UNIVERSITY PARK -- A cold rain pelted the Penn State campus Thursday afternoon, but the approximately 12,000 celebrating the life of Joe Paterno inside the Bryce Jordan Center basked in sunny memories and warm sentiment.
"The most extraordinary person I've ever known," Todd Blackledge, quarterback of the Nittany Lions' 1982 national championship team, said at the memorial service for his former coach, who died Sunday of lung cancer at age 85.
Blackledge was one of six players picked by Paterno's family to represent each decade of his 46-year career as head coach. The crowd included several hundred current and former players, including Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, a former Penn State All- American guard. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, once a rumored candidate to replace Paterno, also attended.
Paterno's widow, Sue, entered to a standing ovation that lasted three minutes and sat between her daughter, Mary Kay, and son, David, joined by her three other children and 17 grandchildren.
Former quarterback Michael Robinson, now with the Seattle Seahawks and selected to the Pro Bowl as a fullback alternate, left practice in Hawaii and arrived only hours before the ceremony.
The 2 1/2-hour program, which included video clips of Paterno's career, produced a torrent of laughter, tears, love and respect. There were funny stories, heartfelt emotions and a repeated message: Despite his considerable accomplishments on the field, Paterno's work off it was more important.
"Joe built something fine and good and long-lasting," former running back Charlie Pittman said.
Reference to the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant Jerry Sandusky, which led to Paterno's firing by the board of trustees on Nov. …