By Mark Shade and Dave Warner
STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Stacked atop a pile of daisies were handwritten notes left by the stream of visitors on Friday who converged at the 7-foot- tall (2-metre) statue of Joe Paterno. One tribute read: "I Stand By Joe," another "Remember: He was a man, not a God."
Among those taking in the scene at Pennsylvania State University was Bridget Deromedi, a 2002 graduate who lives in State College. She stood next to the bronze statue outside Beaver Stadium, home of the team long coached by Paterno, winner of more games than any other coach in the history of U.S. major college football.
"They are crucifying him," said Deromedi.
"He told the people he needed to tell," she said in response to former FBI Director Louis Freeh's scathing report on Thursday saying that Paterno knew far more about child sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky than he claimed and helped cover it up for years.
Sandusky, 68, was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys, some of whom were attacked in the football locker room showers after 1998 when the first allegations surfaced. He faces up to 373 years in prison.
A university spokesman said the school planned to renovate the shower and locker room area in the football building as a direct result of Sandusky's crimes.
After the scandal broke last November, many across the country were dismayed as Penn State students held vigils to denounce Paterno's firing. Much of that support appears to have held strong in the past eight months, even after the criminal conviction of Sandusky and Freeh's report.
Across the Penn State campus, sometimes called Happy Valley, football fans and alumni said they expected the rest of the world eventually to move beyond the controversy and allow Paterno's once-sterling reputation to recover.
"I don't think here it will be tarnished," said Drew D'Elia, a 2012 graduate from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, who was milling about an art fair near the campus' Pattee and Paterno Library.
One football fan said it was a stumble akin to drinking one too many and driving. "This was a mistake, same as if Joe had a DUI," said Jim Gilles, from Minneapolis. "The win/loss column for Joe Paterno did not change because of this."
SHOULD STATUE STAY?
Both D'Elia and Gilles were adamant that the Paterno statue remain in place despite calls to topple the shrine, including from highly regarded former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden.
An online poll conducted on Friday by the Los Angeles Times showed about 82 percent of the nearly 9,000 votes cast were in favor of removing the statue, while newspaper editorials across the country blasted Paterno and other university leaders for concealing the abuse.
The New York Times said the Freeh report showed "how slavish devotion to some institutional imperative can trump everything, including the law, basic human decency and the bedrock obligation we all have to protect defenseless children from harm. At Penn State the imperative was protecting a storied football program and its legendary coach."
Nike Inc, a longtime sponsor of the Penn State football program, decided to rename the Joe Paterno Child Development Center at its Oregon headquarters in the aftermath of the Freeh report. It had resisted calls do to so for months.
While most of those interviewed echoed the sentiments of Deromedi, who wore a T-shirt proclaiming: "JoePa You Will be Missed," some alumni believed the report was such a bombshell that the damage to Paterno's legacy might be irreversible.
Among those were people who felt let down on a personal level by someone they long and deeply admired.
"It's like your grandfather didn't uphold the morals and ethics he raised you to have," said Daniel Bell, 27, a 2006 graduate who is now an assistant principal of a Philadelphia charter high school.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Peter Cooney)