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The Joe Paterno Tribute You (Probably) Never Noticed

If you stuck around through the end of ESPN’s “The Paterno Legacy” this week, you might’ve been surprised by a brief interview highlighting a downtown tribute to the late Penn State coach.

Along South Fraser Street, you’ll spot a multicolored wall beneath the entrance to Target and Federal Taphouse. There, mixed in between navy blue tiles, are hundreds of colored tiles — 409, to be exact. Each represents the school colors of a team Penn State defeated under Joe Paterno’s watch throughout his storied coaching career.

“It’s essentially a dedication to those 409 wins,” said Gary Brandeis, who helped develop the Fraser Centre complex in 2016 and spearheaded the mural’s creation. “We carefully curated the tile colors to match the team color that the win represented.”

Via ESPN’s “The Paterno Legacy”

Brandeis, a 1988 Penn State graduate, says perhaps 99% of people who walk by the mural aren’t aware of its significance. The inclusion of art on the side of the retaining wall is required under the borough’s building codes, but Brandeis sought to give the project a greater significance than a simple code fulfillment.

“We didn’t really tell anybody. We didn’t put up a plaque,” he said in ESPN’s documentary. “We certainly weren’t hiding it, but we weren’t seeking any sort of recognition for it. It was a subtle tribute, a subtle reminder to the success the team had, the coach had, and what it meant to the community.”

Brandeis said more proper recognition for the mural (likely through a plaque) could come to fruition if the Penn State community’s relationship with Paterno were to settle itself. For now, he says the low-key tribute works just fine.

The often-overlooked tribute to Paterno isn’t new. In fact, it was featured at length by the Centre County Gazette back in 2019. However, it’s clear that ESPN’s inclusion of it in this month’s documentary has revitalized interest in the subtle nod to Paterno’s record-breaking wins.

So, the next time you stroll down South Fraser, make sure to take a closer look at that colorful mural. After all, it’s packed with Penn State history.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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