STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — A capacity crowd of more than 12,000 filed into a Penn State arena for a final tribute to Joe Paterno, the Hall of Fame football coach who died Sunday from lung cancer.
His death at age 85 came less than three months after his stunning ouster as head coach of one of the most storied American university sports programs, in the wake of child sex-abuse charges against a retired assistant. But this week, thousands of alumni, fans, students and former players are remembering Paterno for his record-setting career at the university he put on the American sports map.
Paterno's son, former Penn State quarterback coach Jay Paterno, was expected to speak at the memorial, which will cap three days of public mourning for Paterno. Viewings were held Tuesday and Wednesday morning, before the funeral and burial service for Paterno on Wednesday afternoon at the campus interfaith center where family members attended church services.
Many Penn Staters found themselves reflecting on Paterno's impact and the road ahead.
"What's Joe's legacy? The answer, is his legacy is us," former National Football League and Penn State receiver Jimmy Cefalo said Wednesday before Paterno's funeral. Cefalo is scheduled to be one of the speakers at the tribute called "A Memorial for Joe" at the arena across the street from Beaver Stadium — the place Paterno helped turned into a college football landmark.
Cefalo, who played for Penn State in the 1970s, offered a hint of what he might say.
"Generations of these young people from coal mines and steel towns who he gave a foundation to," Cefalo said. "It's not (the record) 409 wins, it's not two national championships, and it's not five-time coach of the year (awards). It's us."
Wednesday's funeral, which also drew other notable guests including former NFL players, Nike founder Phil Knight and actor William Baldwin.
A procession wound through the Penn State campus and the surrounding State College community. Quiet mourners lined the route, watching with grief and reverence as the electric-blue hearse carrying Paterno's casket slowly drove by.
Some took pictures, or waved to his widow. Others craned their necks hoping for a better glimpse through the crowd sometimes four or more deep.
A family spokesman, Dan McGinn, said Paterno's grandchildren escorted the casket down the aisle during the opening procession, and again at the end of the service. Jay Paterno and his brother, Scott, were among the pallbearers.
More than 250 of the players Joe Paterno coached went on to the National Football League.
The final days of Paterno's Penn State career were easily the toughest in his 61 years with the university and 46 seasons as head football coach.
It was because Paterno was a such a sainted figure — more memorable than any of his players and one of the best-known coaches in all of sports — that his downfall was so startling. During one breathtaking week in early November, Paterno was engulfed by a scandal and forced from his job, because he failed to go to the police in 2002 when told that a young boy was molested inside the university football complex.
Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator expected to succeed Paterno before retiring in 1999, was charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years. Two university officials stepped down after they were charged with perjury following a grand jury investigation of Sandusky. But attention quickly focused on an alleged rape that took place in a shower in the football building, witnessed by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time.
Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.