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So much has changed on the field, but the lively atmosphere remained the same outside Beaver Stadium. The overall mood around the program is that of pride, perseverance and support _ for both O’Brien and Paterno.

The latter’s widow, Sue Paterno, arrived with her daughter, Mary Kay, about 15 minutes before kickoff and came in through an employee entrance. When asked by the Associated Press what Saturday’s game meant to her, she quietly said she “just wants us to win.” Sue left the game before the fourth quarter, in order to watch a grandson’s youth football game.

Former Penn State running back Franco Harris watched the game in a suite _ next to a life-sized cutout of Paterno.

Paterno was fired in November following 46 seasons, days after former assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child molestation charges. Paterno’s son, quarterback coach Jay Paterno, also left the staff.

Penn State, as promised in O'Brien’s New England philosophy, threw the ball around in the first half, and took a 14-3 lead into the locker room for halftime over Ohio.

O'Brien stopped by ESPN for a quick halftime interview and was asked _ given the day’s events _ if he was as calm as it appeared.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “I’m as calm as I sound.”

Hours before the official beginning of O'Brien’s tenure, tailgaters tossed footballs through the parking lots, set up their cooking stations and readied themselves for the new Nittany Lions’ debut. Many wore “We Bill-ieve” shirts, endorsing Penn State’s new leader, who has been a steadying force within the program for nine months.

Though Paterno’s statue was removed July 22, the day before the NCAA announced the sanctions for the Sandusky scandal, many fans still hold Paterno in high regard and are unafraid to show it. One tailgater, in fact, has a 16-foot, homemade banner that reads “409 wins with honor,” referring to Paterno’s victory total. Other fans are wearing shirts that read “We Are … Still Proud.”

Where the statue used to stand, a fan placed a Paterno bobblehead between the trees. Others stopped to snap pictures with cellphones and cameras. Dressed in Penn State jerseys, Cindy and Mark Wascavage of Washington, N.J., paused to remember the man they say will always be the face of Penn State football.

“It makes you wanna cry,” Cindy, 54, said as she saw the bobblehead.

The couple has held season tickets for nine years and has always admired the former coach, even through these difficult times.

“He was the whole football program,” Cindy said, while Mark believes during this proud season, all of Penn State will stand united.

Chris Bartnik, of Chantilly, Va., created a life-size cutout of the former coach to honor him, and carried it with him through the lots. He stopped by the former statue holding place, but did not keep the cutout there out of fear it would be removed by university personnel.

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

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