Galen Hall said that he hasn't read the grand jury presentment against Jerry Sandusky. Nor does he care to yet. "From what I understand," Penn State's offensive coordinator said, "it's really bad."
But at noon Saturday, Hall and his team crossed what his former boss called the blue line, the place where football begins and real life -- even the "really bad" -- ends.
"I don't want to make you think that football overshadows, if it was, the abuse and those kids," Hall said. "I don't even want you to think that. That's horrific. But at a certain point today, at 12:04, we had to make sure we were focused for our players and give them the best chance to win. That's what we're about."
Nebraska's 17-14 victory Saturday at Beaver Stadium marked the beginning of a new world for Penn State football, which clearly is struggling to let go of the old one. It also spotlighted a university that seeks to apologize for whatever role it played in the Sandusky scandal.
Rodney Erickson, Penn State's interim president, called the game an appropriate time to "bring national attention to the problem of sexual abuse." A pre-game moment of silence, a midfield prayer attended by both teams and donation collections across Beaver Stadium were significant parts of that statement. As was Penn State's entrance into the stadium, a slow, arm-in-arm walk that mirrored the solemnity of Friday night's on-campus vigil.
"This was the way to do it," Erickson said.
Penn State captain Devon Still had the inspiration for the entrance, which he felt "made the statement that we are all together." The prayer, led by Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown, was agreed upon by both teams. Before it, Tom Bradley, Penn State's interim coach, made a point to find Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. "I want Bo next to me," Bradley said.
"We know that there are jobs being lost, and who knows what's going to happen at Penn State, particularly in the upcoming months?" Brown said. "And yet, there was a humility and sincerity, and kind of a vulnerability of all these players.
"But then the other thing that hit me was the fans. It was loud and cheering when the players were coming together, but then it got really quiet, and I almost felt everyone in the stadium could hear it. And for 100,000 people to instantly hush, I say that's the favor of God."
The crowd, in fact, was 107,903, Penn State's largest of the season. It alternated between funereal silence, jittery cheers and, yes, some boos, particularly when Nebraska scored just before halftime. Despite their attempts to accept the situation, players said they were unable to find it normal.
"I don't think, losing a legend like that, you can get anywhere close to being back to normal," Still said. "But I do think you can face adversity and overcome it."
Despite his absence, Joe Paterno had an overwhelming presence. Because of the injuries he sustained before and during the season, Paterno rode to the stadium separate from the team this year. Nevertheless, Bradley rode in his customary spot on Bus 2, leaving Paterno's seat at the front of Bus 1 symbolically vacant.
Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, who coached from the sideline for the first time since 1993, dropped off a letter to his parents Saturday morning. He also picked a jacket out of his father's closet to wear to the game.
Jay Paterno called it "a little symbolic." He also said he was unaware that the jacket was the same one his father wore the day Penn State beat Ohio State for the coach's 324th win, passing Paul 'Bear' Bryant in the process. During his brief morning visit, Jay Paterno asked his father whether he even should coach.
"He said, 'You owe it to the kids, you owe it to Penn State. That's how I raised you,'" Jay Paterno said.
After the game, Bradley admitted that the tumult of the week created not only emotional chaos but also strategic issues. Receivers coach Mike McQueary, testified to the grand jury that he witnessed Sandusky allegedly molesting a boy in 2002, watched the game from afar after being placed on administrative leave. Graduate assistant Terrell Golden was promoted receivers coach, and Jay Paterno moved to the sideline to take McQueary's spot.
Defensive position coaches Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson Jr. became co-defensive coordinators, though Bradley handled some of the signals. Communication was a problem; Bradley said the opening offensive play, a fullback dive to Joe Suhey, was not an homage to Paterno but a simple way to sort through the adjustment period.
Through it all, Penn State had a chance to win after falling behind 17-0. The Lions scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to draw within three points and had two drives to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter.
The first fell short when Redd, battling a collarbone injury, was stopped short on fourth-and-one. The second ended with an incomplete pass on another fourth-and-one.
"Still," Hall said, "if you don't count the loss, it's a win situation because of the way everyone conducted themselves."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times