There in Spirit

Though he was not on hand, fired coach Joe Paterno's presence could be felt at Beaver Stadium as the Nittany Lions fell to Nebraska Saturday.

Contrary to popular belief, Joe Paterno did appear in Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Popped up a few times in the video they showed at halftime to honor Penn State's seniors, who were playing their final home game. And each time he did so, the season-high crowd of 107,903 responded with loud cheers.

There were also chants for the fired head coach throughout the 17-14 loss to Nebraska.

Yes, the day was For The Kids, as 10 enterprising undergrads, standing side by side in the south stands, spelled out in blue paint on their torsos -- i.e., it was for the victims of child sexual abuse, of which former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jerry Sandusky stands accused. But in the minds of many it was also about Paterno, dismissed by the school's Board of Trustees Wednesday night in the wake of the burgeoning scandal.

Not since 1949 had a PSU game been played without him on the coaching staff. Not since 1965 had one been played without him as the head coach.

Not until Saturday.

Tossed into the maelstrom was defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who will serve as interim coach the rest of the season.

“All I thought about was doing the best job I possibly could,” he said.

And, he added, “I felt today that just maybe the healing process has begun.”

The Lions left empty the front right seat of the first bus -- the one usually occupied by Paterno -- for the short ride from their practice facility to the stadium. And when the players took the field before kickoff they did so hand in hand, at the urging of defensive tackle Devon Still, one of the team's captains.

“We had to make a statement,” Still said, “that we would be together, no matter what.”

A sizable contingent of former players joined them on the sideline. The fans, almost all of whom dressed in blue to show support for the victims of child sexual abuse, had observed a moment of silence before the team emerged from the south tunnel. And the two teams were led in prayer at midfield by Huskers assistant Ron Brown just before the start of play.

<a href='' target='_new' title='Highlights: (19) Neb. - (12) PSU' >Video: Highlights: (19) Neb. - (12) PSU</a>

Nebraska then stormed out to a 17-0 lead and held on. And afterward, it was a matter of sorting things out, especially for Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, Joe's son.

The younger Paterno said he had slept little Wednesday night, such was “the roller-coaster of emotions.”

“It was tough,” he said. “I'm not going to lie to you.”

He visited the home occupied by Joe and his wife Sue -- located on McKee Street, just a mile or so from the stadium -- early Thursday morning. And early Saturday Jay dropped off a letter for the two of them. He wouldn't say much about its contents, only that he asked his dad to read the letter after he left. Nor would the younger Paterno say how he felt about the Board's decision regarding his dad.

“I've got to be very careful,” he said. “There are a lot of legal issues still ongoing. … For us to talk out of class, you can't do that.”

Jay, who wore one of his dad's PSU jackets during the first half of the game, said the elder Paterno was handling things “as well as could be expected.” He also said his dad was planning to watch the game on television.

“He was probably having a fit,” offensive tackle Quinn Barham said. “He was probably throwing things at the TV.”

Before Thursday's practice ex-Lion Tim Sweeney, president of the Lettermen's Club, had read a letter from Paterno to the players, one in which he encouraged them to concentrate on the task at hand. Which Barham said wasn't the easiest thing to do.

“It was very distracting at times,” he said. “We stayed as focused as we could, despite everything.”

As wide receiver Derek Moye said, “Losing your head coach in the manner that was done was difficult for us.”

Besides Paterno's ouster, wide receivers coach Mike McQueary joined athletic director Tim Curley on administrative leave; the coaches spoke briefly with McQueary, a key witness in the case against Sandusky, by telephone before the game. And Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz have been brought up on charges that they perjured themselves before the grand jury in the Sandusky case.

There were some things to figure out from a football standpoint Saturday, like how the offensive plays would be relayed from the press box to the sideline to the huddle. Jay Paterno, usually in the box, was on the sideline. Graduate assistant Terrell Golden was put in charge of the wideouts.

“Early on,” Bradley said, “there was confusion coming from top to bottom.” Jay Paterno didn't think things went that badly.

But the bigger change was the one at the top.

“When you go to team (meetings), he's not at the podium,” backup running back Stephfon Green said of Joe Paterno. “Before the game he's not leading us in prayer. He's not out there with us in warm-ups. It's a big loss.”

Like so many, Green found the week's events “so shocking.”

“You don't even get to say the right good-bye to the guy,” he said.

On Saturday, everybody tried.

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