Continued from page 2

At Paterno’s gravesite, fresh flowers were added to the fading collection of notes and memorabilia by Rob Elchynski, 44, who stopped by with his wife and friends before the game.

“I think it’s critical to the moving-on that they talk about, that they start playing football again,” Elchynski said, walking back to his car after saying a short prayer at the graveside.

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.

“We’re maybe more determined than ever to be supportive,” said Mike Bealla, of Harrisburg. “If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. The spirit will be there.”

They threw their creative energy into homemade signs, T-shirts, and tailgate feasts. And Penn State stores sold T-shirts touting “Tradition” and “We Are.”

Sue Wilson, a Penn State graduate, set up camp in the same tailgate lot she’s celebrated for more than 20 years. Wearing a “House that Joe Built,” T-shirt, Wilson said the NCAA or former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s university-commissioned report did not diminish Paterno’s accomplishments.

“He was a man of honor and superior high, moral integrity,” he said. “I knew him and I was honored to know him. I miss him.”

About 90 minutes before kickoff, a plane flew over Beaver Stadium with a banner reading “Oust Erickson/Trustees,” referring to Penn State president Rodney Erickson.

But while much of the famed gameday atmosphere remained the same, there are still plenty of changes present.

Hours before kickoff, the Penn State football Twitter account posted a picture of the team uniforms hanging in the locker room — jerseys with names on the back. Karen Caldwell, the wife of trainer, Spider Caldwell, stitched the names on the jerseys.

A blue ribbon was also placed on the back of helmets to show support for child abuse victims.

“Sweet Caroline” was scrapped for rock music blasted at ear-ringing decibels that would have made Paterno cringe. In fact, as the Nittany Lions took the field for warmups, “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC was the song of choice.

Atmosphere and good feelings aside, there were still scores of empty seats and rows deep into the game, which is unusual for an opener. The announced crowd was 97,186. Beaver Stadium seats 106,572.

Some 15,000 fans gave a preview of what to expect on gameday at Penn State’s pep rally Friday. As the team sat on bleachers atop the field, and O'Brien gave a brief, but inspirational, speech, a familiar refrain echoed through the Beaver Stadium crowd.

“We Are … Penn State!”

Story Continues →