As fans gather around Beaver Stadium in anticipation of Saturday's long-awaited season opener, the overall mood around Penn State football is that of pride, perseverance and support -- for both the current and former coach.
Hours before the official beginning of the Bill O'Brien era, tailgaters are tossing footballs through the parking lots, setting up their cooking stations and readying themselves for the new Nittany Lions' debut against Ohio at noon. Many are wearing "We Bill-ieve" shirts, endorsing Penn State's new leader, O'Brien, who is the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, and who has the been a steadying force within the program for nine months.
Though the statue of Hall of Famer Joe Paterno -- O'Brien's predecessor -- was removed July 22, the day before the NCAA announced the sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, many fans still hold Paterno in high regard and are unafraid to show it. One tailgater, in fact, has a 16-foot, homemade banner that reads "409 wins with honor," referring to Paterno's victory total. Other fans are wearing shirts that read "We Are ... Still Proud".
At 9:10 a.m., students began to enter the stadium.