- Associated Press - Saturday, September 1, 2012

It seemed almost cruel, as if Penn State hadn’t already been punished enough.

Reality intruded on Happy Valley once again Saturday afternoon. This time it was on full display for 97,186 of the faithful at Beaver Stadium to see.

It was supposed to be a day to forget about scandal and celebrate football. It turned out to be neither for a school that might need many more Saturdays before the mostly self-inflicted wounds even begin to heal.

On the field, the Nittany Lions crumbled under their first new coach in nearly a half century. Around the stadium, fans and former players seemed to be having just as much trouble letting the old coach go.

No one expected it to be easy to move on from the cult of Joe Paterno that pervaded everything Penn State. There’s too much baggage, too many NCAA sanctions and, yes, even too much guilt to get past.

But now everyone can see just how hard it will be.

It wasn’t so much losing to Ohio, a team whose previous claim to fame was winning something called the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Not in the matter the Nittany Lions did it, either, though falling apart in the second half at home to lose a game that seemed well in hand can’t be the way Bill O’Brien imagined his head coaching career would begin.

That’s fixable in the long run, though the NCAA sanctions will make it much more difficult. Penn State won’t have the depth of other teams because of scholarship limitations, and probably not the talent because top players don’t want to go to a school where they don’t have a chance of going to a bowl.

The reality is that the penalties Penn State agreed to in an effort to put the child abuse scandal in the past will hurt, and hurt badly. They’re supposed to, and even the promise of a new coach who does things like putting names on the back of uniforms and allowing players to listen to headphones can’t overcome that over the next few years.

What might not be fixable _ at least in the near future _ is the cloud of Paterno still hanging over the program. He may be dead, but he was everywhere Saturday, from the small bobblehead of Paterno where the big statue once was to the life-sized cardboard cutout that had a prominent place in a suite occupied by former running back Franco Harris.

More evidence that Penn State stalwarts just can’t let go was the sign attached to the figure just as the game started slipping away in the third quarter.

“Due process for PSU JVP,” it read.

Loyalty isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it comes to a coach who did much good over his 46 years as head coach before a horrible ending spoiled it all. But there’s a difference between fondly remembering the good years and glorifying the very cult that allowed a monster like Jerry Sandusky to roam the locker rooms of Penn State for years.

Still, fans brought flowers and other items to a makeshift shrine next to the bobblehead. One man, Chris Bartnik of Chantilly, Va., carried his own cutout of the former coach through the parking lots for everyone to see.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” he said, “to pretend Joe Paterno never existed.”

Story Continues →