STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If only it were possible to block out the world's harshest realities — the way the people of Happy Valley have done for decades now — this week's crystalline skies might have set the scene for one more perfect chapter in local lore.

A glorious sun bathed Mount Nittany's fading foliage in a rusty glow. Hundreds of Penn State students gathered once again in the protective shadows of Beaver Stadium, pitching 81 tents in the instant colony called Paternoville. Another Big Game lay just days away.

But when Ed Temple, class of `70, put down the convertible top of his meticulously restored 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air this week and set out for a drive around the stadium, he came to mourn.

In the back seat of a car usually reserved for alumni parades, Temple propped up a life-sized cardboard cutout of Joe Paterno, benevolent ruler of this valley for nearly half a century — but now the ex-football coach, fired this week in the midst of a spiraling scandal centered on allegations of child sex abuse by one of his former assistants.

In the front seat, Temple's dachshund, Snoopy, gazed out at the passing campus from his master's lap. "Unlike a human, this guy will never lie to you or deceive you," Temple said, stroking the dog's head.

With an edge heard in the voices of many Penn Staters, Temple — raised in this town that has long celebrated its seclusion — recalled life in the House that Joe Built. At first, the phrase was just a reference to the stadium, which packs in 107,000 on autumn Saturdays to revel in the words of the Alma Mater: "May no act of ours bring shame, to one heart that loves thy name."

But Temple went on to describe the tree-lined brick campus and the Valley itself as an oasis "sort of like Disneyland," one that has long drawn on a seemingly bottomless well of virtue and trust to sustain a family far bigger than any ordinary household could ever contain.

Now, trying to explain how it feels to be a part of that family, Temple, who is 65, reached for a parable of his own experience. Years ago, he said, his father, a local merchant and real estate developer, was sent to federal prison for four years after being convicted of tax evasion and mail fraud. Decades later, in a town where many people stay forever, Temple is certain some still cringe when he gives his name. Because of one man's deeds, he says, the family's identity is forever tarnished.

"That taints you for the rest of your life," Temple said, turning back to the scandal that has sundered Penn State's carefully constructed sense of self.

"We all have to live with that now."


The American landscape is sprinkled with picturesque college towns. And many are places where football reigns, victory machines whose glories stir the soul and rake in dollars.

For years, though, Penn State has cast itself as a singular storybook place. Like other schools, it thrived on a culture of football. But to bleed blue and white, Penn Staters promised themselves, was about much more than a game.

It meant putting individual identity aside for the greater glory, an ethic symbolized by the jerseys players wear that, unlike those of many teams, bear no name besides that of the school. It was about a unique bond, founded on knowing that your fellow Nittany Lions were your family and the coach in the Coke-bottle glasses and rolled up pants known affectionately as "JoePa," your trusted patriarch. It was about doing things the right way.

"Success with honor," they called it. It was a slogan, sure, but one to be believed.

That can all seem like so much hazy nostalgia now, following former Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky's arrest on charges of molesting eight boys and allegations that Paterno, Penn State President Graham Spanier and other officials were told about one such incident in 2002, yet never went to the police.

But understanding the unique role that Penn State and its hometown assigned themselves in American collegiate life helps make sense of, if not the tragedy, then at least the tears and the outrage it has unleashed.

When Paterno became head coach in 1966 after 16 years as an assistant, he announced a "Grand Experiment" — a self-appointed mission for the program and the university to prove that athletic success and academic achievement could go hand-in-hand.

Some outsiders found it self-righteous. But over the years, the Nittany Lions garnered two national championships and numerous bowl victories, all while fielding squads that consistently posted among the highest graduation rates of any top-ranked program.