Paterno, Spanier visit stadium camp

Michael Robinson and about 15 other football players visit Paternoville.


Shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday, their ringleader finally arrived.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, accompanied by Penn State President Graham Spanier, touched down at the site of college football's most fanatic ground at the moment: Camp Nittany, casually dubbed Paternoville.

And the camp erupted.

It was only Wednesday -- still three days before the Nittany Lions kickoff against Ohio State, but the 78-year-old coach and Spanier stopped by for a few special moments to meet and greet the students who have positioned themselves in front of Beaver Stadium's student entrance since the beginning of the week.

As soon as Paterno stepped out of a silver BMW, decked out in a blue blazer and tan slacks, the mob greeted him with chants of "Joe Pa," "Joe Pa."

"I can't do a lot of signing," Paterno said to the masses. "You guys are great."

Paterno did happen to make his way over to a sign put up by the first group of students to camp out. It fittingly read "Paternoville." The night before, freshman wideouts Justin King, Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood dropped by the site to put their signatures on it. A few minutes before Paterno stopped by, running back Rodney Kinlaw, linebacker Tim Shaw and former Penn State offensive coordinator Fran Ganter also came out to meet the fans.

Now it was the headliner's turn.

Dan Clark (freshman-architectural engineering), a member of the Paternoville group, said their goal is to get every Penn State coach and football player to sign the banner.

"We decided that it'd be a great thing if somebody, alumni, would love to pay for these autographs, just to remember the week," Clark said. "Hopefully we can get someone to buy this and raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund and [the Interfraternity/Panhellenic Dance Marathon]."

Their group is just one of more than three dozen that has now called Gate A their home for the remainder of the week.

The earliest of the fans have been there since Sunday evening, sensing the urge to ensure prime seats for Saturday's matchup with the Buckeyes.

"If they have to sleep out here, we have to do a better job," Paterno said to Spanier. "The way they're going, they're not gonna graduate."

Beth Chappell, producer for ESPN's morning show Cold Pizza , was on hand to capture the scene. Chappell has traveled around the country taking in images similar to this, but when she found out some of the extremes Penn State students have amounted to over the past week, it blew her away.

"Students like this, coming Sunday night, no, I have never heard of that," Chappell said. "That's unique."

"They said they noticed that the team practices every day. It's the least they could do to cheer them on and to try to prove to Ohio State that this is a tough place to play, instead of just fun."

But for now, it was all fun. There were cowbells. There were chants of every kind and free pizza was even delivered to the students by a couple of local restaurants. Clark's group is even thinking about creating a "thank you" sign for the number of establishments that have donated food for the campers.

Before leaving the grounds, Paterno had one more word with the students. He didn't make any promises about the game. Maybe it just wasn't the time for bold predictions. His last words were just to show the students how much they mean to Penn State.

"I want you kids to know how much we appreciate you," Paterno said. "Have fun and behave."