STATE COLLEGE (AP) - Joe Paterno's death from lung cancer Sunday just two months after his firing left many Penn State students, alumni and community members numb with grief and a sense that the legendary coach deserved better from the university after such a distinguished career.
"His legacy is without question as far as I'm concerned," said 65-year-old Ed Hill of Altoona, a football season ticket-holder for 35 years. "The Board of Trustees threw him to the wolves. I think Joe was a scapegoat nationally. ... I'm heartbroken."
On Sunday night, thousands of people, nearly all of them students, gathered outside Penn State's administration building in a solemn candlelight vigil. Former players were among those who spoke, including Oakland Raiders offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski.
Penn State students Alexis Rogers of Honesdale, left, and Kaitlyn Lersch of Altoona, listen during a candlelight vigil for former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in State College on Sunday.
"When I think back on Joe Paterno's legacy, the events of the last two months won't even cross my mind," Wisniewski said.
The 45-minute vigil concluded with students singing the alma mater, and many were walking from the center of campus to pay additional tribute to Paterno at his statue outside of Beaver Stadium, which served as the site of another vigil the night before as news spread of his failing health.
In death, Paterno received the praise that under normal circumstances might have been reserved for the retirement dinner he never received.
Gov. Tom Corbett said he had secured his place in Pennsylvania history and noted that "as both man and coach," Paterno had "confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance."
Paterno, who died at 85, was fired Nov. 9 by the Penn State trustees after he was criticized for not going to the police in 2002 when he was told that former assistant Jerry Sandusky had been seen molesting a boy in the showers at the football complex.
Paterno reported the allegations to university higher-ups, but it would be nearly a decade before Sandusky was arrested, and Paterno said he regretted having not done more.
On Sunday, Sandusky expressed sympathy to Paterno's family in a statement released by his lawyer as he awaits trial on charges of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.
Sandusky said that no one did more for the university's academic reputation than Paterno, and that his former boss "had the courage to practice what he preached" about toughness, hard work and clean competition.
Mickey Shuler, who played for Penn State under Paterno in the mid-'70s, said the coach had been a father figure.
"It's just sad, because I think he died from other things than lung cancer," Shuler said. "I don't think that the Penn State that he helped us to become and all the principles and values and things that he taught were carried out in the handling of his situation."
The trustees and school President Rodney Erickson issued a statement saying the university plans to honor Paterno but is still working on what form that will take, and when it will happen.
In recent weeks, the board has come under withering criticism for how it handled Paterno's dismissal, and there is a movement by alumni to change the board's composition.
At a women's basketball game Sunday, Penn State players wore a black strap on their shoulders in memory of Paterno.
"It's been the first time I've ever seen a man guilty and have to be proven innocent," said Jamie Bloom, a 1992 graduate from Williamsport. "I think they caved to the media pressure to do something."
Ed Peetz, 87, a Class of '49 alumnus whose daughter-in-law Karen Peetz was just elected president of the trustees, said the board had to dismiss Paterno.
"But then, and now, is a very sad day," Peetz said. "What does Paterno mean to me? He means Penn State. But I think he was too powerful."
Steve Wrath, a 1984 graduate, became emotional as he spoke outside the football stadium, in front of Paterno's statue, which was adorned with lit candles, flowers, T-shirts and blue-and-white pom-poms.
"The Sandusky situation is obviously horrible for the victims, and I don't want to little that situation, but Joe Paterno's legacy will overcome all of that," Wrath said.
AP writer Genaro Armas and freelancer Emily Kaplan in State College, and AP college football writer Ralph Russo in New York, contributed to this story.