STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) — About the only mixing, it seemed, between Nebraska and Penn State before the most curious and scrutinized game in Penn State history came when both teams converged at midfield to pray together before the game. Usually a major visiting traditional power that travels well like Nebraska stirs a riot of colors surrounding Beaver Stadium, interspersed with the Nittany Lions’ blue-and-white.
Not this time. Not with everything swirling around after the most tumultuous week in Penn State history.
There was faint, if little, Nebraska presence around Beaver Stadium, and a large security and police presence as the Nittany Lions played for the first time since the mid-1960s with Joe Paterno as the head coach. Paterno, along with the school’s president, Graham Spanier, were fired this week by the Penn State Board of Trustees with involvement to the child sex-abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Ironically, it was Tom Bradley, who inherited Sandusky’s position as defensive coordinator, that took over for Paterno on the sidelines Saturday afternoon as interim coach in the Nittany Lions’ 17-14 defeat to Nebraska.
For the most part, it seemed like any normal Penn State game, minus the large contingent that follows Nebraska, no doubt troubled by the rioting that broke out from Penn State students late Wednesday night in reaction to Board of Trustees vice president John Surma’s announcement dismissing the 84-year-old Paterno.
An emotional Jay Paterno, Joe’s son who’s the Nittany Lions’ quarterback coach, addressed some members of the media afterward saying, “We’ve had better weeks in our lives, obviously. The world’s kind of turned upside down, but I think our kids were resilient.” Then, revealing what he said in a letter to his parents Saturday morning, “Just how proud of them I am, and, Dad, I wish you were here.”
Fans honored Paterno in a number of different ways, some dressing like Paterno, others displaying signs in support of the deposed coaching icon.
“I’ve been to plenty Penn State games, and this was just like any other game,” said Tom Simmons of New Jersey. “I think the biggest difference is you would see a team like Nebraska have huge areas where they would be camped out tailgating with everyone else. You’d see some red-and-white [Nebraska’s colors] here and there, with fans walking around wearing their ‘N’. I didn’t see that this time.”
In support of the victims’ abuse in the scandal, Beaver Stadium was soaked in blue, a color associated with child-abuse prevention.
“We wanted to demonstrate, not just in the Penn State community, but to the rest of world, that Penn State is a caring community,” Penn State’s new president, Rodney Erickson, said after the game. “That Penn State will move forward with a sense of purpose. And that, hopefully, there are elements of good that can come out of situation we found ourselves in this past week.”
“Maybe today is the start of this healing process,” said Bradley, whose team dropped to 8-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten.
For the Penn State students, the game was a relief.
“Now maybe all the TV trucks and media can leave us alone and we can start getting back to the way things used to be,” said one Penn State fan leaving Beaver Stadium. “It would be nice to hear about Penn State for once without hearing anything else about Jerry Sandusky.”
Reported by By Joseph Santoliquito, CBS Sports