NBCPhiladelphia.com - Rosemary Connors
The Nittany Lions prepare for their final home game of the season and their first since the child sex abuse allegations against their former assistant coach.
In many ways it seems like any other football game.
Fans came out bright and early to Beaver Stadium on Saturday as they normally do. There was tailgating and football-related conversation. During player introductions, the crowd roared and screamed with excitement. All typical components of a big Penn State match-up.
But there were also things that suggested something was different. A sea of blue shirts rather than the traditional white. Cars passing by with the words “for the victims.” Shirts with the words “thank you Joe.” A larger than normal crowd gathered around the Joe Paterno statue snapping pictures.
All of these things are indicative of a startling reality. Saturday’s game isn’t just the final home game of the season. It’s the first game for the Nittany Lions since one of the biggest scandals in sports history was brought to national attention.
Instead of wearing white, Penn State fans are wearing blue in honor of the victims. There was a moment of silence before the game and both Nebraska and Penn State gathered on the field to kneel and pray for those most affected by the scandal.
On Friday, students gathered in front of the Old Main building for a vigil in the center of campus. The students at the vigil claimed that the peaceful and solemn vibe of the night was the true reflection of their school rather than the rioting witnessed earlier in the week.
“This is absolutely Penn State pride,” said Betty Walker of Wynnewood. “I think Penn State means a lot more than what we’ve seen on the news and what we’ve seen in the riot footage. We are Penn State and we are better than what’s been going on.”
“I’m really glad that we could all come together and focus our attention on something positive which is support for those victims that have been hurt so badly,” said Rebecca Miller, a Junior.
The actual participants of Saturday's game also shared their thoughts.
“This is huge,” said PSU defensive lineman Jordan Hill. “We just got to go out there and win.”
“It would definitely make Joe proud if we could put all these distractions aside and just go out there and play ball just like we’ve been doing this whole season,” said quarterback Rob Bolden. “Winning these next few games will prove a lot to Penn State and will definitely help this campus right now.”
The team left the first seat on their game day bus open in honor of Paterno, who isn't with them during a home game for the first time in 46 years. If they win, they say they plan on carrying the game ball to Paterno’s home which is just a short walk from Beaver Stadium.
With all the growing chaos caused by the scandal's continuous developments, the main theme of Saturday's game appears to be a simple one: support. Support for the victims, support for the players and just like any other game, support for the team.