Loss, death make for a season unlike any other

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Joe’s always talked about Eddie with a great deal of respect, nothing but admiration for him,” Paterno’s son Jay, Penn State’s quarterbacks coach, said then. “When you’re in that kind of company, that’s pretty elite company.”

A week later, on Oct. 29, Penn State slogged out historic victory No. 409 in the snow against Illinois. The Nittany Lions fumbled six times, losing two of them, but Silas Redd scored on a 3-yard run with just over a minute to play to make Paterno the winningest coach in major college football.

The electronic sign boards lit up with congratulations, and fans braved the cold and snow to stick around after the game and celebrate their beloved “JoePa.” At the postgame ceremony, Penn State president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley presented Paterno with a plaque that read, “Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football.”

“It really is something I’ve very proud of, to be associated with Eddie Robinson,” Paterno said. “Something like this means a lot to me, an awful lot.”

The victory improved Penn State to 8-1 and bumped the Lions up to No. 16 in the AP poll. As the lone unbeaten left in Big Ten play, with a two-game lead in the loss column in its division, Penn State had the inside track to the conference championship game.

Get there and win, and Paterno and Penn State would be headed to the Rose Bowl.

And then came the concussive blow that only a very few saw coming.

Sandusky, the architect of Penn State’s ferocious defenses, was arrested Nov. 5 on charges of sexually abusing a total of 10 boys over 15 years. The details in the grand jury report were graphic and lurid, a shocking rebuttal of Sandusky’s reputation as someone devoted to helping at-risk kids. Worse, some of the alleged assaults were placed at the Penn State football complex.

Then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary testified he saw one of those assaults in 2002 and reported it to Paterno, who in turn told his superiors, Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz, who was head of campus security. Paterno insisted McQueary did not use the same graphic descriptions he has in court, where McQueary has said he saw what he believed was Sandusky raping a boy of about 10 or 12 in the Penn State showers. And Paterno swore he had no idea until then that Sandusky was a danger, despite a 1998 incident that was investigated by campus police.

Paterno’s failure to call State College police, or even follow up with Curley and Schultz, initially sparked outrage outside Happy Valley.

With the university engulfed in turmoil, Paterno announced on Nov. 9 that he would retire at the end of the season.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

The trustees would have none of it. Following a two-hour meeting that same night, vice chair John Surma instructed an assistant athletic director relay a message to Paterno’s home to call him.

According to The Washington Post, Surma told Paterno, “In the best interests of the university, you are terminated.” Paterno hung up and repeated the words to his wife, who redialed the number.

“After 61 years he deserved better,” Sue Paterno said into the phone. “He deserved better.” Then she hung up.

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