STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Decked out in Penn State hats and jackets, students and townspeople stood for hours in a line more than a quarter-mile long Tuesday to pay their respects to Joe Paterno, the coach who for nearly a half century was the face of their university.
Mourners filed past Paterno’s closed brown casket at the campus spiritual center during a public viewing session. Some departed crying.
“He was my hero … I had to come,” said a sobbing Gloria Spicer, who was freshman in 1966 when Paterno started his first season as head coach. Paterno, 85, the winningest coach in major college football history, died Sunday of lung cancer.
Spicer and others walked slowly past the undraped casket which had an “honor guard” of two Penn State players – one past and one present. Nearby, a black-and-white photo of a smiling Paterno sat on an easel.
Members of the public were preceded by the Paterno family and current and former players.
“Going in there, waiting two hours in line, it was worth every second,” Penn State junior Rob Gressinger said.
The event marked the first of three days of public mourning. There is another public viewing today, and after that Paterno’s family will hold a private funeral and procession through State College. On Thursday, the school’s basketball arena will be the site of a public service.
Former players began arriving shortly after members of Paterno’s last team filed in. Some players hugged, and new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien shook hands with others at the curb outside the center.
Penn State linebacker Khairi Fortt recalled his coach’s lessons.
“He said the most important thing for us was to keep the Penn State tradition going,” the sophomore from Stamford, Conn., said after leaving the viewing.
Scott Paterno has said that despite the turmoil surrounding his termination from the school, Joe Paterno remained peaceful and upbeat in his final days and still loved Penn State.
Bitterness over Paterno’s dismissal has turned up in many forms, from online postings to a rewritten newspaper headline placed next to Paterno’s statue at the football stadium blaming the trustees for his death. A headline that read “FIRED” was crossed out and made to read, “Killed by Trustees.” Lanny Davis, lawyer for the school’s board, said threats have been made against the trustees.
Scott Paterno, however, stressed his father did not die with a broken heart and did not harbor resentment toward Penn State.
“His legacy is still going to be filled with the great things that he did. Look at this place,” 1969 Penn State graduate Tom Sherman said before tearing up. “It’s like he’s part of your life. I admire that guy so much.”