View Photo Gallery: Nike’s Phil Knight eulogized Joe Paterno, saying he isn’t the villainin the Penn State scandal.

Phil Knight, Nike co-founder and chairman, brought the mourners attending the memorial service for former Penn State coach Joe Paterno to their feet Thursday afternoon with a spirited eulogy and defense of the coach.

Saying that Paterno, a Nike client, became his hero after the death of Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, Knight defended Paterno’s response to child sex-abuse allegations about former coach Jerry Sandusky.

“Whatever the details of the investigation are, this much is clear to me: There was a villain in this tragedy. It lies in the investigation, not in Joe Paterno’s response to it,” Knight said, prompting a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd in the Bryce Jordan Center on the Penn State campus.

Despite Paterno’s actions, “he was excoriated by the media and fired over the telephone by his university. Yet in all his subsequent appearances in the press, on TV, interacting with students, conversing with hospital personnel, giving interviews, he never complained, he never lashed out. Every word, every bit of body language conveyed a single message: We are Penn State.

“So I do not follow conventional wisdom. Joe is my hero. Every day for 12 of the last 12 years [since the death of Bowerman]. But it does lead me to this question: Who is the real trustee at Penn State University?”

Knight wrapped up his comments by recalling his reaction to the news that Paterno had died.

“In periods of stress and grief, you say things that surprise you. When I came back from Mass on Sunday ... [and learned that Paterno had died], the first words out of my mouth, way out of sequence and typically self-centered, through the tears, I asked, “Who is going to be my hero now?’ It's a question everyone in this arena should ask and I do not have an answer for you, but I can tell you this much, that old hero set a standard that will live forever. Thank you.”

More on Joe Paterno from Washington Post Sports

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Joe Paterno’s final interview with Sally Jenkins

Jenkins: Let others decide the record he leaves

Joe Paterno dies at 85