Shortly before Penn State’s first football game since a sex scandal rocked the university, some fans cried, swayed and hugged during a moment of silence for the alleged victims of sexual abuse.
The atmosphere was emotionally charged as players in State College, Pa., knelt for the prayer held mid-field before kickoff.
Saturday afternoon’s game, against Nebraska, was the first since Penn State’s head coach, Joe Paterno, was fired after a child-sex abuse scandal came to light involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Despite fears of a repeat of violence that erupted on campus Wednesday after Paterno’s firing, Saturday’s game unfolded peacefully, from the pre-game tailgating to the teams’ clash on the field.
Penn State’s team marched on the field, linking arms. And fans answered a call to wear blue, the color signifying the fight to prevent child abuse.
The game drew a huge crowd of more than 100,000, whose cheers were more frequent, if not more subdued. Penn State lost the game, whose final score was 17-14 though commentators noted the team showed “heart” in coming back from a rocky start. Both teams received an ovation as they left the field.
For the most part, fans appeared to embrace dueling sympathies: for the victims of abuse and for Paterno, who had served the school for some 60 years. “Joe Knows Football” was emblazoned on one fan’s sweatshirt, and a banner with the message, “This One Is for You Joe,” was held in the stands.
Meanwhile, donations for two child-abuse prevention organizations were accepted at the gates. And a sign reading “Stand As One” was also seen in the corner of the north end zone.
During the game, Paterno’s son, Jay, a normally low-key quarterbacks coach, punched the air and yelled, “Let’s go!” and high-fived fans on the way into the stadium, ESPN reports. A few players appeared to have tears in their eyes, and three wore shirts that read “Joe Knows Football.”
And after Penn State’s loss, Jay Paterno broke down in tears as he told ESPN, “Dad, I wish you were here.”
Sandusky was accused of molesting eight boys over 15 years, both before and after his retirement in 1999. He was indicted on 40 counts, including inappropriate touching and statutory rape, and university trustees this week fired Paterno and college president Graham Spanier for allegedly not doing enough to prevent the abuse on their watch.
• Reporting by RENNIE DYBALL