UNIVERSITY PARK - The most stunning day in Pennsylvania sports history - not to mention American sports history - ended with some stunning words that most people thought they would never see on a TV screen: "Joe Paterno fired as Penn State head coach."
So ends one of the greatest coaching careers of all time, and it ended amidst perhaps the worst college sports scandal the nation has ever seen.
Penn State football fans everywhere have held conversations with friends and family members for years about how the Paterno era would end.
The Associated Press
Joe Paterno and his wife, Sue, stand on their porch to thank well-wishers late Wednesday night in State College. The Penn State Board of Trustees voted Wednesday night to fire Paterno and university President Graham Spanier.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Local florist Jeff Pellas delivers a box of roses and a gift basket Wednesday to the front door of the Paterno home.
From poor seasons to poor health to the occasional half-serious, half-joking comments that the 84-year-old JoePa would die on the field, imaginations have run wild on the topic.
But no one could have possibly imagined it would end like this, with one of the most respected men - not just coaches, but men - on the planet being ousted during a sex scandal that tarnished his legacy.
Penn State President Graham Spanier also was fired Wednesday, with both announcements coming during a late-night press conference held by the school's Board of Trustees on campus.
"It is in the best interests of the university that a change in leadership [be made] to deal with the difficult issues that we are facing," Board of Trustees Vice Chairman John Surma said.
Defensive coordinator and lifelong Penn Stater Tom Bradley will serve as the Nittany Lions' interim head coach, leading the team for its final three regular-season contests and the bowl game.
The end clearly was growing near for Paterno in recent days after numerous shocking details emerged Saturday about a sex scandal involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who allegedly has been sexually abusing young boys since the late 1990s.
With calls for his ouster intensifying the past two days, Paterno gave in Wednesday and announced he would be retiring at the end of the season. He issued the following statement:
"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief. I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today. That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season."
The statement later added, "This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more. My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University."
Paterno clearly wanted to express remorse and did so, but one of his statements drew national criticism.
"At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can."
If Paterno thought he could end his career on his terms, he was wrong: Later in the evening, he received a call from a Board of Trustees member.
One of the greatest coaches in history was fired over the phone.
"We were unable to find a way to do that in person without causing further distraction," Surma said.
Paterno's iconic, Hall of Fame career ends with him winning a Division I record 409 games, two national championships (1982 and '86) and five undefeated seasons at the helm of the Nittany Lions.
But wins and losses never defined Paterno's career.
His integrity did, along with his devotion to his beloved university, to education and his great passion for helping shape the lives of thousands of young men who played football for him since he came to Penn State as an assistant coach in 1950 and took over as head coach in 1966.
All of that would have been his entire legacy, until the sordid events of the past five days surfaced.
An emotional Paterno met with his players about 11 a.m. Wednesday to tell them he was retiring, but by that point, they had already found out on social media.
"I've never seen him cry before," linebacker Nate Stupar said of JoePa's demeanor during the team meeting.
"It was emotional for everybody," fullback Michael Zordich said.
The players gave Paterno a standing ovation after the meeting, then some went out and did interviews for the massive amount of media that have swarmed upon the campus.
Paterno conducted practice later in the afternoon, and when that workout ended, the players left believing that he would still be their head coach the next time they saw him.
It turned out not to be the case.
Following the Board of Trustees meeting, camera crews visited the Paterno house near the campus. Paterno spoke briefly, and his wife, Sue, was caught on camera crying in the window.
Then, at 12:05 a.m. Thursday, Joe and Sue Paterno walked out their front door to address the students and media who had assembled.
"Hey look, get a good night's sleep, study," he said. "We've still got things to do. I'm out of it. A phone call put me out of it. ... Hey, good luck, everybody. Thank you.
"One thing, thanks and pray a little bit for those kids."
As he was walked back through the door, he stopped, turned around and said, "We are Penn State."
To many, Joe Paterno is Penn State and has been for their entire lives.
Everyone knew his remarkable career would end someday.
But no one ever thought it would end like this.
Mirror Staff Writer Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and @CoryGiger on Twitter.