STATE COLLEGE, Pa.>> Decked out in Penn State hats and jackets, students and townspeople stood in a line more than a quarter-mile long Tuesday to pay their respects to Joe Paterno, the coach who for nearly a half century was the face of their university.
Mourners stood in a line along a main campus artery for the chance to file past Paterno’s closed casket at the campus spiritual center during a 10-hour public viewing session.
They were preceded by Paterno family members — the coach’s son, Scott, was seen going in and out of the event — and the Penn State football team, both present and past. Players wore dark suits and filed out of three blue Penn State buses, the same buses that once carried Paterno and the team to games at Beaver Stadium on fall Saturdays.
Among that group was Mike McQueary. As a graduate assistant to Paterno in 2002, he went to the coach saying he had witnessed former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky assaulting a boy in the shower at the Penn State football building. Paterno relayed that to his bosses — including the head of campus police — but university trustees felt he should have done more, and it played into their decision to fire the longtime coach on Nov. 9. That came four days after Sandusky was arrested on multiple child sex-abuse counts.
Dressed in a blue coat and tie with a white shirt, the school colors, McQueary was among thousands of expected mourners at an event that was to stretch late into Tuesday night.
One current and one former team member will stand guard over the casket for the duration of the public viewing, athletic department spokesman Jeff Nelson said.
"He left us too early and I think about the impact he could have made once he retired from coaching," Nelson said.
The 85-year-old Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football, died Sunday. The cause, lung cancer, was disclosed in November, just days after he was fired.
Earlier Tuesday, a line of ex-players stretched around the corner and down the block. Among the mourners were former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris. Others there included NFL receivers Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, Norwood’s father and Baylor assistant coach Brian Norwood and former quarterback Daryll Clark.
The event marked the start of three days of public mourning as the Penn State community in State College and beyond said goodbye to the man who led the Nittany Lions to 409 wins over 46 years and raised the national profile of the school.
There is another public viewing Wednesday at Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, and after that Paterno’s family will hold a private funeral and procession through State College.
On Thursday, the school’s basketball arena will be the site of a public service called "A Memorial for Joe." Tickets were quickly snapped up for the event, even though there was a two-per-person limit for those ordering.
Former players began arriving shortly after members of Paterno’s last team filed in. Some players hugged, and new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien shook hands with others at the curb outside the center.
Penn State linebacker Khairi Fortt recalled his coach’s lessons.
"He said the most important thing for us was to keep the Penn State tradition going," the sophomore from Stamford, Conn., said after leaving the viewing.
Scott Paterno has said that despite the turmoil surrounding his termination from the school, Joe Paterno remained peaceful and upbeat in his final days and still loved Penn State.
Bitterness over Paterno’s firing has turned up in many forms, from online postings to a rewritten newspaper headline placed next to Paterno’s statue at the football stadium blaming the trustees for his death. A headline that read "FIRED" was crossed out and made to read, "Killed by Trustees." Lanny Davis, lawyer for the school’s board, said threats have been made against the trustees.
Scott Paterno, however, stressed his father did not die with a broken heart and did not harbor resentment toward Penn State.
Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo contributed to this report.