“He took the sons of coal miners, and he took the sons of steel-mill workers and of farmers in rural Pennsylvania,” said Jimmy Cefalo, a wide receiver for Paterno in the 1970s, “with the idea that we would come together, and we would do it the right way, the Paterno way.”
Michael Mauti, a current Penn State senior linebacker, drew chuckles with an impromptu impression of Paterno’s nasally Brooklyn accent. “What’s it gonna be, kid?” Paterno asked him in his office at Beaver Stadium as Mauti, then a high school senior, was deciding among several scholarship offers. Mauti’s response: “I’m in!”
Thursday’s memorial service brought to an end a three-day period of mourning for Paterno, which also included two days of viewing that drew an estimated 40,000 mourners and a funeral procession through State College that had folks standing five-deep in some places to get a glimpse of Paterno’s hearse. There was also a private funeral for family and friends on Wednesday.
On Thursday at Penn State’s basketball arena, Sue Paterno drew a standing ovation just with the simple act of walking to her front-row seat in front of the stage. Five Paterno children and 17 grandchildren soon followed.
“Lord,” prayed Father Matthew Laffey of the school’s Catholic Campus Ministry, “thank you for this man, and the blessing to have lived when this giant walked the earth.”
Despite Knight’s well-received broadside at the university’s awkward handling of Paterno’s firing, the emotional high point of the service came at the end, when Jay Paterno strode to the microphone and delivered a masterful eulogy, full of poignant stories, literary and historical quotations and forceful declarations.
“Joe Paterno,” his son said, “left this world with a clear conscience.”
Jay Paterno spoke eloquently of his father’s final days, which he spent surrounded by his family.
“Faced with obstacles that would have left a lesser man bitter, he showed his true spirit and self,” Jay Paterno said. “He said he wanted to use his remaining time on earth to see Penn State continue to thrive. He never spoke ill and never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him.
“On Sunday morning, I . . . kissed him and whispered into his ear so only he could hear. I said, ‘Dad, you won. You did all you could do. You’ve done enough. We all love you. You won. You can go home now.’ ”
A lone trumpeter emerged to play a dirge-like version of the Penn State fight song.
No one knew quite what to do next. But finally, everyone headed for the exits, out into the cold and rain.
More on Joe Paterno from Washington Post Sports
Mourners line route through campus
Video from Paterno’s memorial service
Gallery: Mourning Joe Paterno
Hard Hits: LaVar Arrington on Paterno
Joe Paterno’s final interview with Sally Jenkins
Jenkins: Let others decide the record he leaves
Joe Paterno dies at 85