STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — With students, alumni and fans lining the streets, Joe Paterno’s funeral procession drove slowly Wednesday past Beaver Stadium and through the town where the longtime Penn State football coach lived and worked for more than 60 years.
Thousands of mourners waited on the sidewalks, four deep and more in some places, for a glimpse of the electric-blue hearse carrying Paterno’s casket. The convoy also included buses filled with Paterno’s family, former players and other guests.
As a silent crowd looked on, the procession passed a library that bears Paterno’s name on its way to Pine Hall cemetery, the final resting place of the man who led the Nittany Lions to five undefeated seasons.
“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 the Paterno library.
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 died of lung cancer Sunday at 85. He 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 of which the library is one example.
Two days of public viewing that ended about noon Wednesday drew large, somber crowds, 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.
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, Sue, was first off the bus, followed by Jay.
A who’s who of Paterno connections followed. His defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, walked down the sidewalk with Penn State and NFL great Franco Harris.
“Today’s Mass was a celebration. We laid to rest a great man,” Bradley said. “He meant so much to so many people.”
First in line for Wednesday’s public 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 9 days before disclosing his diagnosis. Paterno’s son, Scott, has said his father was not broken-hearted and remained upbeat until the end of his life. Scott and Jay Paterno were among the pallbearers carrying their father’s casket.
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 paying tribute, however, did not want to focus on the final days of Paterno’s career.
Willis Herr, a Penn State graduate from the class of 1964, wore a blue wig and a ribbon indicating he attended Penn State’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Miami in 1987.
The longtime season ticket holder, who noted he didn’t miss a home game for 30 years, said school officials had treated Paterno “like he was contaminated” in the wake of the scandal.
But Herr said he thought Wednesday would begin a healing process for the university.
“Joe would want healing, and that’s what I think will carry the day,” Herr said. “He would want people to support Penn State. I think that’s what will happen. The bitterness will slowly fade.”
On Thursday, the university will hold a final, public service for Paterno, at the school’s basketball arena. Tickets were snapped up despite a two-per-person limit.