- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Joe Paterno’s death from lung cancer Sunday just two months after his firing left many Penn State students, alumni and community members numb with grief and a sense that the legendary coach deserved better from the university after such a distinguished career.

“His legacy is without question as far as I’m concerned,” said 65-year-old Ed Hill of Altoona, a football season ticket-holder for 35 years. “The Board of Trustees threw him to the wolves. I think Joe was a scapegoat nationally. … I’m heartbroken.”

On Sunday night, thousands of people, nearly all of them students, gathered outside Penn State’s administration building in a solemn candlelight vigil. Former players were among those who spoke, including Oakland Raiders offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski.

“When I think back on Joe Paterno’s legacy, the events of the last two months won’t even cross my mind,” Wisniewski said.

The 45-minute vigil concluded with students singing the alma mater, and many were walking from the center of campus to pay additional tribute to Paterno at his statue outside of Beaver Stadium, which served as the site of another vigil the night before as news spread of his failing health.

In death, Paterno received the praise that under normal circumstances might have been reserved for the retirement dinner he never received.

Gov. Tom Corbett said he had secured his place in Pennsylvania history and noted that “as both man and coach,” Paterno had “confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance.”

Similar tributes were issued by politicians, university officials, former players and alumni. Some expressed hope that Paterno would be remembered more for his accomplishments than for his downfall. And some wondered whether his heartbreaking firing somehow hastened his death.

Paterno, who died at 85, was fired Nov. 9 by the Penn State trustees after he was criticized for not going to the police in 2002 when he was told that former assistant Jerry Sandusky had been seen molesting a boy in the showers at the football complex.

Paterno reported the allegations to university higher-ups, but it would be nearly a decade before Sandusky was arrested, and Paterno said he regretted having not done more. Pennsylvania’s state police commissioner said the football coach may have met his legal duty but not his moral one.

On Sunday, Sandusky expressed sympathy to Paterno’s family in a statement released by his lawyer as he awaits trial on charges of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Sandusky said that no one did more for the university’s academic reputation than Paterno, and that his former boss “had the courage to practice what he preached” about toughness, hard work and clean competition.

At an Iowa-Penn State wrestling match Sunday afternoon, a crowd of some 6,500 people gave a 30-second standing ovation as an image of Paterno appeared on two video boards. The screen flashed the words “Joseph Vincent Paterno 1926-2012” and a picture of a smiling Paterno in a blue tie and blue sweater vest.

At the university’s Berkey Creamery, Ginger Colon, of Fairfax, Va., was picking up two half-gallons of Peachy Paterno ice cream when she heard the news. Colon, whose daughter attends Penn State, said it was sad that the scandal would be part of Paterno’s legacy.

“But from a personal note, it makes you re-think when things are reported to you by employees: Have I taken enough steps?” Colon said.

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