"There's so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not even have known what he was getting into," Mr. Paterno said. "A cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?"
Milestones before the fall
As the victories piled up, he passed Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Amos Alonzo Stagg, and others in the record books. On Nov. 6, 2010, he won his 400th game, with a comeback from 21-0 over Northwestern.
With a win over Illinois on Oct. 29, 2011, his 409th, Mr. Paterno passed Grambling's Eddie Robinson as Division I's all-time winningest coach. It would be his last victory.
Reportedly watching that game from a Beaver Stadium luxury box, curiously, was Sandusky, who had retired in 1998 and founded a charity that aided at-risk children. Few thought anything of it at the time.
After the game, Spanier and Curley honored the then-84-year-old Mr. Paterno. Within two weeks all three men would be gone.
On Nov. 5, Sandusky was indicted on 40 counts of child sexual abuse. The incidents, involving at least eight boys, dated back more than a decade.
One of the alleged assaults, spelled out in horrifying detail by a grand jury report, claimed assistant coach Mike McQueary had seen Sandusky engaging in sex with a young boy in the showers at the Lasch Football Building, where Mr. Paterno had his office.
McQueary testified that he'd told Mr. Paterno, who in turn notified athletic director Curley and administrator Gary Schultz. Those two men were charged in the case with attempting to cover up Sandusky's actions.
Days of chaos and criticism followed the arrests. Many believed that while Mr. Paterno may have followed the letter of the law in contacting his superiors, he'd violated its spirit by not doing more.
Critics wanted to know how Mr. Paterno could have worked alongside Sandusky for decades and known nothing about his alleged activities. Was he senile? Or, worse, was he covering up to protect his program?
The pressure mounted, and Mr. Paterno finally announced that he'd be retiring after the season, something it appears he may have been planning to do anyway.
But on the night of Nov. 9, after canceling the coach's weekly news conference, the beleaguered trustees acted, dismissing Spanier and, with a terse phone call, Mr. Paterno.
Stunned students poured into the State College streets, overturning a TV van and blaming Mr. Paterno's firing on trustees they believed had been cowed by an outraged media that knew no more about the case then they did.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was named interim coach, and the Nittany Lions dropped two of their last three games, including a bowl loss to Houston.
Angry alumni demanded to know why the trustees had acted so hastily and harshly. Mr. Paterno, they insisted, deserved a kinder fate, regardless of his role.
Then on Nov. 18 came more shocking news. Mr. Paterno's family announced that the former coach was suffering from lung cancer and he began radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He also had been hospitalized for complications resulting from a broken pelvis.
These ailments followed a series of well-publicized injuries. A sideline collision at Wisconsin in 2006 left him with a broken leg. He injured a hip and had it replaced a few years later. Then came severe digestive problems that left him looking weak and frail. At times, he was forced to coach from the press box.
As alumni unhappiness mounted, three January meetings with Penn State president Rodney Erickson were scheduled to address lingering questions about the Sandusky case and Mr. Paterno's firing. Though Erickson was asked over and over for details of the dismissal, the ongoing legal investigations prevented him from providing them.
With Mr. Paterno's passing, with the hiring of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, and the dismissal of Mr. Paterno's son Jay as a Nittany Lions assistant, the Paterno Era is over at last.
But with at least five ongoing investigations into the Sandusky matter and doubts about the viability of the troubled program, it could be decades before the clouds lift in Happy Valley.
But Joe Paterno, for better or worse, will be remembered forever.
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