STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The second day of a three-day period of public mourning for Joe Paterno will culminate with the funeral and burial for the Hall of Fame football coach who became the face of Penn State University.
Hundreds of alumni, residents and students are attending a viewing until noon Wednesday. The family will hold a private funeral in the afternoon.
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 in November, forced out of his job in the wake of child sex-abuse charges against a former assistant.
This week, mourners are focusing on the full body of accomplishments and philanthropy compiled by Paterno during his 46-year tenure as the Nittany Lions’ coach.
“His legacy is still going to be filled with the great things that he did. Look at this place,” said Tom Sherman, a 1969 graduate from Johnstown, Pa.
Before tearing up, Sherman said he attended Paterno’s first game as head coach in 1966.
“It’s like he’s part of your life,” he said. “I admire that guy so much.”
Thousands more 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 attended services.
Inside the hall, the coach’s body lay in a closed, 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 games and two national championships 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.
On Thursday, the school’s basketball arena will be the site of a public service called “A Memorial for Joe.”
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