Paterno laid to rest

The legendary Penn State coach's connection with football fans stretches from Happy Valley to Syracuse.

Photo: Chloe Elmer
A hearse carrying the casket of Joe Paterno drives by the Allen Street gates on Wednesday afternoon during the funeral procession from the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center to a private burial.

Sue Paterno painted the Nittany Lion shrine Syracuse orange.

In 1966, Joe Paterno’s first season as head football coach at Penn State University, Joe’s wife enlisted the wives of assistant coaches to paint the famed statue on the Penn State campus orange, the color of hated rival Syracuse University.

Sue wanted to unite students and fans behind her husband’s team. Penn State lost that game but JoePa’s influence has been felt from Happy Valley to Syracuse ever since.  

Paterno, head coach of the Penn State football team for the past 46 seasons, was laid to rest Wednesday in a private ceremony amongst family, friends and former players as mourners lined the streets of State College, Pa.

He was 85 years old.

Paterno passed away last Sunday following a brief battle with lung cancer. His death came just two-and-a-half months after being fired by Penn State’s Board of Trustees for his role in the 50-plus counts of child sex abuse levied against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Since the scandal broke this past fall, there have been countless articles and opinion pieces defending Paterno’s legacy or decrying his failure to defend the defenseless.

Penn State alumni on SU’s campus believe that Paterno’s mistakes should not be all that define his legacy.

“I don't think his role in the Sandusky scandal should overshadow the 62 years of good work he did for the university,” said Professor Brad Gorham, chair of the communications department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a class of 1990 Penn State graduate, via email. “But it cannot and should not be forgotten.”

Sarah Desantis, an arts journalism graduate student at Newhouse and 2010 Penn State graduate echoed Professor Gorham’s thoughts.

“You have to keep in mind that Joe Paterno was at the school for over 60 years before the scandal,” DeSantis said. “I saw firsthand the benefit of his charitable donations at the library and through the Paterno Fellows program.”

Paterno will be remembered by Penn State graduates as the mild mannered man on campus who’d casually say hello to them as he passed.

“He really was genuine when it came to caring about academics and his role as a mentor of young people," Gorham said. "He really did not care about the fame or the money."

“In his tenure, [Paterno] tried to set an example of modesty and humility,” Desantis added. “He lived in a middle-class house, drove a car that wasn't any nicer than what I have and walked to work on a regular basis.”

Despite six decades of service to Happy Valley, Paterno will be remembered foremost for what he didn’t do — not for the two national championships, the four undefeated teams or the library that bears his name.

In his recent and final interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, Paterno said of the sex abuse scandal, “In hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

“I think he really was so old-school that people of his generation just didn't talk about that kind of stuff,” Gorham said. “Some people dismiss that and say ‘How could an 85 year-old man not know about that?’ But I think there is a real generational difference.”

Last Sunday, on a bitter cold winter day, students, faculty and community members gathered around Paterno’s statue outside of Beaver Stadium to mourn their fallen leader. They laid flowers and letters at the foot of his statue, lit candles and sang the alma mater.

On a stonewall behind the statue, under his name, hang three words in gold lettering, “Educator” “Coach” and “Humanitarian.”

“I hope he is remembered as a good man who spent most of his life doing good things for his university and for the young men he had a chance to influence, who also made one serious, tragic error in judgment,” Gorham said.

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