At Penn State, one more chance to remember JoePa

583072.jpg

At Penn State, one more chance to remember JoePa

From Comcast SportsNetSTATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- The man in the white dress shirt, Penn State tie and rolled-up khakis jogged through the Beaver Stadium tunnel and on to the field before slowing down at the finish line -- the 50-yard-line.It was alumnus Gus Curtin's tribute to the iconic look once sported in the same stadium on fall weekends by the late coach Joe Paterno.A weekend during which the annual Blue-White spring game gave fans a glimpse into the Nittany Lions' future under new coach Bill O'Brien also allowed people like Curtin to remember the past. From the bouquets of blue-and-white carnations left at the bronzed Paterno statue outside the stadium to the charity 5K race run in Paterno's honor Sunday, fans paid tribute to the Hall of Fame coach who died in January at age 85."It's nice to know that the support and the love is all there, because all the people who love and support ... he's been a part of them for so many years," Paterno's widow, Sue Paterno, said before the race Sunday. "They're feeling a loss like we're feeling a loss. Our (loss) is maybe more acute."The spring football game marked the first event at the stadium since her husband's death. Many alumni still question the circumstances behind Paterno's ouster last November by university trustees in the aftermath of child sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky.The retired defensive coordinator has maintained his innocence and awaits trial. Paterno testified before a grand jury investigating Sandusky that he relayed a 2002 allegation brought to him by a graduate assistant to his campus superiors, including the administrator overseeing the police department.Authorities have said Paterno wasn't a target of the probe. The Board of Trustees ousted him, citing in part a moral obligation to do more to alert authorities outside the school, and a "failure of leadership."Last week, Penn State agreed to provide millions in payments and benefits to Paterno's estate and family members under the late football coach's employment contract, although a family lawyer says the Paternos did not sign away their right to sue.But unless the subject came up in conversation, there were no outward displays by fans of protest against school administrators or trustees over the weekend. Fans were eager to see what the team looked like under O'Brien."It seems like he's genuinely excited to do new things and to put a good team out there, but he's also respectful of tradition," said Curtin, 39, of Annapolis, Md. "So far I like him."Inside the stadium, there were no apparent mentions during the spring game of Paterno's name over the sound system. No images of Paterno were seen on video boards.Like Curtin, dozens of alumni, students and other spectators wore attire that offered some kind of reminder of Paterno.Some people donned "Joe Knows Football" T-shirts, a play off the old Nike ad campaign slogan featuring Bo Jackson.Others wore T-shirts or sweatshirts that read "Team Paterno" on the front and "Make an Impact" on the back -- the latter phrase referencing a command from Joe Paterno's father, Angelo, to his son.The "Team Paterno" shirts were a gift to some donors for the cause of Sunday's race, Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, a charity long championed by Sue Paterno."We were in it together," Sue Paterno said when asked about the "Team Paterno" phrase. "I said, I help you all the time. Now you help me.' He got hooked ... It turned out to be a real good tagline this year."The charity said Sunday it hoped to raise nearly 300,000 from the race, which would triple the amount it raised last year."I'm 55 years-old, and I've never known another coach here," Rich Ellers, a lifelong season-ticket holder from Centre Hall, said Saturday at the Paterno statue. "His spirit will live on. He'll never be gone in that sense."The statue served as a gathering point for mourners after Paterno died, and visitors returned to the site in droves again this weekend. One effort organized by alumni left 409 bouquets of the blue-and-white carnations at the site -- one for each of Paterno's Division I-record career victories."Obviously I miss Joe," 2011 Penn State graduate Erin Davis said at the statue. "He's like a grandfather to this university."The small cemetery in State College where Paterno is buried has seen increased visitors since his death. Many well-wishers have left flowers there, too, and Penn State hats. Police say some mourners have held candlelight vigils. A family spokesman and police say there have been no major problems, though the cemetery last week decided to start closing at dusk.The Paterno family is planning to start a "Paterno Foundation" charity, from which sales of a DVD of the Jan. 26 memorial service for Paterno are being sold. The family has said proceeds will go to Special Olympics.Sue Paterno said she no plans to leave the modest ranch home in town where she and her husband raised their family. She plans to continue helping Special Olympics, including the state Summer Games held on the Penn State campus each year."Absolutely, they're my people," she said about working Special Olympians. "They become your buddies. This gives you a bigger family."Sue Paterno also offered backing to her husband's successor, the 42-year-old O'Brien. She called Penn State a "magic place.""The guy has got a job to do, and we've got to support him," Sue Paterno said. "Joe was in that position at one time, a little bit younger. But I hope (the O'Briens) love it here as much as we did."

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks tangle with Coyotes, Bulls ready for trade deadline

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks tangle with Coyotes, Bulls ready for trade deadline

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

Fred Hoiberg's message to Bulls at trade deadline: Control what you can control

Kris Bryant: Major League Baseball could be going down 'slippery slope' with rules changes

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

Lighter Avisail Garcia wants to show White Sox his best

Woj: Bulls still pushing for Jahlil Okafor trade with Philadelphia 76ers

Could a late-season surge miraculously get Illini into NCAA tournament?

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

Todd Frazier out with left oblique strain

Fire Talk Podcast Episode 1: Recapping the Fire's offseason and looking ahead to 2017

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

nate-mason-0222.jpg
USA TODAY

After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."