New beginning: Penn State plays first game minus Paterno since 1949

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley shares a moment with Bo Pelini after the game. (US Presswire)  
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley shares a moment with Bo Pelini after the game. (US Presswire)  

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- On a gorgeous sunny Saturday in Happy Valley -- Penn State found out what life after Joe Paterno was like. This was, in a way, the first day of the rest of Penn State's life: a future without Joe Paterno as coach.

This, obviously, was not your typical Saturday afternoon here. It has been anything but typical in the past week: sexual abuse allegations against a former defensive coordinator, including child rape, and then an alleged cover-up by the highest of university officials. And it was evident well before kickoff -- a kickoff notable because for the first time since since Nov. 19, 1949, Joe Paterno was not standing on the Penn State sideline.

A couple of hours before kickoff, a Penn State fan held up a sign as high as his arms would reach. This wasn't like most signs outside Beaver Stadium trying to buy or sell tickets: this sign had a much different message.

"The World Is A Dangerous Place Not Because Of Those Who Do Evil But Because Of Those Who Look On And Do Nothing." -- Albert Einstein

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Nearby a woman, who was standing a few yards from a hill where nearly two dozen police officers on horseback were perched, passed out bookmarks, advocating for the prevention of child abuse. "May No Act Of Ours Bring Shame."

On another side of the stadium members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested the game being played and held up signs that read "God Hates You."

And then there was a bomb threat called in on Saturday morning that turned out to be a hoax.

The scene inside Beaver Stadium was just as surreal.

Ten minutes before kickoff the public address announcer asked for "a moment of silence for all those who have suffered from child abuse."

Then a few minutes later something truly special happened: both teams left their sidelines and met at midfield. Players from Nebraska and Penn State exchanged hand shakes and hugs. Then they gathered in a circle and took a knee in prayer. Never have 107,903 fans been this quiet.

The prayer -- and the silence -- lasted for at least a minute. Of everything involving Saturday’s 17-14 victory by Nebraska against Penn State, nothing came close to matching that moment.

"It was definitely cool," Nebraska freshman defensive tackle Chase Rome said. "As football players we feel for them. It was cool to show we sympathize with them. The whole situation is obviously awful. I can't imagine how they dealt with that."

Last weekend, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. Penn State's president, a vice president, the athletic director and Paterno all were fired for failing to alert the police following a 2002 incident.

After Paterno was fired by the school's Board of Trustees Wednesday night, Penn State's students rioted. They tipped over a television news van, tore down light poles and caused other vandalism.

On Friday night, however, thousands of students organized and held a candlelight vigil in front of "Old Main," the school's administration building.

Because of all those events, some folks, including Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, didn't feel like the Saturday's game should be played. But it was. And those in attendance witnessed history. In 1950, Paterno became a Penn State assistant until 1965 before becoming the Nittany Lions’ head coach in 1966.

Since Paterno took over for Rip Engle in 1966, there have been 889 head coaching changes in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Interim coach Tom Bradley taking over for Paterno was No. 890. To honor his father, assistant Jay Paterno wore one his father's white jackets. He also wrote a letter to his parents, that he hand delivered about 8 a.m. -- fours before kickoff.

Jay Paterno said the letter expressed: "Just how proud of them I am, and, Dad, I wish you were here."

"I think today it just made the healing process start to begin," Bradley said.

Added Penn State senior linebacker Nate Stubar: "It was a tough game. There were a lot of emotions going on."

None as much as the pregame prayer.

"It was deeply moving," Nebraska assistant Ron Brown said. "Imagine 106,000 people coming to a dead silence in respect and awe."

Brown said he received a call Friday from a member of Penn State's Athletes in Action ministry group. Both coaching staffs discussed the pregame prayer on Friday and Bradley and Pelini approved it later that night.

"We felt like we needed to make a statement to America amidst all the craziness, God is in control," Brown said. "There were some tragic things that are being uncovered and revealed. It just brings to mind where we're at in our country: all the things that are happening. Young lives that are deeply influenced [by] good, bad and ugly."

Hopefully this situation doesn't get any uglier.

"The message was: we were asking God to heal this place, asking the Lord that he would reveal himself through these young men," said Brown, who led the pregame prayer. "Right now there's a lot of questions, lot of embarrassments and a lot of issues for a lot of people.

"This [situation] will lead to all kinds of people coming forward with issues regarding child abuse, things we haven't even heard yet. It does need to be uncovered. It's a sad dilemma, a terrible epidemic. But God is a healer."

While Saturday was the first day in a long, long healing process for everyone with any ties to Penn State, it was also another day in trying to heal for those victims and their families.

No one should ever forget that.

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