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“You know, he didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno told the newspaper. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

We know now that didn’t happen. Paterno never sufficiently explained why, after meeting his legal obligations by notifying his superiors at the university, he didn’t satisfy his moral obligation to do more. He said several times he wish he had. People who judged him guilty then will not change their opinions.

“This is not a defense, or an excuse, and maybe it’s even a bad analogy,” Conway began. “But there were so many things about Joe and his `old-schoolness’ that probably kept him from comprehending the horror of what Jerry had done. He knew something was wrong, something of a sexual nature and ultimately, all he could bring himself to do is what he was supposed to do.”

And if the people who ultimately made the decision to fire him measure up to being even half the man he was,” he said finally, “I’ll be plenty surprised.”

Paterno’s legacy will forever be clouded, in large part because the chance to prove his remorse in the final chapter of his public life was taken by the trustees and now is gone forever. For the lion’s share of his 85 years, though, Paterno piled one good deed atop one another that had nothing to do with football _ things that time can’t erase, like the library that sits several blocks from the football stadium and was built in large part with his donations back to the school.

On balance, all that good should have been enough to earn him one final opportunity to erase the stain that he called one of the great tragedies of his life.

He deserved better.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.