STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It was a day when the Penn State football family didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Hundreds of men who played for Joe Paterno, those in their 20s and those in their 60s, some several pounds heavier than they were during their playing days and others who looked like they could dash out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel tomorrow, turned out Tuesday at Pasquerilla Spiritual Center to pay their respects to their legendary coach.
In between the sadness and the tears, there were smiles and laughter over the good times, the funny stories about their coach, the way he would yell and scream at practice or get down and do push-ups or show a young lineman how to properly take a three-point stance.
“I think the sense of community and the rallying around Coach Paterno and his family is wonderful,” said former tight end Mike McCloskey, who played from 1979 to 1982 after starring at Father Judge High. “Everybody is in there telling stories and reminiscing.
“I think there’s the right mix of sadness of what has happened, obviously, and the sadness around everything, but certainly it’s also remembering all the great things about playing for him and being part of this community and all the great stories about Coach Paterno and his family. So it’s a happy and a sad day at the same time.”
Current and former players were allowed into the on-campus center beginning about 10 a.m. Because of the sheer numbers filing past the closed, white-rose-draped casket of their former coach, public viewing was delayed for an hour beyond the scheduled 1 p.m. start time.
New head coach Bill O’Brien accompanied his football team to the viewing and had a brief conversation with Paterno’s widow, Sue.
“That was special,” O’Brien said. “I got to pay my respects to the family and talk to Mrs. Paterno briefly. She’s a special lady and having a tough day.
“I don’t personally know them, but you could tell there was a lot of warmth in that family, and they were very nice to me in accepting my condolences to them. I shared something with her that I will keep between her and I. It was a nice moment.”
Quarterback Daryll Clark, who earned all-Big Ten honors in his final two seasons playing for Paterno, faced a range of emotions on this day. Clark spoke to reporters about his final meeting three weeks ago with his coach and how Paterno tried to make Clark feel at ease.
“He was sitting up in bed, and with all the treatments he was starting to lose a little bit of his hair,” Clark said. “I remember him telling me, ‘I’m going to be all right. Tell everybody that’s really close with you and everybody that’s concerned about me, just let them know I’m going to be OK.’
“After we finished talking, he gave me a jar of Gummi Bears. He told me to use those as a midnight snack because he loves Gummi Bears, too.”
Clark later participated as part of an honor guard, current or former Penn State players standing at either end of the coffin. When his time had ended, Clark turned, said a prayer, touched the top of the coffin and broke down while sharing a hug with former Nittany Lion cocaptain Mike Cerimele.
One guest who did not stop and talk to reporters was Mike McQueary, a former player and assistant coach under Paterno who is an important witness in the state Attorney General’s child sexual abuse case against former coach Jerry Sandusky.
McQueary, who testified he told Paterno about an alleged assault of a boy by Sandusky in a shower at the football practice facility, rushed through a media phalanx without comment.
Clark and former linebacker LaVar Arrington expressed bitterness over how the board of trustees acted in firing Paterno four days after the Nov. 5 indictment against Sandusky.
“The people have to live with it,” Arrington said. “They have to live with the fact of knowing what they did, and they know what they did. Now they don’t have the opportunity to take it back.”
Among the last to leave the viewing were Adam Taliaferro, the Gloucester County freeholder who recovered from a hit that nearly paralyzed him in 2000, and Tom Bradley, who ended his 37-year career as a player and assistant coach for the Nittany Lions by serving as interim head coach the final four games after Paterno was fired.
“He was my inspiration,” Taliaferro said. “He was a guy that taught me a lot about myself. Without him, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. So it’s important for me to be here.”
Bradley said he thought about the time Paterno visited his home in Johnstown, Pa., in 1974 trying to convince him to attend Penn State and noted, “The years go by fast.” He also thought of the coach’s aversion to anyone making a fuss over him.
“I was telling some people, I know Coach is up there thinking, ‘What are they doing standing out there in the cold? What’s wrong with them? Didn’t I teach them better? Don’t they have better things to do?’” Bradley said with a broad smile.
After leaving the center, Bradley went down the line of waiting people shivering in the biting wind and shook hundreds of hands.
In the evening, members of the Penn State men’s basketball team came as a group before taking off for Wednesday’s game at Ohio State.
“I would love to say I would love to impact people the way he did over 60-plus years,”