Thousands bid Paterno farewell

2012-01-26 10:33

State College - Penn State University American football coaching legend Joe Paterno was buried on Wednesday after a funeral procession that was watched by thousands of supporters.

Paterno, the winningest coach in college gridiron history with 409 triumphs, died from lung cancer on Sunday at age 85 after having been fired last November in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The school board of trustees fired Paterno last November, contending he did not do enough when told about an allegation that assistant coach Sandusky molested a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower.

Paterno said later that he regretted not having done more than pass along the information to university officials. Soon after his firing, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Sandusky, on the Penn State staff from 1969 through 1999, is facing a trial after being accused of more than 50 counts of molesting 10 boys over an 11-year period. He has denied the charges.

Paterno's legend and legacy in a 45-year head coaching career, including two US college crowns, was remembered in recent days in the wake of his death, with remembrances left at his statue outside the Nittany Lions' home stadium.

A public memorial service tribute to Paterno will be staged on Thursday at the school's 16 000-seat basketball arena.

But on Wednesday, a funeral procession from a private family service at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center was made to his burial site at Pine Hall Cemetery, his hearse passing through the town at the heart of an area known as "Happy Valley".

"Everybody here feels like they have a hole in the heart," said Nancy Sopko, a nurse who like several generations of her family attended Penn State. "Joe Paterno was Penn State."

As the hearse passed Beaver Stadium, students displayed a banner declaring "We are because you were."

Bill O'Brien, offensive co-ordinator for the NFL's New England Patriots, signed a five-year deal earlier this month to replace Paterno at Penn State once he is done directing the Patriots' attack in next month's Super Bowl.