STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Crediting him with building not just better athletes but better men, former Penn State football stars and others paid tribute to Joe Paterno in a huge campus memorial service Thursday that exposed a strong undercurrent of anger over the coach's firing.
In a 21/2-hour gathering that capped three days of mourning on campus, Nike founder- chairman Phil Knight brought the near-capacity crowd of 12,000 to its feet in thunderous applause when he defended Paterno's handling of child-sex allegations against former assistant Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was fired over the episode Nov. 9.
"This much is clear to me: If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation and not in Joe Paterno's response," Knight said. Paterno's widow, Sue, was among those standing.
The ceremony at the Bryce Jordan Center, the school's basketball arena, was filled with lavish praise for Paterno, who died of lung cancer Sunday at 85 after winning more games - 409 - than any other major-college football coach and leading his team to two national titles in his 46 seasons.
He was saluted for his commitment to sportsmanship, loyalty, teamwork, character, academics and "winning with honor." He was called a good father, husband, neighbor, friend, teacher.
About midway through, Knight became the first speaker to explicitly address the scandal.
He defended Paterno, saying the coach "gave full disclosure to his superiors, information that went up the chains to the head of the campus police and the president of the school. The matter was in the hands of a world-class university, and by a president with an outstanding national reputation."
President Graham Spanier was also fired in the fallout.
Recounting Paterno's accomplishments, Knight said: "Who is the real trustee at Penn State University?"
Only one member of the school administration - the college of liberal arts dean - and no one from the board of trustees - which fired Paterno - spoke at the memorial, arranged primarily by the Paterno family.
Speakers also included players from each decade of Paterno's career, among them Michael Robinson (2000s), TV football analyst Todd Blackledge (1980s) and Jimmy Cefalo (1970s). All three went on to play in the NFL, Cefalo with the Dolphins. He is now a Dolphins broadcaster and South Florida radio host.
On the Web
See video of Nike founder Phil Knight's speech at the Joe Paterno public memorial service at tampabay.com/blogs/twocents.