After week's turmoil Penn State finally plays

(AP) - The Nebraska and Penn State playersgathered at midfield before the game, kneeling together for a longmoment in a quiet stadium.

Sometimes, the most powerful statements are the simplest.

Saturday's game was a combination of pep rally, cleansing andtribute for a Penn State community rocked by the child sex-abusescandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky that cost JoePaterno his job.

"We've had better weeks in our lives, obviously," Jay Paterno,the quarterbacks coach, said after the game. "The world's kind ofturned upside down, but I think our kids were resilient."

Asked about what he said to his parents in a letter deliveredearlier in the day, the son choked up:

"Just how proud of them I am, and, Dad, I wish you were here."

He walked away from the cameras just as the tears started toflow.

Affection for Penn State and Paterno was abundantly visible fromplayers, fans and, yes, coaches. So was support for abuse victims.Beaver Stadium was awash in blue - the color associated withchild-abuse prevention - right down to the flags that accompaniedthe band, and more than $22,000 was collected for charities thatsupport prevention of child abuse.

"We wanted to demonstrate, not just in the Penn State communitybut to rest of world, that Penn State is a caring community," newpresident Rod Erickson said afterward. "That Penn State will moveforward with a sense of purpose. And that, hopefully, there areelements of good that can come out of situation we found ourselvesin this past week."

All that was missing was a victory.

After falling behind 17-0, No. 12 Penn State rallied with twosecond-half touchdowns, sending the crowd of 107,903 - largest ofthe year at Beaver Stadium - into a frenzy. But the Nittany Lionsfell short on their last two drives, and the game ended on anincomplete pass by Matt McGloin.

When the last whistle sounded, several Penn State players tookoff their helmets and stared at the ground. A few Nebraska playersjumped in the air but their celebration was subdued, as if mindfulof the torturous week the home team had endured.

As the Penn State players disappeared into the tunnel for thelast time this season, fans let out one more rousing cheer of, "Weare ... Penn State!"

"It's therapy," Dave Young, a lifelong Penn State fan, saidbefore the game. "I love Penn State football, always will lovePenn State football. Tough week, cried in my office a couple timeswhen I had moments to myself.

"But now it's time to release and watch the football game andenjoy it."

Instead of sprinting onto the field, the Penn State team marchedout arm-in-arm through a corridor formed by the band and theFootball Lettermen Club. They then gathered with the Nebraskaplayers, a scene normally reserved for after games.

"Lord, we know we don't have control of all these events thattook place this week. But we do know that you are bigger than itall," Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said in the pregameprayer.

Once the game got under way, it was like any other Saturday atBeaver Stadium - except for the guy in charge of the home team, ofcourse.

It was the first time in 46 years that Paterno was not leadingthe Nittany Lions, but his presence was still very much evident.When his image was shown in a video montage before the second halfkicked off, the student section chanted, "Joe Paterno! JoePaterno!" Cheers of "JoePa! JoePa!" rang out early in the fourthquarter.

The Nittany Lions' first play was a fullback run up the middle -old school, just like JoePa.

On the Penn State sideline, another Paterno paced back andforth.

Interim coach Tom Bradley decided to leave Joe Paterno's placeon the team bus empty. So it was Jay, not Joe, following thestarting quarterback off the bus when it arrived at the stadium.

The normally low-key son pumped his fist and shouted, "Let'sgo!" He high-fived passers-by on the way into the stadium, andseveral staffers gave him an encouraging embrace before he enteredthe locker room. Several players appeared to have tears in theireyes, and three wore shirts that said, "Joe Knows Football."

"Once we got here and the juices started to flow, I wasfocused," Jay Paterno said. "That's the way we've been trained.Joe was always telling us about the blue line of practice. When youcross the blue line, the only thing you can control is what you'redoing right there."

But this Saturday was about more than football.

It was about picking up the pieces.

"Maybe today is the start of this healing process," Bradleysaid.

Sandusky, once considered Paterno's heir apparent, is accused ofsexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span, with several ofthe alleged assaults occurring on Penn State property. Twouniversity officials are accused of perjury, and Paterno andpresident Graham Spanier were fired for not doing enough to act ona 2002 report that Sandusky sodomized a young boy in the showers ofthe campus football complex.

The scandal would be damaging enough to a university that pridesitself on its integrity. That it involved Paterno, major collegefootball's winningest coach and the man who'd come to symbolize allthat was good at Penn State, made it that much worse.

Thousands of angry students paraded through the streets afterPaterno was fired Wednesday night, some throwing rocks and bottlesand tipping over a TV news van. While the anger has waned, thefondness for Paterno has not.

Several students were dressed as Paterno - rolled-up khakis,white socks and thick, dark glasses - and an entire family woreshirts that read "We (Heart) JoePa."

At Joe Paterno's house nearby, a small clutch of TV cameras andreporters stood outside. A pair of people walked to the door, rangthe doorbell and left after no one answered. On the lawn were apair of homemade signs - one read "We Love You Joe, Thank You"the other "Thanks Joe" - facing his house. Nearby a smallAmerican flag had been planted in the yard of the house.

Though police promised a heavy presence to prevent a recurrenceof the violence that occurred Wednesday night, all seemed calm. Theparking lots were filled with fans grilling out, tossing footballsand soaking up the beauty of the warm, late fall morning.

"It's heartbreaking and sad and almost surreal. You can't getit out of your head for more than a minute. I'm sure just abouteveryone here feels the same way," Emmie Fay said as she glancedat the fellow tailgaters.

"But we're here because we love the school and believe in it."

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