Local Penn State devotees joined fans across the country in mourning the loss of former football coach Joe Paterno, known affectionately to fans as "JoePa," who died around 10:30 this morning of lung cancer at the age of 85.
"I was shocked. I was taken aback. JoePa is such an iconic figure in college sports," said Scott Salayda of Kensington, who graduated from Penn State in 2009 and was captain of the soccer team. "My grandfather was a huge Penn State fan and I've loved Penn State all my life."
The winningest coach in Division I history, Paterno led the Nittany Lions for 46 years. But the unofficial mayor of Happy Valley recently drew controversy for what some say was a lack of action against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was arrested November 3, 2011 for sexually assaulting young boys over a period of 15 years, at times in the school's locker room.
Paterno's local fans vigorously defended him. "He was the greatest football coach that ever lived," Derrick Weaver, 28, of Perkasie said. "It's a shame his legacy had to end the way it did because of a child sex addict."
Emotions ran high, especially at bars like the Field House, where Nittany Lions fans gather regularly to watch games. "This is the place where Penn State lives," said patron Jonathan Muzio, resident of Northern Liberties and Penn State Class of 2003. "Life's not going to be the same here at the Field House anymore because Joe Paterno is not part of the equation. One guy was crying earlier when he found out."
"JoePa, he's the only guy in college sports you can put a face on," Muzio said. "JoePa was the reason Penn State was Penn State. If it wasn't for Joe Paterno, Penn State wouldn't be what it is today.
Not everyone was as pessimistic about the team's future. "I think they will eventually bounce back," Weaver said. "They may have an adjustment period, but Penn State's record is one of the best in football."
Thoughts on Paterno's legacy, too, were mixed.
"I think he's going to be remembered for touching little boys," Muzio said. "Even though he didn't ever do it, it overshadowed his career. It tarnished whatever legacy he was able to accomplish as coach."
"I hope he'll be remembered for his moral high ground and overall greatness as a coach," Weaver said. "But outside of Penn State, I think a lot of people associate him with the scandal. Hopefully, that's just short term."
"Real Penn State fans will stand by Joe forever."