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The Final Memory Of Joe Paterno

The last signing day class of Joe Paterno will take the field at home one last time against Michigan

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A bronze statue once stood proud on the east side of Beaver Stadium, a seven foot sculpture commemorating the legacy of Joe Paterno.

An unbuttoned suit coat waving in the wind, a tie tucked underneath the left side of the coat, with the pants snugged at his waist. As a band of Nittany Lions players jog behind the former head coach, a single finger is raised in the air from Paterno, with a smile that touched everyone's hearts in Happy Valley.

On the right side of the statue was a quote from Paterno, "They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."

It's how Paterno would have wanted to end his tenure as coach after 45-years, winning two national championships, three Big Ten titles and become the winningest coach in FBS history with 409 victories.

The success and well-being that Paterno brought to the small town of Pennsylvania has caused Penn State fans to sustain a battle between good and bad, the pretty and the ugly and the positives and negatives.

It can be seen at gift shops and bookstores, where they continue to sell merchandise in honor of Paterno. At one retail store, you can buy an 18 1/4 inch replica of the Paterno statue for $590.

It can be said that Paterno's name was wiped away from history following the 2011 child sex abuse scandal that led to JoePa's release and the indictment of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Now, replaced by trees, the statue that was once a reminder of Penn State's glory days in college football, was discarded from its resting spot, six months after Paterno's death, to further heal the wounds that brought pain to so many individuals.

The statue removal was supposed to be the final conclusion of the destruction set forth by Sandusky and others almost four years ago. But on Saturday, when the Nittany Lions storm out of the tunnel against No. 12 ranked Michigan, it will be the closure that Paterno, his wife, his children and many Penn State supporters deserve.

For the program's "Senior Day", 13 seniors and six redshirt seniors, who signed with Paterno when he was in his final years as coach, will play in front of over 100,000 for the final time. They signed to play for a winner, a leader and a mentor, but endured four to five years of controversy, hardship and adversity.

Never once did the 19 players predict a fall from grace so catastrophic to a program that began playing collegiate football in 1887, a program that rose to the top 10 in all-time wins and appeared in over 45 bowl games.

But it's what those players accomplished following the scandal that merits acknowledgement from the fans in attendance and everyone watching at home this weekend when the group charges out on the field with head coach James Franklin and their teammates.

When Tom Bradley replaced Paterno near the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Nittany Lions have since posted a winning record under both Bill O'Brien and Franklin and even captured the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl trophy over Boston College during their first of bowl eligibility.

A 31-30 victory over Maryland two weeks ago signaled another bowl eligible season for Penn State with two games remaining. It may not conclude with a Rose Bowl appearance or a double-digit win season, but the gradual incline from disgraced to respected is thanks to the upperclassmen who fought through it all and will walk away from what they build at State College with honor, a feeling that's rightfully earned.