STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Football fans, former players and mourners who thought of Penn State coach Joe Paterno as family paid their respects on Tuesday to the late, legendary Hall of Famer, whose casket was set out for public viewing.
Thousands of people, many of whom waited more than an hour in the winter chill, filed quietly past Paterno’s richly polished wooden casket, covered with a spray of white roses. To one side was a framed photo of sweater-clad Paterno, smiling, with his arms crossed.
Paterno, 85, who died on Sunday of lung cancer, was the face of Penn State for half a century until he was fired last fall for doing too little about a child sexual abuse scandal surrounding former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The viewing was the first formal opportunity for the public to pay their respects to Paterno, whose record 409 victories over 46 years at the helm of Penn State’s football program put him among the best known, widely respected and beloved of college football coaches.
Tickets for a public memorial service on Thursday, issued for free by the university, were in such demand that one ticket was being auctioned on eBay with a bid of more than
However, the online auction company blocked the sale, a spokeswoman said, citing its ticket resale policy that does not allow sale of tickets to events which are free to the public.
University officials estimated some 10,000 people would view Paterno’s casket by nightfall. The viewing at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Penn State’s campus was set to end at 11 p.m., and a private family funeral was scheduled for Wednesday.
The line past the casket moved quickly, with mourners pausing only a few seconds. Many people crossed themselves.
At one side of the casket stood a former Penn State football player, while a current team member stood at the other side. Players planned to stand at the casket’s side throughout the viewing, which was to continue on Wednesday morning.
Among the first to file past was Brian Dozier, who played offensive tackle from 1989 to 1991 and credited Paterno with teaching him to prepare for adversity.
“One of the things I learned was that life will not always be fair,” Dozier said.
Jim McClure, a Penn State football season ticketholder for 39 years, said he wanted to pay respects to the coach who advocated the motto “Success with Honor” and whose football program boasted high graduation rates among its players.
“He realized an athlete could be a student, and a student could be an athlete,” said McClure, 66, of Millersburg, Pennsylvania.
Paterno’s family revealed in November that he was suffering from lung cancer, just days after he was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees for failing to intervene more forcefully when Sandusky was accused of molesting young boys.
Paterno told university officials but not police about an allegation that Sandusky sexually abused a young boy in the Penn State football showers in 2002, opening himself to criticism that he protected Sandusky for nine years.
Sandusky, 67, faces 52 criminal counts accusing him of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. He has maintained his innocence and is under house arrest.
Alumnus Gary Smith, a football season ticketholder since he graduated in 1980, voiced the sentiment of those alumni who feel Paterno was treated callously by the board, which fired him in a telephone call, after his stellar career at the helm of Penn State’s multi-million-dollar football program.
“They could have called him and said, ‘Come in and talk to us,'” said Smith.
Smith’s sister Jodi Haaf, 47, said she and her brother drove more than three hours from Matamoras, Pennsylvania, to attend the viewing.
“Joe’s family,” she said.
Thursday’s public memorial service is scheduled in Penn State’s basketball arena, the Bryce Jordan Center. The supply of tickets to “A Memorial for Joe,” issued with a two-ticket per person limit, was snapped up quickly.
Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Editing by Paul Thomasch