The Joe Paterno Statue being taken into Beaver Stadium by forklift on the morning on July 22, 2012. (Photo by Dan Vecellio)
This time, the fall of Joe Paterno, or rather his likeness, was not met with a riot. There were very few screams. There was mainly silence as the hundred or so spectators who were awake early enough to hear the news of the statue's removal stood on their tiptoes to get a glance over the blue tarp-covered fence and at the bronze man being lifted out of the ground, put on to a forklift and hauled inside Beaver Stadium.
Thousands came by to get one last picture when reports came out late last week that the statue was in its final days at home to the right of Gate A where the student encampment site once known as Paternoville, now known as Nittanyville, is located. Some brought signs or flowers or newspaper clippings or stuffed Nittany lions. Almost all were decked out in white and blue, the simple colors that went on the simple jerseys of the young men that Paterno had coached for 61 years before his firing in November.
I spent three shifts at the statue before it came down on Sunday morning. On Friday night, I made my way to Porter Road around 12:30 a.m. as the first reported rumors pointed towards a 2:00 a.m. clearing of the site. The hour came and went without incident as 20-25 onlookers spent time hanging out, talking with friends, gaining what they thought might be one last memory at the site that gained popularity from the time it was erected in November of 2001.
On Saturday afternoon, the crowds grew bigger and much more diverse as a minimum of 50 fans surrounded the statue between noon and 2:00 p.m. with crowds nearing a hundred people at some points. A Little League tournament must have been taking place in State College over the weekend as entire teams from Hershey and Huntington made their way for keepsake photos at the statue. Photographers jumped at the chance to capture shots of young boys posing for pictures, as if the scene was set 10 years ago, any of those boys could have been the one that the patriarch of Penn State football along with Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz failed to protect from Jerry Sandusky. Also stopping by for pictures were multiple old-time biker gangs, die-hards, couples with their newborns and many, many more people that looked up to the man they were beside.
Finally, six hours before the order came down from President Rodney Erickson to take down the statue, a smaller group from the night before stood close as the ground-mounted floodlights shone on what most national columnists proclaimed to be an idol or a deity for the week before. Girls returning from the bar in a taxi got one last chance to have there picture taken with Joe as well as an on-duty Patton Township police officer who said, "I had to come get one last picture with Joe. He was my paisan!"
Those who came were not there to worship a god. They were there to say goodbye to a man, not a saint but certainly not the devil, whose lack of better judgement when it came to realizing that a predator was lurking on his campus and around his football team had tarnished his previously pristine legacy in the eyes of many. They were paying their last respects to a man who had passed six months prior to his likeness also being laid to rest. And you could tell that some knew, they were paying their last respects to the Penn State football they grew up being a part of.
Around 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning, CBS News reported that the NCAA and president Mark Emmert would be handing down "unprecedented" and "crippling" punishment to Penn State at a news conference that will take place on Monday morning. The death penalty would not come into play, but a combination of other penalties, which are rumored to be a fine upwards of $30 million as well as loss of scholarships and bowl bans, seem to point towards the fact that much like Joe Paterno and his statue, the Penn State football that people have come to know will become a thing of the past.
I believe that it's the human condition to want to hold onto something that's good. For 60 years, Joe Paterno was a symbol for all that was good not only here in State College, but all over college football, across the nation, reaching around the world. It's why there was uproar on November 9th. It's why people flocked to his statue this weekend. There are now major chinks in the armor, but it doesn't erase the good that the man accomplished; the good that people around Happy Valley respected and had striven to achieve everyday. It's why when sanctions come that will leave Penn State football battered and bruised this morning, people will be outraged and upset as the good that came with getting away from it all every Saturday will be taken from them a bit.
It's also why we, as a community, have done everything in our power to help the victims of this devastating tragedy. We've donated to RAINN. We've held a blue-out. We've held candlelight vigils. We know that we'll never be able to replace all of the good that was stolen from those young men when they were assaulted by Jerry Sandusky, but we hope that our support can help them find a new sense of good. And while I doubt that tearing down a football program will help them renew their sense of good being able to be found, in the oft chance that I'm wrong, I hope that the victims, or rather, the survivors of these acts that have shaken this university to its core are able to grab onto that something and begin to heal, just as Penn Staters must, both knowing there's much more good out there to be found.