Joe Paterno buried after thousands pay vigil

Posted at 01/26/2012 9:02 AM
Former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno's hearse passes through downtown State College, Pennsylvania en route to his burial site January 25, 2012. Thousands lined the frigid streets while family and friends of Paterno gathered inside a private funeral hall on Wednesday to mourn a man whose towering image was shaken by his inaction in a child sex abuse scandal. Photo by Pat Little, Reuters.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was buried in a private ceremony on Wednesday after tens of thousands of mourners paid vigil in frigid weather as his hearse was carried from a closed funeral.

Paterno, 85, who died of lung cancer on Sunday, was head coach at Penn State for 46 years, and won more games than any other major-college football coach and two national championships.

But he was fired in November after a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with serial sex abuse. University trustees dismissed Paterno because he failed to tell police what he had been told about the alleged abuse.

Tens of thousands of people lined the street outside the campus Pasquerilla Spiritual Center in State College, Pennsylvania, in response to a campaign on Facebook to "Guide Joe Paterno Home," forming a gantlet covering much of the mile and a half (2.5 km) to Penn State's football stadium.

"It shows how much of an icon he was and how many hearts he touched directly and indirectly," said Christina Flanaghan, 21, a third-year student at Penn State.

Nine pallbearers including son Jay Paterno carried the casket out of the spiritual center to a hearse that drove through town to a final resting place, which was kept secret.

"Thank you to all the people who turned out for my father's procession. Very moving," Jay Paterno wrote on Twitter.

Among those attending the funeral was former quarterback Mike McQueary, who as a graduate assistant in 2002 told Paterno he walked in on Sandusky molesting a boy in the showers.

Paterno told university officials but not police.

Sandusky, 67, who maintains his innocence, faces 52 criminal counts accusing him of molesting 10 boys over 15 years, using his position as head of The Second Mile, a charity dedicated to helping troubled children, to find his victims. The court has placed him under house arrest.

Also attending the funeral was former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, a pro football Hall of Famer who was perhaps the biggest star to play for Paterno.

Some 27,000 mourners passed by Paterno's closed casket for a viewing on Tuesday and 10,000 others on Wednesday, said Bob Smith, director of the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center.

Among the final mourners was actor Billy Baldwin, who did not attend Penn State but attended many wrestling matches there in the 1980s. During that time, he said, he got to know Paterno, and had dinner at the Paterno home.

"I can't use words to describe the enormous, immense level of respect I have for the guy," Baldwin said.

(Reporting by Dave Warner; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)