Former Penn State star Lydell Mitchell visited Joe Paterno about a week and a half ago, hoping to get just a moment with his ailing coach
After an emotional hour and a half, Mitchell said goodbye and told Paterno that he would always have the support of his players.
"I said, `Hey, man, we love you'. We'll fight the fight for him," Mitchell said Sunday after Paterno died at age 85.
"Joe's legacy will always be intact because we won't let Joe's legacy die," said Mitchell, who played running back at Penn State from 1968-72.
Paterno won more games (409) than any coach in major college football history during 46 seasons at Penn State.
"I think history will say that he's one of the greatest," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, second on the wins list, told The Associated Press.
"Who's coached longer? Who's coached better? Who's won more games? Who's been more successful than Joe? Who's done more for his university than Joe? You've lost one of the greatest. He probably means the same thing up there that Bear Bryant meant down here. He's an icon."
Paterno died from complications of lung cancer less than three months after he was ousted amid a child sex abuse scandal involving one of his former assistants.
"It's just sad because I think he died from other things than lung cancer," former Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler said.
Paterno began his coaching career at Penn State in 1950 as an assistant coach under Rip Engle.
That is when Pro Football Hall of Famer Lenny Moore played for the Nittany Lions. Moore joined Mitchell - they both played for the Colts and live in Baltimore - for that trip to State College a couple weeks back.
Moore said he, Mitchell, Paterno and Paterno's wife, Sue, sat around the kitchen table and talked until it got dark and the visitors needed to get back.
"We talked the whole time and he was very together," Moore said. "Didn't look like he was having any pain. We told him we loved him and we left.
"I'm glad that we had the opportunity to do it. And I was glad that I told him how I felt about him."
Mike Guman, who played fullback for Penn State in the late 1970s, said the Paterno's legacy will be carried on by the many people whose lives he has touched.
"Football's a small part of his legacy, but it goes far beyond that," he said.
"You could have become a good football player at many places but you wouldn't have become the man you are if you didn't go to Penn State."
Guman said he didn't think Paterno was treated fairly at the end of his time at Penn State and Mitchell agreed.
"They knew Joe was going to retire (at the end of last season)," Mitchell said.
"They could have let that play out but I think they panicked and jumped the gun."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he was fortunate to have developed a personal relationship with Paterno over the last few years
In Meyer's last game at Florida, his Gators beat Penn State.
"We have lost a remarkable person and someone who affected the lives of so many people in so many positive ways," Meyer said in statement.
"His presence will be dearly missed. His legacy as a coach, as a winner and as a champion will carry on forever."
* Associated Press