STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WFAN/AP) — The last of thousands of mourners have paid their respects to Penn State’s Joe Paterno at a two-day public viewing for the legendary coach.
Thousands of people streamed past Paterno’s casket for four hours Wednesday morning before a private funeral scheduled for the afternoon.
Mourners began entering a campus spiritual center around 7:40 a.m., with the line stretching down the block and through police barricades. The last of the mourners entered just after 11:30 a.m. before the doors were closed.
Some waited three hours or more in the pre-dawn cold for the opportunity to pass by the Hall of Famer’s casket.
First in line to pay his respects was David Brown, who left his home in Greensburg at midnight and drove more than two hours to State College then prepared to wait a few hours outside until the doors opened.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were 1,000 people here,” he said.
Behind him was John Myers, 70, who drove more than two hours from Tamaqua to arrive at 5 a.m. — three hours before the viewing was scheduled to begin.
“It’s worth it,” Myers said. “Joe was one of the best, if not the best, football coaches ever.”
The 85-year-old Paterno died Sunday of lung cancer. He had been ousted just days before learning of his diagnosis. Paterno’s son, Scott, has said his father was not bitter and remained upbeat until the end of his life.
Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator at the center of the abuse scandal, has been charged with molesting 10 boys over a period of 15 years. He has pleaded not guilty and is on bail, awaiting trial.
Tom Haack, a small business owner from Camp Hill, took off work to pay his respects to Paterno. The 59-year-old Haack said he chose Penn State to get his master’s degree in business in the late 1980s, partly due to his admiration for the coach.
“His ethics, doing things the right way, excellence in everything you do, all of that attracted me and attracted many others to Penn State,” he said. I think his influence made it a better school and helped make it what it is today.”
Thousands waited in line Tuesday on an overcast winter afternoon for the first day of visitation at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, where Paterno family members regularly attend services.
Inside the hall, the coach’s body lay in a brown hardwood casket topped by a spray of white roses. About six feet away sat a stylized black-and-white picture of the man who became lovingly known on campus as “JoePa,” smiling and peering out through his trademark thick-rimmed glasses.
Paterno’s casket had an “honor guard” of two Penn State players — one past and one present. Some mourners stopped for a moment of reflection, or to genuflect in the interfaith hall.
Others fought back tears and sniffles. The only other sounds were the occasional clicks of news photographers taking pictures.
Paterno won 409 — a record for major college football — in a career admired by peers as much for its longevity as its success. Paterno also took as much pride in the program’s graduation rates, often at or close to the top of the Big Ten.
“The passion, the love that he gave almost gave you a sense that you wanted to give it back to him,” Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers said after escorting his team to the worship hall Tuesday evening. “We’re forever indebted to him and we will continue to work as hard as we can.”
Four friends got in line at 6:30 a.m. to pay their respects, going up to the casket as a group to say goodbye.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to somebody that you feel you’ve known all along,” said John Whitney, a 21-year-old junior from Sparta, N.J. “A lot of us have never met him, but he’s had such a big influence on everybody’s life around here.”
Heather Hoffman, a 19-year-old sophomore from Marlton, N.J., cited Paterno’s contributions to academics along with athletics.
“It was time for all of us to pay tribute to him and give thanks because we’re all here in part because of him,” Hoffman said.
Karen Gilchrist, a Penn State fan from Scranton, brought three of her five children to the viewing. Seven-year-old Tiffany and 8-year-old Johnny both wore rolled-up khaki pants and black sneakers in honor of Paterno.
“There’s going to be no one like him in my lifetime or theirs,” said Gilchrist, cradling the third child, 6-month-old Valentina. “I wanted them to be part of a historic day. I felt compelled.”
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