Some traveled over four hours. Others came from across the street. But everyone came for one reason — to honor the life of Joe Paterno on the one year anniversary of his death.
Despite the subzero wind chill, approximately 400 people made the trip to Heister Street in front of the famed mural that depicts the former coach. 409 candles lit up the sidewalk to symbolize all 409 of Paterno’s wins.
Young and old, student and alumni, townie and stranger all came together to honor a life and legacy of a man who gave so much to this town and university. Of course, there wasn’t much mention of what happened at its end, but that’s not why they were there.
Nor should they have been.
“We are all here as one big family to honor a great man,” said muralist Michael Pilato. “As Joe Paterno is looking down right now on 409…those victories aren’t for him, they’re for all the people whose lives he touched.”
There have been a lot of changes to this town since this time a year ago, and Pilato’s mural hasn’t been immune. He added a halo above Joe Paterno’s head and removed it at the request of the family. He added a blue ribbon to his chest and painted on a 409 decal to symbolize the former coach’s true win total. Some of the changes haven’t been without criticism, but Pilato has stayed true to his art and remains an ardent supporter of the Paterno family.
Pilato told one particular story last night that is worth remembering. When 1998 Penn State graduate, NAVY Seal, and Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy died in the line of duty in 2005, the first person to call his parents was Hillary Clinton. The second call came from Joe Paterno.
“That’s just the kind of guy Joe Paterno was,” Pilato said.
The crowd started small, but eventually crew to a level where police were forced to shut down the street. Aside from a few scattered TV crews and reporters looking for interviews, people remained silent. Parents held their children, who weren’t quite sure what was going on, but still remembered who that fiery Penn State coach from Brooklyn was. Students held their significant others, reflecting on where they were a year ago at this time.
But mostly, people stood in silent reflection.
What more could be said, really? A man’s legacy has likely never been debated more than Joe Paterno’s. Yesterday was not a time for that debate, though. It was a time for remembrance.
And if I know one thing, Joe Paterno’s life is something that will never be forgotten.