[Two of my friends, silver fox and Arkansas Fred, went to State College yesterday to pay their respects to the late Joe Paterno, along with Arkansas Fred's dad. I have known them since high school. I roomed with Arkansas Fred for three years at Penn State, and he was also my PSU season-ticket partner for two years. I did not accompany them, so silver fox was kind enough to recount the experience.]
Yesterday, arkansas fred, his dad, and I made the trek to State College to pay our final respects to Joe Paterno. As we left arkasas fred's house in the early morning darkness, I wasn't really sure what to expect both emotionally or from the scene in State College.
We arrived in town about 8:30 a.m., parked the car, and headed to the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center. The cold, dreary, gray weather reflected the mood. As we approached the center, we came upon an already long line stretching from the center and down the campus sidewalks. Some mourners sniffled and fought back tears, others stared blankly or stood quietly, others talked quietly to each other. News cameras and photographers documented the scene. We took our place in line and waited for our few moments with Joe. A few students passed out hot chocolate and collected donations for THON.
After about an hour and 45 minutes in line, we stood in front of Joe's casket. We each took our brief private moment with Joe, paying our respects and saying goodbye. As the line exited the building, Joe's son Scott stood and greeted every single person. One middle-aged lady was crying, and he just said "come here" and hugged her. We each offered our condolences to him and went back out into the cold State College morning.
From there we strolled up and down College Ave., stopping in stores and taking in the tributes that were posted in nearly every shop window. One had a picture of Joe leading the Nittany Lions onto the field, flanked by two other pictures of the legendary coach, with a a sign that simply read "Thanks Joe! We'll Remember." The student bookstore sign read "Coach Paterno The Greatest Ever" on one side and "Joe Pa will be with us forever" on the other. Other stores painted Coach's image on their windows or had signs that read some of his quotes, my favorite being one that talked about him wanting to be remembered more for making Penn State a better place than how good a football coach he was. Mission accomplished, Joe.
From there we ate some lunch, stopped by the mural with the freshly painted halo over Joe's head, and headed home. We stopped by the statue at the stadium, which was surrounded by a crowd as it has been for the past three days now, and we took in the hundreds of mementos that surrounded the base of the statue and covered the walls surrounding the statue. It turned into a very therapeutic day. Seeing the love and the tributes, being around so many people who were feeling the way you were, it made you feel a little better.
I feel better realizing that it doesn't matter what his legacy is to others. Because I know what it is to me. It doesn't matter what someone who has no connection to Joe, to Penn State, or to the state of Pennsylvania thinks. Because I know what everyone who has one or more of those connections thinks. I know those who were impacted by Joe either directly or indirectly, those are the people that understand, and those are the people who matter. Those are the people who will carry on and pass on Joe's values and Joe's lessons. And that is his legacy.