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JoePa: Thousands say goodbye to winningest coach in major college football
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Joe Paterno’s family along with former players and assistant coaches made their way Wednesday to a campus spiritual center for the revered coach’s funeral service, a moment of private mourning during a week in which thousands from Penn State were saying goodbye.
Paterno’s family arrived just after 1 p.m. on two blue schools 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 his son and former assistant, Jay.
Another bus, a charter, carried more guests. Paterno’s defensive coordinator Tom Bradley walked down the sidewalk with Penn State and NFL great Franco Harris.
The funeral, to be followed by a procession to a nearby cemetery for burial, was to culminate the second of three days of events for Paterno. Penn State will host a public memorial Thursday at its basketball arena.
Paterno, who died of lung cancer Sunday at 85, 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.
Thousands of people indicated on a Facebook page that they intended to line the streets of State College as Paterno’s funeral procession went by.
Two days of public viewing that ended about noon Wednesday drew many more, despite a wait that lasted hours. Members of Penn State’s rugby team handed out hot chocolate Wednesday morning and took donations for the Special Olympics and the student run dance marathon fundraiser — the two efforts Paterno’s family requested receive donations in lieu of flowers.
First in line for Wednesday’s viewing was David Brown, who left his home in Greensburg at midnight and drove more than two hours to State College, then prepared to wait a few hours outside until the doors opened.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were 1,000 people here,” he said.
Behind him was John Myers, 70, who drove more than two hours from Tamaqua to arrive at 5 a.m. — three hours before the viewing was scheduled to begin.
“It’s worth it,” Myers said. “Joe was one of the best, if not the best, football coaches ever.”
Yet he was ousted just days before learning of his diagnosis. Paterno’s son, Scott, has said his father was not bitter and remained upbeat until the end of his life.