Penn State Loses First Game In Post-Paterno Era

Today marks the first day that Penn State's football team played a game without legendary head coach Joe Paterno since 1950. The long-time coach was fired earlier this week as a result of a university scandal involving Paterno's former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky who has been charged with 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys. NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Penn State on student and fan reaction after a bitter loss to 19th ranked Nebraska.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

RODNEY ERICKSON: This has been one of the saddest weeks in the history of Penn State, and my heart goes out to those who have been victimized. I share your anger and sorrow. Although we cannot go back to business as usual, our university must move forward.

LYDEN: That's the voice of Rodney Erickson, the interim president of Penn State. Today, the school's football team played its very first game without coach Joe Paterno since 1950. The team lost to 19th ranked Nebraska, a bitter end to an emotional week in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal, involving Paterno's former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. James Fallows of The Atlantic will join us in a moment.

First, let's turn to NPR's Jeff Brady, who joins us from Penn State. Jeff, the game is over. You're there on campus. What's going on there now?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Well, folks are just leaving the stadium. Penn State lost to Nebraska, 14-17. And I was up in the stands and fans were really hoping during the fourth quarter that Penn State was going to come back and win this. A lot of people wanted to see a win after the difficulties of last week. But that just didn't happen. It's pretty somber mood here. It was even before this lost. A lot of folks dressed in blue. And that was by design.

And people were really looking for ways to express themselves. I noticed Penn State and Nebraska fans really seem to want to be extra nice to each other. And we saw this out on the field too. Just as the game was beginning, both teams walked out onto the field instead of ran and they met in the middle of the field. Each player went down on one knee and they appeared to be praying. Up in the stands, Penn State fan Tanya Zygmunt Jones really liked this.

TANYA ZYGMUNT JONES: I think it was beautiful to see these teams come together. It was a sobering moment where it became not about football but about humanity.

LYDEN: So, Jeff, that's obviously quite a contrast to what took place on Wednesday night when there were these violent protests on campus. What did fans say to you today?

BRADY: Well, you know, a lot of folks want to make sure that everyone knows that that was a small minority of the Penn State community who were protesting that night. But folks here really just wanted to be very nice to each other. A lot of different opinions about whether or not Joe Paterno should have lost his job.

I talked with one person out in the parking lot before the game. His name is Christopher Curran. And he says that being a Penn Stater is a big part of his identity, and so the past week was really difficult for him.

CHRISTOPHER CURRAN: It's been one of the worst weeks of my life. It's been the worst week since my dad died 10 years ago. And I want to go in and pay tribute to 20 seniors that worked their you-know-whats off for the past four years and have given me a lot of enjoyment watching them and I want to pay them back.

LYDEN: Jeff, I imagine a lot of people were disappointed, hoping on a win to kind of relieve this dark mood.

BRADY: Yeah. You know, a lot of the Penn State fans that I talked to came here almost determined to have fun. And they, you know, went through all of the motions, reciting the cheers, dressing up for their team and their colors and, of course, drinking beer. But there's just a damper on things. And everyone I talked to said it just doesn't really feel like a normal game, especially the final home game of the year. And overall, I think that people really just want things to be like they were. But, of course, after last week, that's just not possible.

LYDEN: NPR's Jeff Brady. He joined us from Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus. Jeff, thank you very much.

BRADY: Thank you.

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