dozens of former Penn State players met at midfield, joined hands and knelt in prayer while the above-capacity crowd of 107,903 went mute without being asked, causing an eerie silence.
Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown led the prayer, saying, "Lord, we know we don't have control of all these events that took place this week. But we do know that you are bigger than it all."
During the game, fans donated more than $22,000 to support child sex-abuse prevention efforts.
Instead of sprinting out of the tunnel, Penn State players walked out arm-in-arm and played competitively. But the Nittany Lions lost,17-14, to end their home season. The spirited crowd got into the action, enjoying a respite from a week of ceaselessly awful news as their team fought to the end. Then the place emptied.
What remains here is a world shaken to its core, different from what it was or what it was perceived to be.
During the first quarter, new Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a scoreboard video message that his "heart goes out to those who have been victimized," adding that "I share your sorrow and anger."
Joe Paterno, Penn State's legendary head football coach for almost 46 seasons, occupied neither the sideline nor the press box. He was fired on Wednesday for his connection with the scandal, as were others, including university President Graham Spanier.
Paterno has not been charged, but critics blame him for failing to contact police after a graduate student in 2002 reported that he had witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State football complex. Paterno alerted former athletic director Tim Curley, who faces charges of perjury and failing to report Sandusky's alleged crimes. Former Penn State administrator Gary Schultz faces similar charges.
Fans before and after yesterday's game walked to Paterno's home near the stadium. One fan left a red rose and a framed Bible verse on his lawn. Paterno was not home, but he returned several hours after the game in the backseat of a sport utility vehicle. About 200 fans and reporters were there. David Paterno, one of the former coach's sons, said his father was too tired to speak but appreciated the support.
Earlier, Joe Paterno's wife, Sue, emerged from their modest ranch home and said, "We've always thought of Penn State as a family. We will be again."
She appeared weary and blew kisses to the crowd.
A 7-foot statue of Joe Paterno steadfastly remained outside Beaver Stadium, drawing large crowds. Some posed with the bronze figure, others read his inscribed words, "I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not that I was a good football coach."
Another Paterno son, Jay, a Penn State assistant, choked up during a postgame television interview while talking about a letter he had sent to his father.
There were other, conflicting emotions.
"It's a sad scenario," said Hank Montz, 56, of Dallas, Pa., as he tailgated. "I always thought coach Paterno had ideals I aspired to. But I'm disappointed in what I've learned this week, alleged or not."
Instead of fans wearing white, many wore blue -- a "Blue Out" -- not because it is Penn State's primary color but blue promotes child-abuse awareness. Students sold bracelets for the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. Despite fears otherwise, the crowd remained well-behaved.
Jessica Urban, a junior from Allentown, was one of several students wearing a shirt that read, "Stop Child Abuse, Blue Out, www.preventchildabuse.org ." She had mixed feelings about the game but said, "It is a chance to come together and say, 'What that man (Sandusky) did won't define us.'"
Across from where Penn State players received a thunderous ovation as they stepped off buses and entered the stadium before the game, Maureen Blandford and Karen Schuckman distributed bookmarks with hotline phone numbers and facts and figures related to child abuse.
Blandford, 62, a teacher in State College, held a sign that read, "Penn State Pride Is Bigger than Football."
"This is a chance to do a positive thing in a negative week," she said.
"It's indescribable," Schuckman, 55, a former Penn State gymnast, said of coping with recent events. "It brings up so many contrasting emotions. Disbelief. Shock. Compassion. A sense of betrayal.
"But as painful and horrifying as this is, it's bringing attention to a problem which is typically very hard to talk about," she said. "It's just a hard thing to see. You don't want to believe it."
Sitting on a big rock, Gretchen Mulvehill and Judy Matsko had staked out a strategic spot for the players' arrival. Mulvehill, 83, of Ebensburg said she has attended Penn State games "since the 1960s" and was waiting to see her grandson Shane McGregor, a backup quarterback. A large crowd had gathered an hour before the buses pulled up.
"It's not like other schools haven't had problems," Mulvehill said, "but they sure have blown this one."
"It's a very sad situation for everyone, first of all the victims," said Matsko, 59, of Ocean View, Del. "It's very hard to envision this would happen. Not just here but anywhere."
About 100 state troopers gathered outside the stadium police office just before 9 a.m. and awaited instructions. Another 20 sat on horseback. Together, they joined campus and local police in a larger-than-usual security force.
"We've always made a presence, but our numbers are much larger for this game," state police Capt. Timothy Mercer said.
No incidents were reported at the game or afterward in downtown State College, where students angry over Paterno's dismissal had started a riot late Wednesday.
Tom Bradley, the longtime assistant who replaced Paterno as interim head coach, said, "I felt today that just maybe the healing process started to begin."
If true, no one knows how long that will take.
Emotions run high at Beaver Stadium
Emotions run high as 107,903 fans converge on Beaver Stadium to begin the healing process.
Penn State Interim Coach Tom Bradley takes the reins
Penn State Interim Coach Tom Bradley takes the reins of the Nittany Lions in their game at Beaver Stadium.