Thousands of angry students paraded through the streets after Paterno was fired Wednesday night, some throwing rocks and bottles and tipping over a TV news van. While the anger has waned, the affection for Paterno has not.
Several students were dressed as Paterno — rolled-up khakis, white socks and thick, dark glasses — and an entire family wore shirts that read “We (Heart) JoePa.” Paul Diehm, a Penn State graduate who made the three-hour trip from Delaware, bought a blue T-shirt with the simple message, “Thanks Joe.”
“Sixty-one years of service,” he said, referring to Paterno’s years at Penn State as both an assistant and head coach. “You’ve got to say thank you. He deserves it.”
At Joe Paterno’s house nearby, a small clutch of TV cameras and reporters stood outside. A pair of people walked to the door, rang the doorbell and left after no one answered. On the lawn were a pair of homemade signs — one read “We Love You Joe, Thank You” the other “Thanks Joe” — facing his house. Nearby a small American flag had been planted in the yard of the house.
Whether that affection will remain with Penn State after such an ugly week remains to be seen. So far, however, it appears the love and loyalty for their university is as great as any they have for Paterno.
A larger-than-normal crowd of at least a couple thousand fans was waiting at the tunnel when the team arrived. All fans heeded the request to wear blue — the color associated with child-abuse prevention — making the few red-clad Nebraska fans stand out even more.
Donations for two child-abuse prevention organizations were being accepted at the stadium gates, and a sign on the scoreboard let fans know how they could continue to help. As the game began, several students were selling blue bracelets outside the stadium for $1, the proceeds going to RAINN, or the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.
Someone else had a message that also was supportive of abuse victims, but not school administrators. A plane overhead pulled a sign that read “Cry for the Kids Not the Cowards & Liars.”
Though police promised a heavy presence to prevent a recurrence of the violence that occurred Wednesday night, it wasn’t needed. The parking lots were filled with fans grilling out, tossing footballs and soaking up the beauty of the warm, late fall morning.
“It’s heartbreaking and sad and almost surreal. You can’t get it out of your head for more than a minute. I’m sure just about everyone here feels the same way,” Emmie Fay said as she glanced at the fellow tailgaters.
“But we’re here because we love the school and believe in it.”
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