STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Football Saturday at Penn State long has been a cause for celebration, but Saturday's meeting with Nebraska at Beaver Stadium marks the first game since Dec. 4, 1965, that Joe Paterno has not been in place as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
Paterno's firing late Wednesday night in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky sparked a downtown riot by an estimated 5,000 students, who tipped over a TV van and committed other acts of vandalism. The question now is whether Saturday's game will serve as a vehicle for more displays of outrage or a starting point for the healing process.
Rod Erickson, who replaced Graham Spanier as president, had his "interim" tag removed Friday at a meeting of the 32-member board of trustees.
"This is a tragedy for many lives, and it will take some time to come to grips of the magnitude of all the damage that has been done," Erickson said. "We know we can do this. We are resilient. We are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years."
Erickson's first major decision as president was to place assistant football coach Mike McQueary on paid administrative leave rather than allow him to coach against Nebraska. In 2002, McQueary witnessed an alleged sexual assault by Sandusky on a boy McQueary estimated to be 10 years old and reported the incident to Paterno, who relayed the information to athletic director Tim Curley. As the whistle-blower and chief witness in the criminal investigation, McQueary had received death threats. "It was obvious he could not function in his role," Erickson said.
The 12th-ranked Nittany Lions (8-1) will be led by interim head coach Tom Bradley. If they win, the players reportedly plan to award a game ball to Paterno, who has a record 409 wins in 46 years as head coach.
Paterno's son Scott released a statement Friday announcing his father has retained attorney Wick Sollers from a Washington law firm to represent him in the ongoing investigation.
"My father . . . is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families," Scott Paterno said in the statement. "He also wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions.
"At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process . . . Mr. Sollers has directed my father, our family and everyone associated with us to make no further public statements and to respond to no media inquiries."
In other developments, the Moody's credit rating company warned Penn State its bond rating could be downgraded because of risks to its reputation and finances from the scandal. Also, Cars.com withdrew its sponsorship of PSU's games on Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN because of the sex-abuse allegations.
It was reported that two cinderblocks were thrown through a ground-floor window of Sandusky's home. Pleas for calm by the students were answered when a crowd approaching 10,000 showed up at Old Main, the administration building, for a silent vigil that set the tone for a somber weekend.