Alone in the third row from the back

posted January 26, 2012 in Sports, Joe Paterno by Emily Kaplan


He didn’t sit still for more than 90 seconds.

He crossed his legs. Then uncrossed them. He combed his fingers through his hair. He leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. Sometimes he just stared at the egg shell blue floor.

It was a tough day for so many people. It was a tough day for Tom Bradley.

At Joe Paterno’s memorial on Thursday -- a public event at the Bryce Jordan Center where some 12,000 attended and free tickets were gone within minutes -- the former Penn State coach was remembered as a teacher, philanthropist and friend.

“He was a man that, as you heard today from so many people, cared more for other people than himself,” said Bradley, Penn State’s longtime defensive coordinator who briefly served as head coach after Paterno was fired in November. “It was a wonderful ceremony.”

Notable guests sat in the front. Current and former Nittany Lion letterman, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight and Paterno’s immediate family occupied the first several rows and were often seen on the video screens above the floor.

Bradley could have sat with them. The coach, affectionately known by his nickname -- “Scrap” -- has been lauded for guiding the Nittany Lions through a difficult time.

Yet Bradley sat in the third row from the back. Alone.

“I wanted to watch everybody,” he said. “That’s all.”

Bradley is popular among Penn State fans and media for being both amicable and genuine. He fielded every interview request before and after the ceremony. He also stopped and mingled with several fans.

One woman hugged Bradley just before the program began. “Thank you,” she said. “For everything.”

Bradley’s eyes watered up at several moments, including the video montage that connected grainy black and white images to key moments of Penn State’s greatest victories with “Nessun Dorma,” a tribute to Paterno’s love of opera, providing the soundtrack.

“I think [Joe] would have been taken back by it all,” Bradley said. “I also have a feeling he would've wondered why all these people were sitting here listening to all this stuff.”

The ceremony was also light hearted, consistent with Paterno’s personality, Bradley said.

Former player Jimmy Cefalo drew laughs from the crowd when he recalled Paterno sitting in his kitchen, trying to recruit the then-high schooler by buttering up his mother.

While the crowd laughed, Bradley just nodded, sighed and tilted his head to the left.

Bradley broke into his biggest smile when linebacker Mike Mauti, a player on Paterno’s final team, took the podium.

Mauti stumbled a bit at the end of his speech and admitted to the crowd he was nervous. Bradley had given Mauti a few words of advice before the ceremony, including the instructions to look toward the back of the room in case anyone was crying in the front.

“I told him to not use notes, just do it from your heart,” Bradley said, smiling. “But I know him so well. I knew he didn’t know how to end it.”