STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The Nittany Lions bounced and bumped off each other behind a closed gate, antsy to attach the focus for a battered fan base on football, not lurid tales of child abuse, for the first time in 10 months.
Penn State’s public address announcer needed no major introduction:
“Please welcome … the Nittany Lions!”
With that, coach Bill O'Brien led the charge in the first home opener without Joe Paterno since 1949, his players behind him, storming the Beaver Stadium field as more than 97,000 fans kicked off a new chapter in the program’s tarnished history with a raucous and sustained ovation.
Then came the familiar cheer that has echoed through the stadium for decades:
“We are … Penn State!”
But in a clear display of O'Brien’s challenge ahead, the new, short-handed Nittany Lions wore down in the second half, and Ohio, from the Mid-American Conference, upset Penn State, 24-14. It was a sad ending for a devoted fan base that came ready to rock the house, after scandal rocked the program.
Penn State held a moment of reflection Saturday for all victims of sexual abuse. Penn State also asked fans to pause and know that all those affected by abuse are remembered in their hearts.
A university accused of placing football first turned the page when it invited 600 athletes from all of its sports teams to participate in the pregame show as part of Penn State’s “One Team” motto.
Yes, this would be a time to remember all those hurt.
But the tagline in the scoreboard highlight video made it clear Penn State’s program was ready for “the next chapter.”
When the team arrived at the stadium, O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, was the first person to deboard off bus No. 1, followed by his game captains Derek Day, Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Matt McGloin.
Boisterous fans waited at the tunnel entrance for hours and lined the road like a parade route as they waited for team busses.
They showed their love for JoePa with chants of “Joe Pa-ter-no!” before turning their shrieks toward O'Brien. There were thunderous roars for the players as the exited the bus. The fans showed they will stand by the players that stuck with the program.
More than 90 percent of the roster stayed after the NCAA handed down its punishment July 23.