"If this is true, we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families."
- Joe Paterno on Nov. 6, one day following Jerry Sandusky's arrest for child sexual abuse
We were fooled, too, and not just by Jerry Sandusky.
We were also fooled by our hero worship of Joe Paterno - a great coach, certainly, but a man whose judgment will forever taint his legacy.
As I read the report and sadly watched Thursday's news conference by former FBI Director Louis Freeh on Penn State's mishandling of the Sandusky scandal, it came as little surprise that Paterno's power was singled out as one reason Sandusky wasn't turned over to child welfare officials 11 years ago after Paterno and PSU administrators were informed of an incident in which Sandusky was found naked in a shower with a young boy by Mike McQueary.
To be clear, all of Penn State's top administrators - Paterno, President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley - failed. They failed the victims, failed Penn State and failed the Penn State community.
But Paterno will be at the top of the list because, regardless of what perceived chain of command existed, he was the king, and, as Freeh said, "He clearly ran the Lasch Building. I think it's a very strong and reasonable inference that he could have done so [turned Sandusky over to authorities] if he wished."
More than anything else - more than all the positive things for which he stood, more than his all-time Division I record of 409 wins, more than his longevity, more than his commitment to academia, more than his philanthropy and generosity - Paterno will and should be known for his power.
He was easily the most powerful coach in sports history.
It's what kept him coaching until he was 84 years old, some double-digit years past his prime and well beyond when he could truly handle the job.
It allowed him to stay on despite frequent injuries and hospitalizations the last five years of his career. It allowed him to work from home. It allowed him to remain on the job when he didn't always know his players' names. It allowed him to shrink his circle of confidants to include practically family members only.
And it allowed him to keep administrators from dealing with him on any level of equal footing.
That power - even 11 years ago - contributed to Sandusky's continued abuse of young boys and ultimately doomed the legendary coach and Penn State.
Following a conversation with Paterno in 2001, Curley emailed Spanier and informed him that he was "uncomfortable" turning Sandusky into the Department of Child Welfare after Curley, Schultz and Spanier agreed on that plan.
The Freeh report also refuted claims by Paterno, Spanier and Curley - Paterno in his last interview before dying, Curley and Spanier under oath at the grand jury - that they didn't know about the 1998 police investigation in which Sandusky showered with another boy.
Freeh's report concluded - as we all suspected - that they all knew and did nothing. Nor did anyone even mention to Sandusky that his behavior was raising, as Freeh said, "more red flags than you could count."
Though Freeh said there was no evidence of ignored warning signs from the 1970s and '80s, the report did say that "before May 1998, several staff members and football coaches regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys" in the Lasch Building but informed no one.
It's impossible to imagine: They regularly observed a virtual turnstile of young boys in the showers with this monster yet felt compelled to just put their heads down and go to practice.
Football coaches are used to managing everybody around them. That's if they're in their first year or their 61st. But as much as coaches go to great pains not to embarrass their programs - their brands - they are expected to know right from wrong.
This is especially true of the greatest coaches, those who set themselves apart with their own pompous slogans such as "The Grand Experiment" and "Success with Honor."
But it's one thing to hide injury reports, or even that a player was hit with an underage drinking offense, and quite another to harbor a veteran assistant coach who was a threat to the community.
There is plenty of blame to go around in this sickening case that will hang over Penn State forever, but Paterno's creation of a football empire, and the moat around his fortress that kept even those he supposedly reported to at a distance, was a significant part of it.
Spanier's total lack of leadership, including keeping the Board of Trustees in the dark after both 1998 and 2001 allegations, is definitely another.
If Paterno, as he has maintained, did not know the extent of Sandusky's inappropriate actions, he should have: He had 13 years to be fully debriefed.
While many want to believe Paterno did the right thing by alerting Curley about Sandusky in 2001, we also know that when those same alleged superiors (Curley, Schultz, Spanier) went to his home three years later - at his invitation - to discuss a retirement date or an exit strategy, they left with neither.
It was a final reminder that he had much too much power and was permitted to exercise it, something Louie Freeh concluded.
Which brings us to our own conclusion: For all the good things he did for the school, and for as much as most of us liked and admired him, in the Jerry Sandusky case and how it ended his career, Joe Paterno and Penn State ultimately failed each other.
Mirror Managing Editor Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 and firstname.lastname@example.org.