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Joe Paterno: Nike's Phil Knight defends Penn State coach at memorial

Nike chairman Phil Knight got a standing ovation for his remarks at Joe Paterno's memorial service. A crowd of 12,000 attended the service at Penn State University.

By Genar C. Armas and Michael RubinkamAssociated Press / January 26, 2012

A memorial service for former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was held at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. Thursday Jan. 26, 2012. )

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon


State College, Penn.

Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight got a standing ovation at Joe Paterno's public memorial Thursday for defending the late coach's response to an accusation of child sex abuse against a former assistant.

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Speaking at a public memorial service, Knight said that, "If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, and not in Joe Paterno's response."

The remark drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 12,000 — with Paterno's widow, Sue, and former defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, among those rising to their feet.

IN PICTURES: Remembering Joe Paterno

Knight's comment seemed to refer to Paterno's failure to alert anyone beyond his superiors at the school when he was told of a sex abuse allegation against former assistant Jerry Sandusky. That inaction was a major reason university trustees fired him on Nov. 9, less than three months before his death.

Knight also asked, "Who is the real trustee at Penn State University?"

Thursday's memorial service followed a funeral and burial on Wednesday.

Quiet mourners lined the route of Joe Paterno's funeral procession Wednesday, watching with grief and reverence as the electric-blue hearse carrying the Penn State coach's casket slowly drove by.

Some took pictures with their cell phones, or waved to his widow. Others craned their necks hoping for a better glimpse through the crowd sometimes four deep or more.

The private funeral and burial service capped another emotional day for a campus and community pained over Paterno's death from lung cancer Sunday at age 85, and over the way his stellar career ended — being fired by university trustees Nov. 9 in the wake of child sex-abuse charges against a former assistant.

Thousands of students, alumni and fans took to the streets in and around Penn State to say their last goodbyes to the football coach who grew into a beloved figure in Happy Valley, not only for his five undefeated seasons but for his love of the school and his generosity.

"He cared about the kids. He wanted to see us succeed. So for a lot of us, he became a grandfather-like figure," Jordan Derk, a senior from York, said after the procession went past Beaver Stadium.

"He loved us and we loved him back," Derk said. "So saying goodbye is very tough."

Jay Paterno, the coach's son and quarterbacks coach, sent a message to the mourners via Twitter.

"Thank you to all the people who turned out for my father's procession," he wrote. "Very moving."

The elder Paterno won two national titles and a Division I record 409 games over 46 seasons as head coach. His cancer was disclosed just nine days after he was forced to leave the football program he had worked with since 1950.

But Wednesday was once again a salute to Paterno's life and accomplishments. The service, a Roman Catholic Mass, was attended by a veritable who's who of Penn State and Paterno connections.

Paterno's family arrived about an hour before the funeral service on two blue school buses, the same kind the coach and his team rode to home games on fall Saturdays. His wife of nearly six decades, Sue, sat in the seat traditionally reserved for her husband and was first off the bus, followed by Jay.

Former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley walked to the service with NFL great Franco Harris. Also in attendance were other ex-NFL players including Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge, both now TV analysts. Nike founder Phil Knight and actor William Baldwin were there, too.

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