STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - As fans gather around Beaver Stadium in anticipation of Saturday’s long-awaited season opener, the overall mood around Penn State football is that of pride, perseverance and support _ for both the current and former coach.
Hours before the official beginning of the Bill O’Brien era, tailgaters are tossing footballs through the parking lots, setting up their cooking stations and readying themselves for the new Nittany Lions' debut against Ohio at noon. Many are wearing “We Bill-ieve” shirts, endorsing Penn State’s new leader, O’Brien, who is the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, and who has the been a steadying force within the program for nine months.
Boisterous fans waited for hours by the tunnel entrance waiting for the team busses. They chanted “Joe Pa-ter-no!” before turning their cheers toward O’Brien. There were thunderous cheers for the players as they exited the bus. The fans showed they stood by the players that stuck with the program.
Though the statue of Hall of Famer Joe Paterno _ O’Brien’s predecessor _ was removed July 22, the day before the NCAA announced the sanctions for the Jerry 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 are stopping to snap pictures with cellphones and cameras.
“It makes you wanna cry,” Cindy, 54, said as she saw the bobblehead.
The couple has held season tickets for the past nine years and has always admired the former coach, even through these difficult times.
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.”
The students, alumni and fans outside the stadium were nearly unanimous in their stance that Paterno got a raw deal and the university should have dug in and fought back against the NCAA sanctions. They’ve united behind the program following strict NCAA sanctions including a four-year bowl ban.View Entire Story
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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