View Photo Gallery: Joe Paterno turns 85 today. (Jim Prisching | Associated Press)

As Joe Paterno turns 85 today, the players he recruited to Penn State are preparing to play a bowl game without him as their coach. His former defensive coordinator will stand trial on charges of sexually abusing children. On a personal note, he is battling lung cancer.

 More than 350 of his former players decided to try to boost his spirits by telling him in a letter just what he means to them. Lydell Mitchell, a running back from 1969-71, helped organize the effort and hopes to gather more signatures. Others who have contributed so far include LaVar Arrington (a Washington Post contributor), Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, and Ki-Jana Carter.

As of Tuesday night, Mitchell said Paterno was unaware of the letter. “It is so important that he keeps his health up and stays strong,” Mitchell told the Associated Press. “ ... We're in the fight with him.”

On Sunday, Paterno was released from a hospital where he’d been treated after he re-injured his pelvis in a fall at his home. Paterno is also undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy for what his family has said is a treatable form of lung cancer. In his 46th season as coach, Paterno was fired Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sandusky, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator, has pleaded not guilty to over 50 counts of child sexual abuse over a 15-year span.

In their letter — signed as “The Penn State Football Family” — to Paterno, his former players wrote:

“As members of the Penn State community, we are deeply saddened by the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. Given the allegations against Sandusky, we understand the public's outrage because we share it.

“At the same time, however, it's important to remember that all of the facts surrounding this troubling matter are not known. Until all of the facts are known and due process has run its course, we ask that the public reserve judgment about Joe Paterno and the Penn State community.

“Having known Coach Paterno for many years, we can say with certainty that Joe Paterno is a remarkable man and that Penn State is a remarkable institution. Joe has had a profound effect on the lives of almost every member of the Penn State family. Joe has taught Penn State faith, fairness, philanthropy and the importance of academic excellence — all values that make Penn State a great institution today.”

Mitchell said he intended to speak just “to Coach Paterno’s character. The type of guy he’s been over the years. He didn’t just care for [us] as football players. He cared for us as people. These are the things that really meant so much to me.”


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