And when at last it was over, when the final seconds ticked down a 20-14 Penn State victory, hundreds of PSU alumni filled the bar with a deafening cheer of communal identity, a cheer that can seem almost primal when sounded by 100,000 from the giant megaphone of Beaver Stadium in the cold mountain air of State College, Pa.
“WE ARE STILL PENN STATE!!!!”
After nearly two weeks of dealing with one of the worst scandals in collegiate history, these Washington area faithful still find themselves defending an entire community because of alleged actions — or acts of omission — not only by their beloved football coach Joe Paterno but also by officials they had never heard of. But the shock has begun to wear off. They feel less of a need to justify their love of their alma mater. They are seeking revival.
Their unusually close feeling of community was formed in the splendid isolation of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains. Now, isolated in the spotlight of notoriety, they seem to be regrouping and recommitting themselves to the search for grace through good works, such as the fundraising campaigns that surround Penn State’s legendary dance marathon.
“I think a lot of people are looking to take action,” said Kirsten Edling, 25, an Arlington County resident who graduated from Penn State in 2009 and works for a nonprofit. She wore a blue-and-white rugby shirt to the bar to watch the game with several college buddies and her husband, Steve, 26, a high school sweetheart who also attended Penn State. “I think everybody knows they can’t erase what happened. We’re moving forward — not forgetting it — but moving forward.”
With Washington just a few hours by interstate from Happy Valley, the city’s ranks of Penn State alumni include Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Bloomberg News columnist Margaret Carlson. Traditionally, a lot of alumni gather at one of about half a dozen favorite watering holes on Saturdays to watch Paterno’s student scholars play football. Now that Paterno has fallen from grace, many Penn Staters have felt even more in need of fellowship.
“We came in this time because we wanted to be with other Penn Staters,” said Tom Yorke, 69, who drove from Haymarket with his wife, Jeannie, 68. They have been together since they met on campus in the 1960s.
Yorke was among many alumni who worry that the scandal will tarnish their alma mater’s reputation for years, that recruitment for sports will suffer, that top scholars might take their talents elsewhere, or that alumni will be more reluctant to donate money. One current student said the scandal had already come up during a job interview.