Mourners pay respects to Joe Paterno

Story highlights

  • Mourners file past Joe Paterno's closed casket
  • "I think he died of a broken heart," says one Penn State fan
  • Paterno will be buried Wednesday, with a public memorial Thursday
  • No more tickets left for Thursday memorial service, Penn State says
Penn State students, alumni, players and supporters filed past the casket of Joe Paterno on Tuesday, paying their respects to the school's late legendary football coach.
Some mourners dabbed their eyes; others made the sign of the cross as they walked past the closed casket that was covered with roses. A black-and-white photograph of a smiling Paterno rested nearby.
The mood inside the campus spiritual center was somber. Outside, several thousand people waited in a line that stretched for blocks, braving the cold.
The public viewing opened three days of ceremonies marking the life of the iconic coach, whose 61-year career with the Nittany Lions abruptly ended last year amid criticism of his response to alleged child sexual abuse by a former assistant.
Paterno died Sunday at the age of 85.
Tuesday's viewing was scheduled to continue until 11 p.m. A second viewing is scheduled for Wednesday before private funeral and burial services.
Among those who made the trek were avid Penn State football fans and season-ticket holders, Anne and Chris Kerstetter.
"I feel for those victims, and in some way Joe was a victim, too," Anne Kerstetter said. "It's bittersweet, I think he died of a broken heart."
A public memorial service is scheduled for Thursday at Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State campus. All of the tickets for the event had been distributed by Tuesday morning, the university said on its Facebook page.
The school said it would not formally cancel classes, but asked faculty to recognize "the needs of students who wish to pay their respects" by giving them reasonable latitude to miss class and make up missed work.
"University Faculty Senate policy on class attendance fittingly affirms that students may opt to miss a class meeting due to unavoidable circumstances such as family emergency or religious observance," the school said on its website.
"The memorial service is well within the intent of these provisions. For many students, the memorial will provide a positive opportunity to express grief and reinforce their understanding that they are members of a caring community," the statement read.
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A university spokeswoman said Tuesday that administrators have heard about a petition drive seeking to add Paterno's name to the football stadium, but that it was too soon to discuss such initiatives.
"There are discussions that will be ongoing, but at this particular juncture, we are focused on the services on campus," she said. "There will be future discussions about a variety of ideas."
Flags were flying at half-staff in Paterno's honor, and President Barack Obama phoned the family on Monday to offer his condolences.
"It was very meaningful to my mother and very moving and it was awfully nice of the president to call us," Paterno's son, Jay Paterno, said Tuesday in an appearance on CNN.
Paterno and his sister, Mary Kay Paterno Hort, didn't directly address criticisms of their father for how he handled a 2002 report that an assistant coach had allegedly caught former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky molesting a young boy in a shower at the football complex on campus.
Joe Paterno passed the report on to two university executives, who were later accused by authorities of misleading investigators and failing to properly report the abuse. In his final interview, with The Washington Post, Paterno said he felt inadequate to deal with the situation.
Hort said the most important thing in her father's life was honesty and integrity.
"He was what he was and he didn't worry about what other people thought about him," she said. "He was most concerned about doing what he believed was right."
In Paterno's 46-season tenure as head coach, the Nittany Lions won two national championships, went undefeated five times and finished in the top 25 national rankings 35 times, according to his official Penn State biography.
He became the winningest coach in major college football history October 29, just days before the Sandusky case became public. The school fired him November 9.
His death brought an outpouring of support for the longtime coach. Fans set up a makeshift memorial at the statue depicting him outside the school's football stadium.
But a group for survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests released a statement questioning the praise for Paterno.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Monday that ignoring what it called Paterno's "egregious wrongdoing" is insensitive to victims of molestation.
"And publicly honoring Paterno sends precisely the wrong message to others who have or may hide child sex crimes -- if you achieve enough professionally, we'll overlook your role in enabling, ignoring or concealing heinous crimes against kids," the group said.