STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The equipment is put away for the winter.
The stadium will be empty for months.
The Nittany Lions aren't going anywhere.
And Joe Paterno's statue is still nowhere in sight.
But if you want to see for yourself what the NCAA's version of purgatory looks like, then by all means, come visit Happy Valley in the middle of another bowl season from which Penn State's football team has been banned. If nothing else, the locals will appreciate the business.
Some two years after Jerry Sandusky's name and stomach-turning deeds exploded in the headlines like a thunderclap, the reverberations ripple across this campus and community still — and will for years to come.
Several victims of Sandusky's serial sexual abuse continue to live nearby and the trials of three former Penn State administrators, as well as a handful of lawsuits over who shares the blame and how much, are wending their way through the courts. Meanwhile, Sandusky, who turns 70 next month, sits in a maximum-security prison three hours' drive west of here, serving a 30-to-60-year sentence.
Most townspeople, many alumni, faculty and students, and especially Paterno's family still chafe over the injustice of a university's reputation dragged through the mud, and a coach's legacy of wins and good deeds crumpled up and discarded like just so much litter.
Over the course of his 61 years at Penn State, Paterno became not just the face, but the cantankerous soul and benefactor of a school that was transformed from a "cow college" into a top-shelf public university. But to find any trace of him today, you either have to visit the library he and wife Sue raised funds to help build — where the family name remains etched in stone — or drive a few miles out of town, where a giant billboard juts out from the rolling landscape stubbornly proclaiming "Joe Paterno, 409 wins" in Penn State's famously spare blue and white color scheme.
Others, of course, think that punishment and all the others piled upon the school and a football program that outsiders judged to be running amok weren't nearly harsh enough.
"This summer I spoke to a group near Wilkes-Barre and afterward, the debate heated up over our family's lawsuit," said Jay Paterno, sitting in a booth at The Corner Room, a restaurant that looks much as it did when his late father began eating breakfast there as an assistant coach in the 1950s.
"I said a few things I believed at the outset and still do: This was about a very calculating child predator, not as the narrative that was created put it, the product of some 'out-of-control football culture.' He could have done what he did anywhere, and come from any walk of life; unfortunately, it's probably going on somewhere while we're sitting here. ...
"We're not pursuing (the lawsuit) to get scholarships restored earlier, or get back to a bowl game faster, or just to clear my dad's name and Penn State's. ... But before long, some people on the other side started arguing loudly, 'Support the truth, not just Penn State football!'
"Believe me," Paterno added with some resignation, "I know how those arguments end. ... So all I said, finally, was the 'truth' and what Penn State football stood for — and still stands for — are not mutually exclusive."
This may be the most surprising thing that happened in the aftermath of Sandusky's indictment and arrest in November 2011:
Few people on either side expect the debate to quiet down in any meaningful way until the trials of former Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for finance Gary Schultz — all accused of trying to cover up the scandal at the time — are completed. But nearly everyone agrees that one group at Penn State has already moved on.
Against the odds, and despite being hamstrung by some of the most onerous sanctions the NCAA ever handed down, the Nittany Lions football team has won back a measure of respect and more than its fair share of games, posting 8-4 and 7-5 seasons under coach Bill O'Brien.
If anything, the job should get easier from here on out, especially after NCAA president Mark Emmert said in September some scholarships would be restored as early as next season, and that the four-year bowl ban could be modified as well. The biggest danger to the program at the moment, in fact, are persistent reports that O'Brien is listening to overtures to return to the NFL, this time as a head coach.
Should it happen, athletic director Dave Joyner's first rebuilding experience will come in handy.
"When I came over here from the board (of trustees), my goal was not to drive the ship forward," he said. "It was to keep it from sinking.
"I gathered the staff early on and said, 'Forget whether what happened was fair. You can't do a thing about it. And no matter what you think about the guidelines we're now operating under, deal with what's been handed you to the best of your abilities ...'
"In one sense, our mission hadn't changed: to make this place as good as it can be," he continued. "But from a practical standpoint, the only way we could convince the NCAA and everybody else looking in we were sincere was to follow through in good faith on every recommendation that crossed my desk."
Joyner's task was made easier by the addition of an independent, full-time athletic integrity officer, a first in college sports, and a beefed-up compliance staff that is now second to none. For all that, he never doubted which of his hires would draw the most scrutiny.
"When we started looking for a successor, I figured, 'We can make a mistake on the win-loss side, because nobody will expect much right away," said Joyner, coincidentally part of Paterno's first recruiting class in 1966. "But I knew we couldn't make a mistake on the kind of person we hired. Considering what he was stepping into, he had to be tough."
O'Brien arrived with sterling credentials; apprenticeships coaching at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, followed by five years as an NFL assistant on Bill Belichick's staff in New England, where he rose through the ranks to become offensive coordinator.
"A few days before we announced the hiring, I was watching a Patriots game, and I see Bill walk down the sideline, stop in front of Tom Brady, and start yelling. And I'm thinking, 'He's yelling at Tom Brady! Tom Brady! Who's maybe only the best quarterback ever!'
"Right about then," Joyner recalled, "I said to myself, 'We got the right guy. He's plenty tough enough.'"
He needed to be, of course. Because of the sanctions, the program he inherited was undercut by the defections of the team's best running back, top receiver and its front-line kicker — more than a dozen players in all.
But O'Brien might be the last guy you'll catch feeling sorry for himself. His young son, Jack, suffers seizures upon awakening every morning and has limited motor skills due to a rare genetic brain malformation called lissencephaly.
Indeed, the O'Briens are battlers, and the coach brought that same attitude from home to work every day, patiently turning the Nittany Lions' weaknesses into strengths. When Silas Redd took most of Penn State's running game with him by transferring to Southern California, O'Brien drew on his experience at New England and turned former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin into an NFL-ready one. After kicker Sam Ficken missed four field goals, including a potential game-winner, O'Brien refused to blame the inexperienced backup and instead had the Nittany Lions try to convert fourth downs in a variety of unlikely situations. His players loved that, and returned every show of loyalty in kind.
"When those things first happened, Coach told us flat-out we wouldn't come out on the other side of the experience unscathed," said John Urschel, a fifth-year senior and All-Big Ten guard who was shoe-horning workouts for the NFL draft combine in between classes to finish a second master's degree. "But the other thing he promised us was an experience we'd never forget."
A day earlier, Urschel was in New York to receive the Campbell Trophy, awarded annually to the nation's top student-athlete. When Joe Paterno used his next-to-last recruiting slot on Urschel five years ago, it was a typical Penn State pick; back then, Urschel was more likely to wind up as a math teacher than an NFL lineman. Now, if he chooses, Urschel can do both.
"I'm forever indebted to Coach Paterno for the opportunity to prove myself, and Coach O'Brien for teaching me what perseverance really means. From the time you're little, you always hear from your parents, your uncles and coaches how important it is to honor commitments," he said. "But as soon as things got tough around here, some guys packed up and ran. ...
"A few of us talked about that before our last game. We went up to Wisconsin as 25-point underdogs and we knew we weren't going to a bowl no matter how it turned out. But you know what?" he paused, chuckling softly. "We were determined to go out on the right note — and we did."
Penn State outlasted the Badgers, 31-24, on Nov. 30, ending O'Brien's second season with a strong surge that pushed him right into recruiting season.
"We've said the same thing for two years," O'Brien said after the win. "Our guys, they practice hard, and they love to play."
There was plenty of celebrating up and down College Avenue and at all kinds of other campus gatherings that night. Truth be told, most days and nights the mood at Penn State isn't any different from college campuses all over America.
"What happened here two years ago, at least as far as most students are concerned, is more like an undercurrent than a regular conversation topic. The only time it comes up, for the most part, is when someone asks," said Kevin Horn, a senior who does much of the writing and editing for "Onward State," one of Penn State's smarter, if sometimes-snarky blogs.
"Most students know who Joe Paterno was, they didn't read the Freeh report and they don't know the history or follow developments in the trials or the ongoing wrestling match for control of the board. So when I go home, or wear my Penn State stuff in the airport and someone asks what's going on at Penn State now, I just say, 'The beer is still cold, the girls are still hot and students still go to classes every once in a while.'
"It's easier," Horn concluded, "and let's be honest. It's kind of late in the game to change most people's minds."
Earlier on HuffPost:
Former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, 67, is charged with more than 50 counts of child sex-abuse involving 10 boys he met through The Second Mile, a children's charity he founded. The accusations of abuse span from 1994 to 2006. He was initially arrested on Nov. 5, 2011. A grand jury had begun investigating Sandusky in 2010. He would be arrested a second time in December.
Gary Schultz, Tim Curley Charged With Lying To Grand Jury
On Nov. 7, 2011, Gary Schultz, the vice president of Penn State, left, and the school's athletic director, Tim Curley, right, are brought up on charges for lying to a grand jury about what they knew of Sandusky's criminal actions and failing to properly <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/breaking/penn-states-curley-schultz-held-for-trial-on-perjury-charges-224540/" target="_hplink">report suspected child abuse</a>. The day before, they both left their positions at the school after school officials held an emergency meeting to discuss the sex abuse scandal.
Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier Fired
Joe Paterno, Penn State's then-beloved Hall of Fame head football coach, is fired four days after Sandusky's arrest and mere hours after he announced his retirement would occur at the end of his 46th season that year. Penn State's Board of <a href="http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7214380/joe-paterno-president-graham-spanier-penn-state" target="_hplink">Trustees fired Paterno and Graham Spanier</a>, the university's president, on Nov. 9, 2011 due to the growing outrage over Sandusky's sexual crimes.
Penn State Students Swarm The Streets
Penn Staters took to the streets by the thousands in outrage over JoePa's firing. They <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/10/penn-state-riot-tv-van-tipped-video_n_1085459.html" target="_hplink">toppled a news truck of a local TV station</a> in anger over how they felt the media was handling the scandal.
McQueary Placed On Administrative Leave, Receives Death Threats
Penn State's assistant coach Mike McQueary testified to the grand jury in December 2010 that he saw Sandusky sodomize a naked boy of about 10 years old in the football team's locker room shower in 2001 [though the documents were allowed to be altered, he initially alleges this incident occurred in 2002]. The grand jury found his testimony to be more credible than the testimonies of both Curley and Schultz, who as a result of his testimony, were brought up on perjury charges. On Nov. 11, 2011, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/bigten/story/2011-11-11/penn-state-child-abuse-scandal/51167796/1" target="_hplink">Penn State placed McQueary on administrative leave</a>, a day after the school said a number of threats had been made against the assistant coach. While on leave, McQueary would later change his story in emails to friends, saying that he had stopped Sandusky from abusing the boy when he saw it and that he had also reported the abuse to police. The local and campus police denied his statements.
The Second Mile Breaks Down
On Nov. 13, <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/psu/second-mile-agencys-legacy-explored-325659/" target="_hplink">The Second Mile, the charity organization for troubled boys Sandusky began</a> and also where he found nearly all of his sexual abuse victims saw its President and CEO, Jack Raykovitz, retire after serving 27 years in that role. On, May 25, 2012, the sex abuse scandal left the charity in a failing financial situation. Second Mile officials began seeking court approval to shut down its programs and transfer to a Texas-based youth ministry dedicated to helping abused and neglected children.
Jerry Sandusky's Phone Interview With Bob Costas
NBC News anchor Brian Williams, left, talks with Bob Costas about <a href="http://rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/14/8804779-jerry-sandusky-to-bob-costas-in-exclusive-rock-center-interview-i-shouldnt-have-showered-with-those-kids" target="_hplink">Costas' interview with Jerry Sandusky</a> during NBC News' "Rock Center With Brian Williams" on Nov. 14, 2011. Sandusky's interview drew further outrage and skepticism from the public in response to his answer to Costas question of whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys. Sandusky's answer was, after a pause, "I enjoy young people. I love to be around them, but no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys." The interview was originally between Costas and an attorney for Sandusky, but Sandusky abruptly called in and participated in the interview by phone.
Sandusky Sued Over Abusing Young Boy 'Over 100 Times'
On Nov. 30, 2011, civil charges are brought against Jerry Sandusky, The Second Mile and Penn State from a victim, known at the time as John Doe (now known as Travis Weaver), 29, claiming he was <a href="http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/12/01/41859.htm" target="_hplink">sexually abused by Sandusky over 100 times from the age of 10 to 14</a>. He also said that Sandusky threatened his family to prevent him from speaking out about the abuse. His attorney Jeff Anderson (pictured) addresses the media during a news conference that same day in Philadelphia, saying he believed Sandusky could not control his sexual impulses toward children and harshly criticized officials who failed to report their suspicions.
Paterno Gives Final Interview
Before dying of lung cancer in January, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/joe-paternos-first-interview-since-the-penn-state-sandusky-scandal/2012/01/13/gIQA08e4yP_story.html" target="_hplink">Paterno gave his final interview</a> on Jan. 14 with the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins. She asked JoePa about Sandusky: <blockquote>He maintains his innocence. If Sandusky is guilty, "I'm sick about it," Paterno said. How Sandusky, 67, allegedly evaded detection by state child services, university administrators, teachers, parents, donors and Paterno himself remains an open question. "I wish I knew," Paterno said. "I don't know the answer to that. It's hard." Almost as difficult for Paterno to answer is the question of why, after receiving a report in 2002 that Sandusky had abused a boy in the shower of Penn State's Lasch Football Building, and forwarding it to his superiors, he didn't follow up more aggressively. "I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," he said. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."</blockquote>
Paterno Dies: Students, Family Mourn Loss
At age 85, <a href="http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7489238/joe-paterno-ex-penn-state-nittany-lions-coach-dies-85-2-month-cancer-fight" target="_hplink">JoePa dies of lung cancer</a> surrounded by family on Sunday, Jan. 22 in a State College, Pa. hospital.
Sandusky Is Convicted Pedophile
A jury <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/22/jerry-sandusky-guilty-verdict_n_1616479.html?utm_hp_ref=jerry-sandusky" target="_hplink"> convicts Jerry Sandusky</a> of 45 counts of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years on June 22. He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, though Sandusky said he plans to appeal.
Matt Sandusky Claims Father Abused Him
Matt Sandusky, right, adopted son of Jerry Sandusky, releases a statement saying <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/matt-sandusky-jerry-adopted-son-father-abused_n_1617063.html" target="_hplink">his father sexually abused him</a> as an 8-year-old boy. Matt Sandusky makes the announcement on the same day Jerry is convicted by a jury of 45 counts of sexually abusing 10 others boys.
Freeh Report Releases To Public
Former FBI director Louis Freeh releases a report on July 12 of his investigation into "who knew what, when" in the Penn State scandal. Freeh's investigation reveals top Penn State officials, including Spanier and Paterno, as well as coaches, janitors, psychologists and campus police were aware of the allegations against Sandusky. All failed to take action. Emails and documents showed discussions over what to do about Sandusky, eventually deciding not to report or confront him. Freeh said the most "saddening and sobering" finding from his group's report into the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/freeh-report-penn-state-coverup-joe-paterno-jerry-sandusky_n_1667727.html" target="_hplink">Penn State senior leaders' "total disregard" for the safety and welfare of the ex-coach's child victims</a>.
Three New Accusers Allege Sandusky Abused Them
On July 16, media outlets reported that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/penn-state-scandal-new-sandusky-accusers_n_1677178.html" target="_hplink">three new victims allege that Sandusky sexually abused them in the '70s and '80s</a>. They are the only alleged victims to claim Sandusky committed criminal sexual acts prior to 1994. Louis Freeh said in a press conference July 12 that his team investigated Sandusky's actions in the '70s and '80s but found nothing of substantial importance during those decades relating to Sandusky's pedophilia.
Paterno Family, Spanier Reject Freeh Findings
In the days after the Freeh Report's release,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/graham-spanier-penn-state-freeh-report_n_1678158.html?utm_hp_ref=college" target="_hplink"> Paterno's family and Graham Spanier have issued statements rejecting</a> the Freeh investigation's findings. The Paterno family has announced it will launch its own investigation of sex abuse scandal and Penn State officials handling of the matter. Spanier, left, has also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/jerry-sandusky-scandal-graham-spanier-penn-state-knew_n_1663549.html" target="_hplink">filed a civil lawsuit against Penn State</a> for not releasing his old emails so he could prepare for the Freeh investigation.