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Funeral Service for Paterno as Thousands Mourn

Mourners for Joe Paterno
Patrick Smith, Getty Images

Joe Paterno’s family along with former players and assistant coaches made their way Wednesday to a campus spiritual center for the revered coach’s funeral service, a moment of private mourning during a week in which thousands from Penn State were saying goodbye.

Paterno’s family arrived just after 1 p.m. on two blue schools buses, the same kind the coach and his team rode to home games on fall Saturdays. His wife, Sue, was first off the bus, followed by his son and former assistant, Jay.

Another bus, a charter, carried more guests. Paterno’s defensive coordinator Tom Bradley walked down the sidewalk with Penn State and NFL great Franco Harris.

The funeral, to be followed by a procession to a nearby cemetery for burial, was to culminate the second of three days of events for Paterno. Penn State will host a public memorial Thursday at its basketball arena.

Paterno, who died of lung cancer Sunday at 85, served as the school’s head football coach for 46 years and won two national titles before being fired in November in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal involving a former assistant.

The last few months have been emotionally wrenching for the school’s students and alumni, but mourners over the past two days have focused on the inspiration Paterno provided to them, his accomplishments both on and off the field and his philanthropy.

Thousands of people indicated on a Facebook page that they intended to line the streets of State College as Paterno’s funeral procession went by.

Two days of public viewing that ended about noon Wednesday drew many more, despite a wait that lasted hours. Members of Penn State’s rugby team handed out hot chocolate Wednesday morning and took donations for the Special Olympics and the student run dance marathon fundraiser — the two efforts Paterno’s family requested receive donations in lieu of flowers.

First in line for Wednesday’s viewing was David Brown, who left his home in Greensburg at midnight and drove more than two hours to State College, then prepared to wait a few hours outside until the doors opened.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were 1,000 people here,” he said.

Behind him was John Myers, 70, who drove more than two hours from Tamaqua to arrive at 5 a.m. — three hours before the viewing was scheduled to begin.

“It’s worth it,” Myers said. “Joe was one of the best, if not the best, football coaches ever.”

Yet he was ousted just days before learning of his diagnosis. Paterno’s son, Scott, has said his father was not bitter and remained upbeat until the end of his life.

Jerry 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 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 accused of perjury and failure to notify authorities about the McQueary allegation.

Most mourners, however, did not want to focus on the final days of Paterno’s career.

Tom Haack, a small business owner from Camp Hill, took off work to pay his respects to Paterno at the viewing. The 59-year-old Haack said he chose Penn State to get his master’s degree in business in the late 1980s, partly due to his admiration for the coach.

“His ethics, doing things the right way, excellence in everything you do, all of that attracted me and attracted many others to Penn State,” he said. “I think his influence made it a better school and helped make it what it is today.”

Inside the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, the coach’s body lay in a brown 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.

Paterno’s casket 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 occasional clicks of news photographers taking pictures. Paterno won 409 games — a record for major college football — in a 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. “The passion, the love that he gave almost gave you a sense that you wanted to give it back to him,” Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers said after escorting his team to the worship hall Tuesday evening. “We’re forever indebted to him and we will continue to work as hard as we can.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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