STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - They came to Happy Valley, 90,000 strong, to chant and cheer and stand by their team in a new era of Penn State football.
By the end, as the Nittany Lions trudged off the field, a battered fan base would need at least another week to celebrate.
Hours after fans made their cathartic drive to Beaver Stadium, handmade signs and banners attached to their RVs, they quietly sang their alma mater.
You know, the song with the lyrics, “May no act of ours bring shame.”
But in a clear display of coach Bill 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, on Saturday. It was a sad ending for a devoted fan base that came ready to rock the house, after scandal rocked the program.
Indeed it was, despite the loss. O'Brien, in fact, led the charge in the first home opener without Joe Paterno since 1949, his players behind him, storming the 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 refrain that has echoed through the stadium for decades:
“We are … Penn State!”
The Nittany Lions want to make headlines for more than lurid tales of child abuse. As a result, this opener was about more than football. And it showed.
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. Then, a university accused of placing football above all 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 love for the former coach with chants of “Joe Pa-ter-no!” before turning their shrieks toward O'Brien. There were thunderous roars for the players as they exited the bus. Clearly, the fans showed they will stand by the players that stuck with the program.