Bill Bailey and John Clendenin, both long-time Penn State football fans, woke up Monday morning and made the same drive they make on Saturdays in the fall.
The destination for the two season ticket holders, however, was not Beaver Stadium. Bailey, whose license plate reads “PSU409” and Clendenin, who wore a 409 button on the side of his “Joe Pa” hat, visited the Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery — the resting place of Joe Paterno.
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the former head coach’s death and even with his legacy stained, his statue removed and his wins vacated, Paterno's imprint on State College and the Penn State community remains noticeable.
Bailey and Clendenin, who both reside near Harrisburg, said they felt it necessary to take the time to pay their respects to the coach and placed flowers by his grave Monday afternoon.
“I’ve been a football fanatic since the 60s, and I’m a Packers fan. So, Joe Paterno was my Vince Lombardi,” Clendenin said. “He was my icon.”
The flowers were far from alone at the burial site of a man who has been in the news more since he died than most people are while alive. Dozens of mementos, along with a few signs — one of which read “Here lies the heart of the Lions” — beside Paterno’s gravestone were given a white coating Sunday afternoon as snow fell in central Pennsylvania.
Many views of Paterno have drastically shifted in the past 14-and-a-half months. The coach lost the job he held for 46 years last November, as he became a central figure in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. Last July, Paterno was pegged in a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh as one of four Penn State officials who failed to stop Sandusky.
On the six-month anniversary of his passing, Paterno’s seven-foot, 900-pound bronze statue was removed from outside Beaver Stadium. And the very next day, 111 of Paterno’s victories were vacated as part of the NCAA’s historic sanctions against Penn State.
While many opinions of Paterno have changed, there’s still affection for the coach in State College.
It doesn't take long to spot a “409” or “JVP” bumper sticker on cars driving along College Avenue, which was part of the route Paterno's funeral procession took last January. Clendenin donned a “God bless Joe Paterno” shirt under a Packers jacket Monday and like many Penn State fans, he said he has stocked up on Paterno merchandise in the last year.
Finding commodities of Paterno for sale is by no means a challenge in downtown State College. Almost every store that sells Penn State clothing has some sort of Paterno gear, whether it’s a T-shirt, car magnet or photo.
The store window for People’s Nation, 126 E. College Ave., had both a “409” (for the record number of wins Paterno had before the sanctions) and “Legends never die” shirts on display Monday. Inside, the selection was even greater and included one shirt that read “Joe knew football.”
People’s Nation owner Art Fine said there was an obvious spike in sales a year ago, but as time passed, Paterno merchandise wasn’t flying off the shelves.
“They were very popular at the time of his death, but that has subsided significantly as time went on,” Fine said. “Maybe there will be a rise [in sales] here for the one-year anniversary, but that’s the way it is. Life goes on.”
There is a painting of the late coach on the store window of Lion’s Pride, 112 E. College Ave., a store just a few doors down from People’s Nation. Paterno is depicted in what became his signature attire for game day, with his khakis rolled up and black shoes on his feet. In the painting, he has his back turned and there is a "409" sticker beside him.
Though Paterno is now credited with 298 wins in the official record books, the number 409 has become something to rally around for supporters of Paterno. Bailey noted he changed his license plate to commemorate the milestone because the number means a lot to him.
“[Vacating the wins] wasn’t right,” Bailey said. “I wanted to show my continued support. It wasn’t right to take those wins away from Joe and those players who earned it.”
Bailey made the switch of license plates after the sanctions, and John Lindo, owner of the off-campus Student Book Store, 330 E. College Ave., said that he has seen interest in buying Paterno-related merchandise whenever more news of the Penn State story broke.
“Dozens of people would come in after there was something in the news, so there was definitely a response there,” Lindo said. “But I never had anyone come in and tell me ‘You need to take all of this Joe stuff down.’ ”
While it’s difficult not to see images of Paterno downtown, that’s not the case across the street on Penn State’s campus.
The Paterno family’s name remains on the library in the heart of the campus, but there have not been many references to Paterno officially made by the school since his statue came down in the summer.
The football program and the school moved forward. Paterno’s successor, Bill O’Brien, ended up leading the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record and was recently named the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year — a national honor Paterno won in 1986.
When it was reported Paterno’s health had taken a turn for the worse on Jan. 21, 2012, fans used the site of his statue as a gathering place. Candles burned and tears were shed on a cold January night before Paterno died the following morning, not even a mile away.
This year, on Jan. 21, the former site of the statue was nothing but a snow-covered hill outside of a massive football stadium. As of the early afternoon, proof of a statue of the coach was non-existent.
Bailey and Clendenin, who are both Penn State fans but not alumni, said they planned on at least driving by the former site of Paterno’s statue on the west side of Beaver Stadium before they headed back home.
But they said they knew it wouldn’t be the same.