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Want to find JoePa supporters? Get on his lawn

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One thousand-plus PSU students swarm JoePa's property to support their embattled football coach. (AP)  
One thousand-plus PSU students swarm JoePa's property to support their embattled football coach. (AP)  

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- More than 1,000 Penn State students gave Joe Paterno the hero treatment on Tuesday night, gathering outside his house to wave supportive signs and chant his name -- and roaring in glee when he stepped outside to thank them.

"You've been great, just great," Paterno said softly, comments that couldn't have been heard by more than 25 people.

Paterno said something else that surely wasn't heard by most of the crowd, which is a shame:

"The victims," Paterno said. "Say prayers for them."

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That message didn't get to the outer edges, to people who weren't there to hear deep thoughts. They were there to touch or just glimpse the winningest coach in Division I history -- who is also one of the handful of Penn State officials who didn't call the police in 2002 after learning that an eyewitness on his coaching staff had accused former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky of sexually assaulting a young boy in a shower on campus.

One Penn State fan outside Paterno's house waved a sign that read, "Two of my favorite J's: Jesus and Joe Paterno."

This scandal has turned campus into Bizarro World, a place where up is down and wrong is right and Joe Paterno is serenaded by students who were roughly the same age, in 2002, as Sandusky's alleged shower victim.

Meanwhile, off campus, people are horrified. It seems to be the dominant opinion elsewhere that Paterno, like the handful of other Penn State officials with knowledge of the alleged assault -- the grad assistant who saw it, the athletics director who was told about it -- concerned themselves only with the minimum legal standards in 2002. The moral minimum would have been to call the police. Nobody did.

I had that very argument Tuesday night with a Penn State student, who apparently recognized me as I stood on Paterno's lawn and asked me, accusingly, "Don't you hate Paterno?"

Me: I don't hate him. But I think he should be fired.

Her: Why?

Me: Because there are eight [alleged] victims that we know about, and who knows how many more, and Paterno had the chance to stop it in 2002 and he didn't.

Her: Oh my god! He did what he was supposed to do! He told his boss!

Me: That was the bare minimum, and if you think that's great, I don't know what to tell you.

Her: I don't think it's great, I just think ... put it this way: Would you have called the police? Really? Would you?

Me: Of course. It's not even a question.

And there our conversation ended. We'd both heard enough, and we'd heard nothing. She wasn't listening to me, and I wasn't listening to her. But I was still listening to the crowd, which was chanting even as it was dispersed from Paterno's yard by police:

"We want Joe!"

Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

"We want Joe!"

After that chant died down, another started. It was a chant that showed the priorities of the 1,000 students who gathered outside the house Tuesday night of one of the few men on the planet who had the ability to stop an alleged pedophile in 2002 ... but didn't do it. Paterno told his boss, yes, but he didn't tell the police, ever after it was clear that nobody else was going to tell the police. An alleged pedophile roamed State College, Pa., for another nine years. But that wasn't on the minds of the 1,000 people on Paterno's lawn Tuesday night.

This was:

"Beat Nebraska!"

Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.

"Beat Nebraska!"


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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