Penn State’s first stage of post-Paterno grief is a brief riot

Dr. Saturday

Heads up: Video in this post contains strong language.

There were two stages in State College Wednesday night in the wake of Joe Paterno's unceremonious ouster as Penn State's head coach, both of them equally dramatic, but for entirely different reasons.

Outside Paterno's house, it was a scene out of the Last Days of Richard Nixon, with the newly fired legend and his wife, Sue, greeting a crowd of reporters and well-wishers for the second night in a row. This occasion was more somber than Tuesday night's upbeat rally on the Paternos' lawn, coming a few hours after the 84-year-old had been informed via telephone that his 46-year tenure had just come to an abrupt end with three games still to play in the regular season. "Hey look, get a good night's sleep," he told the students. "Study, alright? We still got things to do."

Catching himself as he escorted his wife back inside, Paterno turned back to the crowd and added, "One thing: Pray a little bit for those kids" — the alleged victims of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, charged last week with more than 40 counts of sexual assault against underage males over more than a decade, at least one of which Paterno had been made specifically aware of. With that, he went in to face his first night without the title of "Penn State head coach" in 46 years.

Elsewhere, the reaction was slightly more… shall we say, volatile. Thousands of students rallied outside the administration building and took to the streets in and around campus, a few of them downing light posts, setting small fires and reportedly hurling rocks at cars, a fire engine and at least one person. At one point, a group overturned a television news truck and stood on top of it, yelling "We want Joe," among other, less coherent things. (In keeping with the theme, chants throughout the night included "F--- the media [clap-clap-clapclapclap].") Police outfitted in riot gear responded with orders to disperse and use of "a pepper-spray-like substance." After the crowds cleared, street signs littered the ground.

Still, the crowds and police managed to avoid any notable violence. Mostly, they yelled and chanted on Paterno's behalf, or simply stuck with the local standard, "Zombie Nation." A few — certainly a small minority, based on the sheer volume in favor of the coach — were out to support the board's decision, carrying signs that said "Paterno Is Not the Victim." Given the potential chaos that comes with thousands of angry college students taking to the streets in the middle of the night, conflict appears to have been kept to a minimum.

Communal venting in the books, now comes the hard part: Waking up on Thursday morning with a pillar of the university and the community since current students' grandparents were in college suddenly removed. Whatever physical damage the multitudes did tonight will be cleaned up, repaired and forgotten long before the collective goodwill of either one.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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