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Paterno in serious condition; family gathered at his side

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Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012
 

Friends and family gathered around former Penn State University football head coach Joe Paterno Saturday night at the State College hospital where doctors said he is in serious condition and being treated for lung cancer.

A former player told the Tribune-Review that Paterno, 85, wanted to make sure he had an opportunity to say goodbye to those closest to him after his health deteriorated quickly. The ex-Nittany Lions player said Paterno had not given up, was in good spirits and seemed at peace.

"I appreciate the support & prayers. Joe is continuing to fight," son and former Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno said via Twitter late last night.

Family spokesman Dan McGinn said in a brief statement to The Associated Press that Joe Paterno experienced further "health complications" during the past few days.

"His doctors have now characterized his status as serious," McGinn said.

Paterno has been hospitalized since Jan. 13 for observation for what his family had called minor complications from cancer treatments.

"His family will have no comment on the situation and asks that their privacy be respected during this difficult time," McGinn said.

Quoting individuals close to the family, The Washington Post reported on its website that Paterno remained connected to a ventilator, but had communicated his wishes not to be kept alive through any extreme artificial means. The paper said his family was weighing whether to take him off the ventilator on Sunday.

Last night, police blocked off McKee Street, where Paterno lives with his wife, Sue. Lights were on inside the home, but all was quiet outside. Four people stood on the sidewalk directly in front of the Paternos' home for about 15 minutes in silence, apparently praying.

The announcement of Paterno's deteriorating condition caused Penn State students to descend on Beaver Stadium, where a large group of students gathered at a statue bearing Paterno's likeness and placed candles at its base.

In the 10 weeks since he was fired following accusations that his former longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused 10 children, Paterno's previously unblemished tenure at Penn State has been tarnished to the point that many fans and alumni feared the statue would be removed.

Monica Thomas, 49, of Harrison City said she hopes people eventually will come to view Paterno's entire legacy rather than just what has happened in recent weeks. Thomas, who graduated from Penn State in 1985, has two children attending classes there.

"To many of us, he was the face of the university," Thomas said. "He managed to run a tight ship, graduate athletes and set a good example. He managed to walk the walk."

Current and former players praised Paterno via Twitter.

"You have played a huge part in making me the man I am today," former Penn State receiver Graham Zug said via Twitter. "Took an average walk-on and made my dreams come true."

Running back Silas Redd tweeted: "Thank you for the AMAZING opportunity to become a better man."

Others connected to Penn State struggled yesterday to voice what Paterno has meant to the university during his 46-year head coaching career.

"I can't even put his legacy into words," said Ryan Bagwell, 32, of Madison, Wis., who is seeking a nomination to run for a seat on the board of trustees. "What he means to Penn State is just indescribable."

Paterno was diagnosed with cancer in November, days after getting ousted as head coach in the aftermath of the child sex-abuse charges against Sandusky.

Paterno has not been charged but came under scrutiny for not doing more to stop or report one of Sandusky's alleged abuses.

The university's board of trustees, in turn, has come under widespread criticism for its handling of Paterno's Nov. 9 firing and the Sandusky scandal. Karen B. Peetz, vice chairman and CEO of financial markets and treasury services for The Bank of New York Mellon Corp., was elected board chair on Friday.

Members of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship celebrated a minor victory with the board's change in leadership.

"Obviously all of our efforts are underscored by our passion to restore (Paterno's) name," said group spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt.

Paterno finished his career with 409 victories, the most in major college football, and led the Nittany Lions to two national championships.

His full legacy will be carried forward by countless people, said Anthony Lubrano, 51, of Glenmoore, who graduated in 1982.

"Joe Paterno stands for so much more than that one event," said Lubrano, who hopes to seek a seat on the board of trustees.

"His legacy is truly all of us. His deeds are certainly important but the greatest legacy of Joe Paterno is that he has touched the lives of so many people both on and off the football field in a positive way. We carry on the values and traditions of Joe Paterno."

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