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Capacity Crowd Packs Joe Paterno Memorial At Penn State

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(credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WFAN/AP) — A simple two-word message flashed this week on the electronic signboard outside Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center.

“Thanks JoePa.”

A capacity crowd of 12,000 filed into Penn State’s basketball arena Thursday for the school’s final tribute to Joe Paterno.

Among those finding their seats as video boards flashed a smiling image of the coach — Paterno’s last team and new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.

Paterno’s death on Sunday from lung cancer at age 85 came less than three months after his stunning ouster as head coach in the wake of child sex-abuse charges against a retired assistant. But this week, thousands of alumni, fans, students and former players in Happy Valley are remembering Paterno for his record-setting coaching career, his love for the school and his generosity.

More: Sweeny: How I’ll Remember Joe Paterno

“What’s Joe’s legacy? The answer, is his legacy is us,” former NFL and Penn State receiver Jimmy Cefalo said Wednesday before Paterno’s funeral. Cefalo is scheduled to be one of the speakers at the tribute called “A Memorial for Joe” at the arena across the street from Beaver Stadium — the stadium Paterno helped turned into a college football landmark.

Paterno’s son, former Nittany Lions quarterback coach Jay Paterno, also is expected to speak at the memorial, which will cap three days of public mourning for Paterno. Viewings were held Tuesday and Wednesday morning, before the funeral and burial service for Paterno on Wednesday afternoon at the campus interfaith center where family members attended church services.

Cefalo, who played for Penn State in the ’70s, said it will be the most difficult speech of his life. But he offered a hint of what he might say.

“Generations of these young people from coal mines and steel towns who he gave a foundation to,” Cefalo said. “It’s not (the Division I record) 409 wins, it’s not two national championships, and it’s not five-time coach of the year (awards). It’s us.”

The memorial Thursday is expected to feature a speaker for each decade of Paterno’s coaching career, according to Charles Pittman, a former player who said he will represent the 1960s.

Pittman said he was in Paterno’s first class and was the coach’s first All-America running back. Pittman’s son later played for the Nittany Lions as well, making them the first father-son pair to play for Paterno, Pittman said. They wrote a book about their experiences called “Playing for Paterno.”

Pittman said he spoke with Paterno two or three times a year. In 2002, the coach chided Pittman for moving to South Bend, Ind. — home of rival Notre Dame — to take a job as a newspaper executive.

“He called me a traitor,” said Pittman, a senior vice president for publishing at Schurz Communications Inc., an Indiana-based company that owns television and radio stations and newspapers, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Associated Press.

Pittman attended Wednesday’s funeral, which also drew other notable guests including former NFL players Franco Harris and Matt Millen; and former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Nike founder Phil Knight and actor William Baldwin were there, too.

A procession wound through the Penn State campus and the surrounding State College community. Quiet mourners lined the route, watching with grief and reverence as the electric-blue hearse carrying Paterno’s casket slowly drove by.

Some took pictures with their cellphones, or waved to his widow. Others craned their necks hoping for a better glimpse through the crowd sometimes four or more deep.

A family spokesman, Dan McGinn, said Paterno’s grandchildren escorted the casket down the aisle during the opening procession, and again at the end of the service. Jay Paterno and his brother, Scott, were among the pallbearers.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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