Joe Paterno has had a rough year, but he is receiving plenty of love as he turns 85 on Wednesday.
The legendary former Penn State football coach has been flooded with birthday cards for the last three weeks. Scott Fata, president of the Baltimore chapter of the university's alumni association, has been urging fellow graduates to send cards in hopes that Paterno would receive 109,000, which equals the number of seats at Beaver Stadium.
“This is someone that's very dear to a lot of the alumni,” Fata said of Paterno, who was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, diagnosed with what his family calls a treatable form of throat cancer and broke his pelvis after a fall all within the last two months.
No word on if there were enough cards to fill every seat in the stadium yet, but Paterno's son, Jay Paterno, tweeted Tuesday that he “saw boatloads of birthday cards for Joe at the house & realized that I'd better get him one before tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, a letter is circulating in support of Paterno, signed by hundreds of players he coached during his 60 years (46 as head coach) at Penn State.
“Many in the Penn State community view the public's rush to judgment of Joe as a rush to judgment of everything Penn State. We ask for due process for Joe Paterno and the Penn State community,” the letter said. “Based on the immense quality of Joe's character and the absence of all the facts, we stand in support of Joe and Penn State.”
Lydell Mitchell, a standout running back from 1969 to 1971, helped craft and circulate the letter, which has been posted online, addressed from “The Penn State Football Family.”
“I'm just speaking to coach Paterno's character. The type of guy he's been over the years,” Mitchell said in a phone interview. “He didn't just care for [us] as football players. He cared for us as people. These are the things that really meant so much to me.”
Among the players who have signed the letter are Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, Franco Harris and Ki-Jana Carter.
-- Chuck Schilken
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo: Joe Paterno in 2009. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press