Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight also spoke, sharing a story about Joe Paterno's enthusiasm for events for coaches and talent night.
"Twenty-one days from now [referring to an upcoming coaches event with Nike] in Hawaii, there will be a tremendous void on talent night."
Knight would go on to say that Paterno never let him down when he asked for help or input.
But Knight delivered a series of punches at Penn State University while addressing the crowd, publicly stating that Paterno did everything he needed to do in the face of controversy regarding the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation, not in Joe Paterno's response," Knight said. The crowd erupted into a standing ovation when Knight slammed the higher-ups at Penn State and said Paterno was an honorable man.
"I do not follow conventional wisdom," Knight continued. "Joe is my hero.
The crowd stood again in applause a minute later when Knight closed a thought by asking, "Who are the real trustees at Penn State University?"
Sue Paterno walked into the Bryce Jordan Center just a few minutes past 2 p.m. to a warm ovation from the 12,500-plus who came to pay their respects to her late husband, Joe Paterno. She was followed by Diana, her daughter, and Scott, one of her three sons, who was wearing his father's library tie he often wore. Each brought out their families as the applause continued.
As the family filtered in, the applause grew modestly louder as Jay Paterno, who was both a football player and assistant coach under Joe, entered the arena with his family. Sue waved to the crowd in appreciation and went down the family line hugging each of her children and grandchildren. As she did so, she continued to try and overcome the emotions of the day
Kenny Jackson opened the ceremony following a prayer and rendition of the Penn State Alma Mater. Jackson, who played for Paterno in the early 1980s and was a key player on Penn State's 1982 national championship team, opened by addressing Sue and sharing a story for the crowd before the attention shifted to the former Penn State coach.
"When you get recruited by Penn State, the most important thing you have to do is visit the Paterno house," Jackson said, addressing Sue Paterno.
"Sue only promised two things," the former Nittany Lion said of Sue about words she said to his parents when being recruited. "Kenny will go to class, first. Second, Kenny will get a quality education."
"He never took a compliment," Jackson said of his former coach, whom he referred to as a teacher. "Today, you have no choice. Today, we are going to show you how much we love you."
As Jackson wrapped up, a video tribute played on the screens around the Bryce Jordan Center to the tune of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?"
And with that, the emotional ceremony was underway.
Todd Blackledge, who led Paterno's 1982 team to the first of two national championships, represented the 1980s Nittany Lions. He said that having the opportunity to speak at the memorial service of the most extraordinary person he'd ever known had become the most significant moment in his career. Blackledge talked about the values of the team that Paterno instilled in his mind, as well as the rest of the team.
Blackledge recalled one of the most common philosophies Paterno taught his players, which was, "The name on the front of your jersey is more important than one on the back." Blackledge got the arena to laugh a little, saying, "I always thought that was odd because we never had a name on the front either."
Charlie Pittman, one of the first black players Joe Paterno recruited after taking the job in 1966, recited a fantastic speech that shared some personal stories about his recruitment and his relationship with the coach years later. Pittman was an academic All-American, and his son, Tony, played for Penn State years later after turning down offers from a handful of Ivy League schools.
"What a great decision he made," the elder Pittman said of his son's decision to play for Paterno and Penn State. Pittman reminded everyone that Penn State was 45-0-1 when he and his son started for Penn State and challenged any father-son combination in the country at any school to match that, and added to the challenge by reminding that he and his son were academic All-Americans as well while playing.
Pittman said he received the news of Paterno's passing on his birthday. "What an omen. Rest in peace, coach; we'll take it from here."
Others speaking during the ceremony included former players Michael Robinson, Chris Marrone and Jimmy Cefalo.
Cefalo said, "Joe didn't recruit us; he recruited our moms."