STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — With students, alumni and fans lining the streets, Joe Paterno’s funeral procession drove slowly Wednesday past Beaver Stadium and through the town where the longtime Penn State football coach lived and worked for more than 60 years.
Thousands of mourners waited on the sidewalks, four deep and more in some places, for a glimpse of the electric-blue hearse carrying Paterno’s casket. The convoy also included buses filled with Paterno’s family, former players and other guests.
As a silent crowd looked on, the procession passed a library that bears Paterno’s name on its way to Pine Hall cemetery, the final resting place of the man who led the Nittany Lions to five undefeated seasons.
“The things he did for athletes, the things he did for all students actually – that alone earns our respect to say one final goodbye,” said Alex Jimenez, a sophomore from Manapalan, N.J., standing directly across from the Paterno library.
Jay Paterno, the coach’s son and former quarterbacks coach, sent a message to the mourners via Twitter.
“Thank you to all the people who turned out for my father’s procession,” he wrote. “Very moving.”
The elder Paterno died of lung cancer Sunday at 85.
He served as the school’s head football coach for 46 years and won two national titles before being fired in November in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal involving a former assistant.
The last few months have been emotionally wrenching for the school’s students and alumni, but mourners over the past two days have focused on the inspiration Paterno provided to them, his accomplishments both on and off the field, and his philanthropy of which the library is one example.
Two days of public viewing that ended about noon Wednesday drew large, somber crowds, despite a wait that lasted hours.
Paterno’s family arrived about an hour before the funeral service on two blue school buses, the same kind the coach and his team rode to home games on fall Saturdays. His wife, Sue, was first off the bus, followed by Jay.
A who’s who of Paterno connections followed. His defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, walked down the sidewalk with Penn State and NFL great Franco Harris.
The university will hold a final, public service for Paterno, at the school’s basketball arena today.