Joe Paterno Memorial Service: Jay Paterno: 'We All Love You. You Won. You Can Go Home Now'
Before he could say goodbye to his father, Jay Paterno sat at his side in the hospital room, kissed him and leaned in close to whisper softly into Joe Paterno’s ear so only he could hear him.
“Dad, you won,” started Jay, his last words to his dad. “You did all you could do. You’ve done enough. We all love you. You won. You can go home now.”
With that recollection, family members, and thousands more, wiped tears from their eyes as one Blue Band trumpeter softly played "Hail to the Lion." With that, a sense of finality came to a week of mourning that saw tens of thousands travel to State College to pay final respects to Paterno, who passed away Sunday at 85, some two months after starting chemotherapy and radiation treatments for lung cancer.
The final tribute, a public memorial for Paterno inside the Bryce Jordan Center, started with a standing ovation as Sue Paterno walked into the arena, followed by her children, their spouses and her grandchildren. More than 12,000 in attendance didn’t stop applauding for more than a minute. At one point during the ovation, Sue caught a glimpse of herself on the big screen above and covered her moist eyes, igniting a few chuckles.
Her emotions hit her hardest, though, during the speech given by Jay, her only child to enter her husband’s profession. He said his father had an indomitable will — except when his will ran counter to that of his wife’s.
"Their artistry of love and skill became a driving force on this campus, benefiting all aspects of this university," Jay said of his parents. Together, they created a masterpiece in their lives, he said.
Jay echoed a common theme from the afternoon: That Joe’s players are his legacy.
"Your families — the people you reach — are his legacy,” Jay said. “The 'Grand Experiment,' ‘Success with Honor,’ was a ripple that has grown into a tsunami washing across the world.”
Then he asked the assembled all to join hands and say the "Lord’s Prayer," something Paterno had his team do after every game. Jay once asked Joe about the prayer and why it was so meaningful for Joe to recite after any win or loss.
“Every pronoun is plural," Jay said his father told him. " ... Here, in the last act after every football game, was a reminder from Joe that it was never about him."
Thursday was about him.
Kenny Jackson, the first of 12 speakers after an opening invocation, said it.
“He always deflected praise, never thought he was the show,” Jackson said. “Today, my teacher, you have no choice. Today we’re going to show you how much we love you.”
Former quarterback and current ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge, senior Paterno Fellows representative Lauren Perrotti; Paternoville founder Jeff Bast; Nike Chairman Phil Knight; College of the Liberal Arts Dean Susan Welch; former players Charlie Pittman, Jimmy Cefalo, Michael Robinson and Christian Marrone; and current player Michael Mauti also eulogized Paterno.
“I just wanted to be real,” said Mauti, the only one to not have prepared notes. “I wanted it to be from the heart. I didn’t want it to be structured in any way. I just wanted to tell it like it is.”
Robinson had trouble getting through parts of his speech, which focused on Paterno’s honesty.
“When I met Joe, something was different about him," Robinson said. "He didn’t lie to me. He didn’t lie to me at all. Not once.”
There was no hint of deception during Phil Knight’s address. Everyone hung on every word when he chastised the university for its handling of the Sandusky scandal, comments that received one of the loudest standing ovations of the afternoon.
"Whatever the details of the investigation are, this much is clear to me: There is a villain in this tragedy that lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno's response to it," Knight said.
And it didn’t sound like many people involved in the program were upset with Knight’s message afterward. Jay also hinted at the unthinkable nature of the last three months, saying his father “left this world with a clear conscience.”
But this was clearly not a day to worry about scandal. This was meant to be a celebration of a man’s life.
Tim Curley, the athletic director charged with perjury and failure to report a crime during the investigation of alleged sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky, lingered in the bowels of the Jordan Center for more than an hour after the service ended, chatting, hugging and shaking hands with various former players and coaches and members of the Paterno family.
“So glad you guys made it,” one family member said to Curley. He and Tom Bradley, who coached the football team on an interim basis after Paterno was fired Nov. 9, spoke for a few minutes outside the family’s green room before Curley left.
Moments earlier, Scott, another of Paterno’s three sons, and Jay walked down the hall toward the exits together. Other members of the family lingered in the green room or had already left.
It was the end of an emotional week, one filled with reflection, both of happiness and sadness. But listen closely to anyone in attendance. It was not the end of Joseph Vincent Paterno.