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A visit to Joe Paterno's grave in Happy Valley

September 01, 2012|By Chris Dufresne
  • The humble grave site of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in State College, Pa.
The humble grave site of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in… (Chris Dufresne / Los Angeles…)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It was sort of surreal standing next to Joe Paterno's grave here not far from Beaver Stadium.

It was nothing like what you imagined Paterno's final resting place would be. It was across the street from a golf course -- Paterno didn't play golf.

He is buried in Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery (established 1794). Paterno was raised Catholic.

Finding Paterno took some time. There were no tour guides pointing the way. In fact, a lady at a local store told a visiting reporter the cemetery was closed to the public. It was not.

Paterno's grave seemed remarkably unpretentious for a man so famous. It is tucked in the corner, facing some trees. There was no upstanding tombstone, just a simple plaque stating that Joe Vincent Paterno lived from 1926 to 2012. Next to Paterno was the name Suzanne Pohland, born 1940. Joe's wife will someday join him there.

The quote on Paterno's headstone was the one he recited to me years ago when I visited the Penn State coach on the eve of his 400th win.

Paterno said it was one of his favorites, from Robert Browning: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"  

The grave was somewhat untended. Paterno died in January. The winter seemed to have taken a toll on some of the flowers and trinkets left in his honor.

There was a Wilson football, and a sign that said, "Joe Paterno: Penn State's Spirit in the Sky." Someone left a note that read: "Coach, You've done all you've been asked to do and even some more. Go ahead and rest, we'll take it from here."

It was surreal standing there thinking all that had happened to Paterno and Penn State since he ran out onto the field last September for the Indiana State opener.

Who could have fathomed such a 12 months?

It's a new, strange day, in Happy Valley. Penn State took the field for warm-ups at 11 a.m. with Bill O'Brien as head coach.

I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed these were "O'Brien's Lions."

Yeah, things have changed.

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