STATE COLLEGE - Muscular Chris Hontz, general manager of the Music Mart in State College, still looks like the football player he was at Pottsville Area High School.
His coach there was Kevin Keating, an admirable representative of the profession in which Joe Paterno was probably the most revered national icon.
That reverence ended for some with the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, and for many more with a recent CNN report that indicates Paterno may have derailed a plan to report Sandusky to the authorities in 2001.
Mirror photo illustration by Gary M. Baranec
and Tom Worthington II
Bob Calderone of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., visits the Joe Paterno statue outside of Beaver Stadium on Thursday.
Since the scandal tore apart this town and the Nittany Nation, leading to the dismissals last fall of Paterno and school President Graham Spanier, former FBI investigator Louis Freeh, commissioned by Penn State, has interviewed more than 400 people associated with the university.
The results of his investigation are expected to be released to the public in the coming weeks.
"I'm waiting to pass final judgment," Hontz said when asked about that CNN report. "But it's pretty damning."
According to CNN's report, based on leaked emails, Spanier, head of campus police Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley planned in 2001 to report Sandusky - convicted this June on multiple counts of abuse - to the Department of Public Welfare.
But after meeting with Paterno, CNN reported Curley became "uncomfortable" with the plan, according to an email from Curley.
They never followed through, thus permitting Sandusky to abuse other boys, as detailed by the prosecution at his trial.
Previously, the public's judgment, based on Paterno's own testimony to the grand jury that investigated Sandusky, was that he did his legal duty by informing his superiors of assistant coach Mike McQueary having seen Sandusky in a compromising position in a shower with a boy.
But the CNN report spins it around.
"He was not only a party to the cover-up," Hontz said. "He was almost the head guy controlling it."
Hontz's condemnations are in harmony with those of national critics, who have been merciless (please see "Harsh criticism for Paterno" below).
Still, it's not difficult to find local sympathizers - critics would call them apologists - even now.
Erin Grogan, a clerk at McLanahan's in State College, doesn't think her opinion of Joe Paterno will ever change. The coach did what he could - and even "went above and beyond," she said.
The goodwill that Penn State students feel toward Paterno will never "falter much," she predicted.
About all you need to know, according to Grogan: They fired the legendary coach in November, and the following month, he donated $100,000 to the school.
Likewise, Bob Calderone of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., whose daughter is a student at Penn State and whose son in a graduate of the university, hasn't wavered.
"He was a great guy," Calderone said. And he did "the right thing," by reporting his suspicions to his superiors.
Despite the email evidence, Calderone doesn't think those superiors would have let Paterno "put the kibosh" on their plan to report Sandusky.
"Maybe someone else dropped the ball," he suggested. "There were a lot of bigger people than him around."
Hontz doesn't buy that.
In State College, Paterno was "king," Hontz said. "He was calling the shots."
There are the "blindly loyal" - as Hontz calls them - and there are the ambivalent, like graduate student Elise Brown.
"I'm hesitant to put the blame on any one person until the entire story comes out," said Brown, who was sitting on a bench last week outside Bryce Jordan Center. "There's so much media hype that it's hard to get the facts straight."
She would like to see the emails examined in depth, to get to the truth. She'll be "saddened" if it turns out Paterno was responsible for quashing the plan to report Sandusky.
"To see such a legend make a mistake as monumental as that." she said. It was unfortunate "someone with his power and in such a leadership position was put in this situation."
Dana Lyons, catering employee at Penn State Altoona, said, "If they knew something about it and didn't do anything about it, it's wrong."
But she doesn't think Paterno used his power to quash the plan to report Sandusky, despite the email evidence presented by CNN. After all, he dismissed Sandusky from the coaching staff, she said.
"I don't think Paterno was as involved as they want to make him out to be," she said.
When Paterno was fired, students rioted on his behalf, and when he died two months later, former players and supporters like Nike CEO Phil Knight attacked the critics.
Now Paterno's defenders are on the defensive, and his critics are full of righteous indignation.
Paterno spoke of honor and integrity, but he "absolutely betrayed children," Hontz said.
"Where was anybody stepping up?" he asked. "You would think Paterno would have thrown down, and said, 'Let's protect the kids.'"
But Paterno didn't "throw down."
That's a painful disappointment to Hontz.
"I don't [even] want to call it a mistake," Hontz said. "A mistake is a one-off."
It would have been a mistake if he had stopped the cover-up, Hontz said.
"He could have stopped it on a Monday. Or on a Tuesday," Hontz said. "Every day he woke up, he could have stopped it," Hontz said. "In 2001. In 2002."
But he never did, so you can't call it a mistake, Hontz said. A sin, maybe, he said.
He doesn't understand it.
He can understand how he could have hesitated, how he might "freeze in the moment," he said. "But he had a chance to think about it for a decade."
Ron Sanders of Mechanicsburg, whose son graduated from Penn State, concedes Paterno "could have done more" - a phrase Paterno himself used.
"But he's only human," Sanders said. And still "a great man."
The national cynics have assumed Paterno did what he did to protect the reputation of the university, the football program and all that came with those things.
It's probably too late to find out whether that's true, according to Hontz.
"Was it just to help a friend of 30 years?" he asked. "Was it to protect the football program? His legacy? The school?"
Brown is inclined to a more charitable interpretation. His motives may have included a reluctance to throw Sandusky to the wolves, she said.
Grogan said she'd prefer "to believe it was not to protect the brand name." She thinks there were "other forces at work."
But Paterno was the main force to be reckoned with at Penn State, according to the critics.
"Joe controlled everything until the very end," said Doug Flynn, a State College resident who was waiting at a bus stop on College Avenue last week. "When they fired him, it was the first time anybody said no to him."
Paterno never hesitated to throw around "his weight," according to Barrie Moser of Centre Hall, a retired Penn State employee who was working at a farmer's market in State College.
Once in a meeting, Paterno pointed at Spanier and said something like "this baseball park [which turned out to be Medlar Field at Lubrano Park] isn't going to turn into another Bryce Jordan Center," Moser said - relating what he heard from someone who had been present at the meeting. By that, Paterno meant he wasn't going to allow other interests in the university to overrule the athletic department on events taking place at the ballfield, according to Moser.
Sanders agrees with the cynics that Paterno was trying to protect the program, saying, "I think in his heart, he had Penn State first - No. 1."
A faculty member at Penn State Altoona who wanted to remain anonymous, by contrast, takes the fully cynical view.
"The motives were reprehensible," the faculty member said. "Basically, money."
Still, terrible as it was, the alleged cover-up doesn't negate Paterno's accomplishments in football, according to the faculty member.
Calderone, Sanders and Grogan agree.
"The thing that happened up there [the scandal], I'm not happy about," Calderone said. "[But] I'm still going to respect the man."
"I'm not saying he couldn't maybe have done more," Sanders said. "But he's only human."
Plus, he was getting up in years, and he may not have been thinking clearly, Sanders said.
Paterno did more for Penn State than anyone, "athletically, financially, academically," Grogan said. "Joe Paterno was Penn State."
Hontz isn't buying that, either. It doesn't matter anymore that Paterno gave to the library, he said.
"A lifetime of good can be unraveled with one bad decision," he said.
That bad decision is worse than people realize, he believes. It wasn't just the abuse itself, but the corollary harm, which goes on for generations in the victims' families, he said.
Paterno could have stopped it.
"At the very least, he enabled a monster," Hontz said.
The faculty member who didn't want to be identified is looking forward to Freeh's report, which should lay everything out and stand as a warning that "you shouldn't keep these things quiet."
"We have to know we can't behave that way," the faculty member said.
"We've just got to wait till [that investigation] unfolds," Moser said. "I'm just hoping it gets to the bottom of the matter."
He'd like to see justice take its course, he said. As a taxpayer, he'd also like to see "what all expense this is going to incur."
It's good Sandusky is in jail, Hontz said.
"Hopefully the others involved will suffer the same fate," he said, noting that people who are accessories to other crimes, like robberies, are often held equally accountable as the main perpetrators.
As for Paterno, he no longer deserves his statue in front of Beaver Stadium, Hontz said.
He shouldn't be an icon, according to the faculty member, who asked, "Why should he be lauded for being somebody he obviously was not?"
Despite his outrage, Hontz is sad for what was - or seemed to be. It was amazing, in a small town, to have something "so big and so right," he said.
Hontz encountered Paterno occasionally through work, when setting up sound systems for events. He recalls putting a microphone on the famous coach. He was in awe, he said.
Even better, despite the awe Paterno inspired, the coach "was a helluva nice guy," Hontz said.
The coach did it right.
Except that ultimately, he didn't. And ultimately, for Penn State, it turned out not to be right, either.
"If it's not pure here," Hontz said, "it's not pure anywhere."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.