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At Penn State, 1 more chance to remember Paterno

By Genaro C. Armas

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 2:40 p.m. MDT

New Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, left, watches from the sideline as quarterback Rob Bolden takes a snap during their spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 21, 2012, in State College, Pa.

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The man in the white dress shirt, Penn State tie and rolled-up khakis jogged through the Beaver Stadium tunnel and on to the field before slowing down at the 50-yard-line.

It was alumnus Gus Curtin's tribute to the iconic look once sported in the same stadium on fall weekends by the late coach Joe Paterno.

A weekend during which the annual Blue-White spring game gave fans a glimpse into the Nittany Lions' future under new coach Bill O'Brien also allowed people like Curtin to remember the past. From the bouquets of blue-and-white carnations left at the bronzed Paterno statue outside the stadium to the charity 5K race run in Paterno's honor Sunday, fans paid tribute to the Hall of Fame coach who died in January at age 85.

"It's nice to know that the support and the love is all there, because all the people who love and support ... he's been a part of them for so many years," Paterno's widow, Sue Paterno, said before the race Sunday. "They're feeling a loss like we're feeling a loss. Our (loss) is maybe more acute."

The spring football game marked the first event at the stadium since her husband's death. Many alumni still question the circumstances behind Paterno's ouster last November by university trustees in the aftermath of child sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky.

A retired defensive coordinator, Sandusky has maintained his innocence as he awaits trial. Paterno testified before a grand jury investigating Sandusky that he relayed a 2002 allegation brought to him by a graduate assistant to his campus superiors, including the administrator overseeing the police department.

Authorities have said Paterno wasn't a target of the probe. The Board of Trustees ousted him, citing in part a moral obligation to do more to alert authorities outside the school, and a "failure of leadership."

Last week, Penn State agreed to provide millions in payments and benefits to Paterno's estate and family members under the late football coach's employment contract, although a family lawyer says the Paternos did not sign away their right to sue.

But unless the subject came up in conversation, there were no outward displays by fans of protest against school administrators or trustees over the weekend. Fans were eager to see what the team looked like under O'Brien.

"It seems like he's genuinely excited to do new things and to put a good team out there, but he's also respectful of tradition," said Curtin, 39, of Annapolis, Md. "So far I like him."

Like Curtin, dozens of alumni, students and other spectators wore attire that offered some kind of reminder of Paterno.

Some people donned "Joe Knows Football" T-shirts, a play off the old Nike ad campaign slogan featuring Bo Jackson.

Others wore T-shirts or sweatshirts that read "Team Paterno" on the front and "Make an Impact" on the back — the latter phrase referencing a command from Joe Paterno's father, Angelo, to his son.

The "Team Paterno" shirts were a gift to some donors for the cause of Sunday's race, Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, a charity long championed by Sue Paterno.

"We were in it together," Sue Paterno said when asked about the "Team Paterno" phrase. "I said, 'I help you all the time. Now you help me.' He got hooked ... It turned out to be a real good tagline this year."

The charity said Sunday it hoped to raise nearly $300,000 from the race, which would triple the amount it raised last year.

"I'm 55 years-old, and I've never known another coach here," Rich Ellers, a lifelong season-ticket holder from Centre Hall, said Saturday at the Paterno statue. "His spirit will live on. He'll never be gone in that sense."

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