The son of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno told 10,000 mourners on Thursday his father died “with a clear conscience,” and former players shared why they worshiped the man in a final goodbye to the legendary “JoePa.”
The memorial at the campus basketball arena in State College, Pennsylvania, concluded five days of public mourning for Paterno, 85, who died on Sunday of lung cancer two months after his towering reputation was shaken by a child sexual abuse scandal involving an assistant coach.
The hero’s sendoff after Paterno’s death contrasted sharply with the sudden and unceremonious end of his career in November last year, when the university’s board of trustees fired him following revelations about defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, accused of molesting at least 10 boys over 15 years.
Paterno won a major college record 409 games and two national championships in his 46 years as Penn State head coach, creating a football powerhouse that generated US$53 million in profit in 2010, according to Forbes magazine.
His son, Jay Paterno, shared deathbed moments with the crowd, saying: “Joe Paterno left this world with a clear conscience.”
Shortly before his father died, Jay Paterno said he whispered into his father’s ear: “Dad, you won. You did all you could do. We all love you. You can go home.”
Interest in “A Memorial to Joe” built for days. The 10,000 free tickets were snapped up within seven minutes earlier this week. At least one ticket holder tried to profit by selling a ticket for US$66,000 on Ebay, but the online site immediately banned the sale.
The week of mourning has drawn back to campus stars from past football teams, members of last season’s squad, Penn State alumni who have no memory of any other football coach, undergraduates and residents who remember the most successful coach in major college football history.
“No one individual did more for a university than what Joe Paterno did for this school,” said Todd Blackledge, a quarterback in the 1980s who played for seven years in the NFL.
“He was as fierce a competitor as anyone I have ever seen,” Blackledge said. “Coach Paterno was at his best under pressure. He taught us how to compete.”
Charlie Pittman, a running back from the 1960s, praised Paterno for building a long-lasting institution that prided itself on the motto “Success with Honor.”
“Though his body eventually failed, his spirit never did. Rest in peace, coach. We’ll take it from here,” Pittman said to a standing ovation.
Paterno came under fire in November when it was revealed he was told by a purported witness that Sandusky molested a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State football showers in 2002. Paterno informed university officials, but not police.
Sandusky, 67, faces 52 criminal counts accusing him of molesting 10 boys over 15 years, using his position as head of The Second Mile, a charity dedicated to helping troubled children, to find his victims. The court has placed Sandusky, who maintains his innocence, under house arrest.