STATE COLLEGE — On the first fall Saturday he hasn’t coached football since Harry Truman was president, Joe Paterno was out of sight but not out of the minds of Penn State students and supporters.
While he apparently spent the day elsewhere — returning home only after the game had ended and heading directly inside, about 75 students, fans and even a former player milled around his front lawn in the late afternoon, leaving signs and cheering when his wife, Sue Paterno, blew them kisses and thanked them for their support during what she called a “difficult week” for her and her family.
“We’ve always thought of Penn State as a family ... we will be again,” she said, before going back inside.
Paterno’s son Jay, who was on the sidelines during Penn State’s 17-14 loss to Nebraska, told reporters after the game that his father had planned to watch it on television but didn’t say where.
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“He wanted to make sure that the guys he coached and the guys he felt very close to would understand that he was part of us, he still wanted to be part of this and he was pulling for them and cheering for them,” Jay Paterno said.
Later, he walked from Beaver Stadium to the Paterno residence to collect his green SUV in the driveway and got a standing ovation from the crowd.
There was little other activity at the Paterno house during the day, a week after Jerry Sandusky — the coach’s onetime heir apparent — was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years and two school administrators were charged with failing to report suspected child abuse to authorities.
Outside Beaver Stadium, fans flocked to a statute of Joe Paterno even after kickoff, posing for photos and signing a banner that said, “God bless Joe Paterno.”
“He’s not the one who did the deed,” said Tom Moldovan, 49, a salesman from Huntington, N.Y., carrying a sign for wesupportpaterno.com. “He did what he was supposed to do.”
The idea that the coach might be home watching it on television struck many fans as almost too sad for words.
“How can you lose a whole legacy in three or four days?” said Harold Hunt, 57, a York law firm employee at a tailgate party. “It’s like a Greek tragedy.”
Other fans expressed their feelings with signs and T-shirts.
“He should definitely be here, in the coaching box,” said Anthony Madanat, 20, a Downing-town student wearing a “I (heart) Joe, thanks for the memories, 62 years of great service” T-shirt outside Beaver Stadium.
“But I think it’s just time to start fresh, start a new era,” Madanat said.