UNIVERSITY PARK — Joe Paterno recruited young men from steel mill and coal-mining towns, molding them to become doctors, lawyers, police officers and firemen, by teaching them loyalty and teamwork.
He was a philanthropist, donating millions of dollars to support Penn State academics.
He was a man, his son said, who died with a “clear conscience.”
“He lived his large life nobly, never blindly chasing success defined by the world’s ever-changing values,” said Jay Paterno at a public memorial service held Thursday for his father. “His values and goals remained his rock across the decades. He never sought celebrity. Here was a man for whom fame was accidental. ... In the end, he takes integrity with him forever.”
That was the message Thursday during the emotional service — that Paterno was more than a football coach with 409 wins and two national titles, and that his legacy should reflect the integrity and honor he worked to instill at Penn State and in the student-athletes under his guidance.
For the Penn State community, the two-hour-and-20- minute service was the final farewell to the legendary coach and carried undercurrents of scorn for those who ousted him from his coaching job in November.
Former players, friends and family offered memories, stories and praise about Paterno to a crowd of more than 12,000 at the Bryce Jordan Center that several times rose to give thunderous applause.
The service followed two days of public mourning and Wednesday afternoon’s funeral procession through campus and downtown State College.
“A Memorial for Joe” began as Sue Paterno was escorted onto the floor of the Jordan Center by her son, David. The crowd stayed on its feet as the rest of the family followed.
The speakers included a football letterman from each decade Paterno coached as well as one from the current team, a student who organized the Paternoville encampments at Beaver Stadium, and Jay Paterno.
Others speakers, such as the dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, praised Paterno for how his dedication enhanced the university’s academic standing.
Among the attendees were former player and NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris, major university donor and trustee candidate Anthony Lubrano, former Penn State basketball coach Jerry Dunn, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, new Ohio State head football Coach Urban Meyer, Penn State Alumni Association Executive Director Roger Williams, and State College Area High School’s former athletic director, Ron Pavlechko. University president Rod Erickson also attended.
Former Nittany Lions quarterback Todd Blackledge said Paterno was an “incredible example” to the thousands who’ve played under him, demonstrating loyalty to the team, his family, his coaching staff and the university.
“No one individual has ever done more for a university anywhere in the country than what Joe Paterno did for this school,” Blackledge said to a standing ovation.
Blackledge, who was a member of the 1982 national title team and is now an analyst with ESPN, praised Paterno for teaching him to compete with honor.
“He would say, ‘I want you to line up and try to knock that guy lined up against you on his backside every single play, try to win every play,’ ” Blackledge said. “ ‘But play by the rules.’ ”
“And you know what, if you didn’t, you were standing next to him pretty quickly during the course of the game.”
The most striking and pointed salute came from Paterno’s friend, Phil Knight, CEO and chairman of Nike. His scolding of the university for Paterno’s firing brought a standing ovation that went on for almost a minute.
“Whatever the details of the investigation are, this is much is clear to me: If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno’s response to it,” he said.
Michael Robinson, a quarterback, running back and wide receiver under Paterno in the mid-2000s and now a Pro Bowl fullback with the Seattle Seahawks, offered a less direct jab, recalling the pressure the coach faced going into the 2005 season after losing seasons in 2003 and 2004.
“I didn’t realize the sharks that were out there coming after him. Not once did he come to me and relay to me the urgency to win in 2005,” said Robinson, who led Penn State to an 11-1 record that season, finishing with a 26-23 triple-overtime win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. “His entire message was simple: Dominate every opponent on the schedule, and that’s what we set out to do.”
Jimmy Cefalo, a wide receiver at Penn State in the 1970s who went on to play in the NFL, declared Paterno’s “grand experiment” — turning athletes into student athletes — a success.
“You find people who have gone back to various communities across this country and have contributed as philanthropists, as fathers, as husbands, and we did it in large measure because of Joe’s example,” Cefalo said.
Kenny Jackson, the Nittany Lions receiver who was Penn State’s first All-American wide receiver and played with Blackledge on the 1982 championship team, praised Sue Paterno for making players part of her family.
She promised his parents two things: Jackson would go to class and he would get a quality education.
“You never let me down,” he told her. “You’ve always made sure that was the first priority.”
Jackson went on to talk about Joe Paterno, how he never took a compliment and instead deflected praise.
“He never thought he was the show. But today, my teacher, you have no choice,” Jackson said. “Today, we’re going to show you how much we love you.”
That show of love included films of Paterno on the large-screen televisions played between speakers. Fans got to see Paterno on the job and in old black-and-white footage.
The speakers’ stories were often emotional, and the response from those in the audience was too, as some were moved to tears.
The Paterno family organized this week’s events, with support from Penn State.
Former player Christian Marrone talked about how Paterno was loyal to him after he suffered multiple knee injuries that ended his playing career.
Marrone said Paterno told him: “You have a greater purpose than football, and I’m going to help you achieve it.”
Marrone became part of Paterno’s staff, and Paterno pushed him to do better in school and apply to law school. Later when he passed the bar exam, it was Paterno who called, and when he thought about running for political office, Paterno was the first to offer support.
Marrone said in their last conversation, a few days before Christmas, Paterno didn’t want to talk about himself or his circumstances.
“Joseph Vincent Paterno was a great football coach,” an emotional Marrone said. “But his life can never ever be measured in wins or in championships, because to do so would be a great injustice. The greatness and legacy of Joe Paterno lies within each of us.”
Former running back Charlie Pittman said Paterno made him feel important, too, from when he was a recruit as a teenager into adulthood.
One of Paterno’s first two black recruits in the 1960s, Pittman came with his parents to State College, and he said the Paternos went out of their way to make them comfortable in town.
Two years later, during Pittman’s sophomore year, he wanted to quit the team and leave Penn State.
Paterno talked him out of it.
“He was, bit by bit, building a habit of excellence. He was building a proud program for the school, the state and the hundreds of young men he watched over for a half a century,” Pittman said. “He cherished honesty, effort, academics, sportsmanship and citizenship. I was forged from that crucible, from Joe’s grand experiment, and I think the life I have lived is one of Joe’s fountains of gifts to the world.”
Pittman went on to become an academic All-American. His son Tony came to play for Penn State, turning down Ivy League offers.
Susan Welch, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, pointed to Paterno’s legacy as a “steadfast supporter” of Penn State’s academic mission. The college named a leadership and honors program after Paterno in 2008, the Paterno Fellows program.
They met when she arrived in 1991, and when her college was reorganizing its departments a few years ago, Paterno offered his support for continuing to teach the classics.
“ ‘Dean,’ he said — and he always called me dean after we’d known each other 20 years — ‘I hope that we’ll still teach classics after this reorganization,’ ” she related. “I assured him that yes we would... ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Dean, that’s your business and you have my support in whatever you do.’ And thus it has ever been.”
Lauren Perrotti, a senior and member of the first graduating class of Paterno Fellows, thanked the Paterno family for their generosity and focus on academic excellence.
Perrotti received a scholarship to help her study overseas. She said she’ll never forget that when she thanked Paterno, “his response was to thank me right back.”
After the service, Matt Bird said he drove to campus from Philadelphia to honor the impact Paterno has had on Penn State.
“There was no way I was going to miss an opportunity like this, to listen to the former lettermen, Charlie Pittman and his son go up there to try to put something into words that’s nearly impossible,” said Bird, who graduated from Penn State in 2010. “It was a really beautiful ceremony, and something that all of us who are part of the family and who have become part of the family because of this will really cherish.”
Like Bird, many drove hours to State College to see the memorial service. Some came even though they’d been unable to get tickets.
A half-hour before the 2 p.m. start of the service, a dozen people stood outside the will-call station, hoping to find people with extra tickets.
That’s when Joe Paterno’s youngest son, Scott, walked up.
“Anybody need tickets?” he said. “How many do you need?”
A small crowd formed. A few in the crowd didn’t at first realize he was Joe Paterno’s son. Others recognized him right away.
“Thank you, sir,” one woman told him.
“My pleasure,” he said. “I am so sorry for your loss,” she added.
“Thank you,” he replied. “I appreciate that.”
Rick Haring, 43, was one of the Penn State fans who got a ticket.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable gesture.”
At the end of the service, Jay Paterno thanked attendees for their support and outpouring of emotion as part of a 25-minute eulogy. His were the only remarks from a family member.
He spoke of one final lesson he got from his father. As he sat with his dad the day he died, memories flooded back from his childhood: how he helped him fly a kite on Cape Cod, playing monster, jumping in the waves at the New Jersey shore.
“I was seeing the father-and- son relationship from the eyes of my children and realized what I had to do for my children as their father,” he said.
Soon after, he kissed his dad and whispered into his ear: “Dad, you won. You did all you could do. You’ve done enough. We all love you. You won. You can go home now.”
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