Joe Paterno Public Viewing: Former Players, Thousands More Line Up to Pay Tribute
Anthony Morelli tried like hell, but he couldn't get through any answer. The cold temperatures outside left his watery eyes red, and the emotional weight of passing by his former coach one final time left his voice cracked and broken.
Moments before, the former quarterback paid his respects to Joe Paterno, who passed away Sunday at age 85 after a fight against lung cancer. Morelli stood in line with hundreds of former players, coaches and private guests and their families outside Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on campus Tuesday morning for a private viewing.
The first of two public viewings followed, shortly after 1 p.m. The line for that stretched and snaked for hundreds of yards down Curtin Road. Thousands more are expected to pay respects to Paterno and his family through the afternoon, evening and night.
But those closest to Paterno went first. You could pretty much pick any notable player from Paterno's 46-year career out of a hat and there was a good chance he was in attendance. There was just as good a chance he would decline comment.
Only one minute with Morelli showed why.
"I don't know if you can prepare for something like that," said Morelli, his wife standing by his side holding his hand and dabbing a tissue at her moist eyes with the other. "It's crazy this happened. It's crazy he had to go out that way. My biggest thing is I don't think people understand he's more than just a coach. He's a great leader, a mentor, a great husband, grandfather, just a great human being.
"It's just a shame."
"It was easier going in than coming out," said Buddy Tesner, a linebacker from the Class of '75. "When you saw [wife] Sue at the end, you walked out and there was some finality to it."
Among those in attendance was Mike McQueary, the former assistant placed on paid administrative leave who told Paterno he allegedly saw Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the shower of the Lasch football building. McQueary, a key witness in the criminal cases against Sandusky, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, did not address reporters after exiting the viewing.
Football administrator Fran Ganter and Lettermen Club administrative assistant Kelly Thomas, the wife of former strength coach John Thomas, organized an email with details for the viewing and distributed it to the former players, said Kyle Brady, an All-America tight end on Paterno's last undefeated team in 1994.
"He had a tremendously high standard for himself and made sure everyone around him held themselves to that same standard," Brady said of Paterno. "He demanded so much from all of us. At times we didn't understand why and we had our share of disagreement, but now looking back we all know why. He was trying to make us into men and mold us and he was very good at it."
Members of the current team and coach Bill O'Brien arrived around 10 a.m. in four blue buses, the same transportation used on Saturdays in the fall traveling to Beaver Stadium. Some players opted not to return to the buses after the viewing, instead needing to take a walk around campus to digest the emotions of saying their final goodbyes to the man who enhanced their lives.
Other players, including defensive tackle Jordan Hill, returned to the viewing to stand next to Paterno's casket, which was flanked by one current player and one former player for 45-minute shifts. Hill was joined by Trey Bauer, a linebacker on the 1986 national championship team.
Those who talked reflected on their lasting memories of Paterno, their final conversation with him and their reaction upon learning of his death Jan. 22.
Former quarterback Daryll Clark recalled Paterno giving him a pack of gummy bears as a midnight snack during their last meeting two or three weeks ago. Clark said he'd stay with Jay Paterno, Joe's son and his former position coach, for as long as he needed.
The last two months have taken a toll on Clark, as well. It wasn't easy watching Paterno's final moments unfold in such a tragic way.
But the legacy? Clark recalled his final visit with Joe.
"Here this man fighting, struggling, trying to stay alive, and all he can think about is everybody else," Clark said. "That's the type of man he is."