STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — At 7:42 a.m. Sunday, the jackhammering started.

With the statue of former head coach Joe Paterno guarded by tarped blue fencing, onlookers and media could only stand across Porter Road behind barricades and a heavy police contingent as the statue was being removed. Besides the dust and smoke, the removal couldn't fully be seen by most of the public, only heard, sharply piercing the morning air.

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Some onlookers cried, even sobbed. Others stood in stunned, somber silence.

And by 8:25 a.m., the 7-foot-tall, nearly 900-pound statue had been sequestered somewhere in Beaver Stadium.

"We are … Penn State" chants and shouts in support of Paterno followed, but they were merely shells of the chants heard at Paterno's statue on the night after he died.

Paterno, the man who won 409 games, the most in Division I football history, was enshrined outside Beaver Stadium in 2001. Having coached at Penn State for almost 46 full seasons, Paterno was a legend in the State College community, as the bronze statue and the wall behind it displayed.

Now, everything is bare save for silhouettes of the players Paterno once stood in front of and outlines where the plaques were.

On July 12, Louis Freeh released his investigative report into how Penn State officials dealt with former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's child abuse. The report said that Paterno, along with three other university administrators, knew about incidents involving Sandusky and children in 1998 and 2001, but did not do enough to prevent him from repeating his actions.

After construction crews and police arrived at the statue about 6:15 a.m. Sunday, Penn State President Rodney Erickson released a statement confirming that the statue would be taken down, calling it a "lightning rod of controversy and national debate."

Most of the crowd didn't take kindly to the timing, resulting in an atmosphere that was more bitter than sobering.

"Erickson is a coward!" shouted onlooker Mary Trometter. "The board of directors are cowards! What happened to the openness?"

One of the people that showed up was Juror No. 3 in Sandusky's trial, Gayle Barnes.

"I think it was a wrong decision," Barnes said of the fact that crews arrived before Erickson released his statement. "I understand why they did it that way; they don't want so many people up here, they don't want a riot up here — I understand that completely. But I think that the university owes us, the students especially, because that's who makes this university. The students. The fans. The community."

Others agreed.

"It's a sneaky way to do this to avoid more inconvenience for the university," said Jill Byrne, a State College resident and one of the first to arrive. "They screwed over the alumni that might have wanted to come up here and get their last moments with the statue and be a part of it, and just screwed us over and did it in a sneaky way."

Paterno was revered in the Penn State community not only for his success on the field, but for his involvement in the community. He donated millions of dollars to Penn State, spearheading the construction of the Paterno Library nestled near the center of Penn State's campus. Paterno died of lung cancer on Jan. 22.

He was fired on Nov. 9, 2011, only a few days after the grand-jury presentment against Sandusky was made public.

To some on the scene, though, the removal of the statue was an example of Penn State giving in to outside pressures.

"It's very sad," said Leslie Bleggi. "It's a knee-jerk reaction. We've shown folks that we will bow down."

The former president of the student encampment outside Beaver Stadium that used to be named "Paternoville" (now "Nittanyville"), Penn State graduate John Tecce, was also on the scene.

He said he couldn't say that he'd do things differently if he were Erickson, and commended current football coach Bill O'Brien for his handling of the situation he inherited in January.

Still, he doesn't agree with the overall move.

"I think essentially putting the statue down puts the debate away, sweeps it under the rug, and isn't that what got us here?" Tecce said. "I think it's something that should be debated, both good and bad. In 20 years, when people [would have taken] their kids to the statue, what would they say? They would talk about how great Joe Paterno was, but they would also talk about how he had flaws. Isn't that humanity? Shouldn't that be a lesson that should be learned and talked about?"

The whole process of removal took approximately two hours and 10 minutes.

When the workers were finished, all signs of Paterno had been removed, including a quote that had been emblazoned on the wall: "They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone, I hope they write I made Penn State a better place not just that I was a good football coach."

Contact Tim Gilbert at tdgilbert34@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @TimGilb.
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