More than 90 percent of the roster stayed after the NCAA handed down its punishment July 23.
“Getting off the bus was a crazy feeling,” Hill, a defensive tackle, said. “The support that we got was one of the best things I’ve ever felt, seeing all the fans out there outside when we got off the bus.”
So much has changed on the field, but the lively atmosphere remained the same outside Beaver Stadium. Even in defeat, 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, outwardly vocal in his support of the Paternos through the scandal, watched the game in a suite _ next to a life-sized cutout of “JoePa.”
“I am excited about our new beginning with coach Bill O'Brien,” Harris said. “But I will never forget our history and what we accomplished.”
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.
Tailgaters still backed Paterno in the parking lots, though 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 sanctions for the Sandusky scandal, many fans still journeyed over to its spot, while others illustrated their support. One tailgater, in fact, had a 16-foot, homemade banner that read “409 wins with honor,” referring to Paterno’s victory total. Other fans donned 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, win or lose, all of Penn State will stand united.
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 grave.