On Monday, it only grew worse for Penn State. The story keeps unfolding — more disturbing and sickening by the paragraph.
We have seen downfalls before, staining the names of hallowed programs.
But nothing like this.
We can question NCAA authority and effectiveness, critique the rulebook, blame boosters, decry greed, mourn misplaced perspective, disparage the win-at-all-cost mentality, debate pay-for-play, dump on the Bowl Championship Series.
These are the stuff of the scandals we've known. But not this.
At the moment, what can you do, but shake the head and wonder?
You wonder how this could happen — if it did happen the way the charges suggest — in college football Camelot.
You wonder about the quintessential college town Penn State calls home. The hills and farmland and trees and shops and dignity. The peachy Paterno at the Creamery. The stadium at one end of a campus that becomes the third-largest city in Pennsylvania on game day.
The program built on values as straightforward and plain as its uniforms.
You wonder how big this nightmare seems in State College and how long it will be before it ever goes away. If it ever goes away. If it ever should go away.
Last week came the news that Penn State tied Stanford for the best graduation success rate among top 25 teams. This Saturday is Senior Day, as the tradition is passed from one class to another, one unspoiled year after unspoiled year. The Nittany Lions will try to go 6-0 in the Big Ten against Nebraska.
This is how Penn State autumns always have been, and how they're always supposed to be.
But Monday, the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the commissioner of the state police had a news conference, detailing the charges of child sexual abuse on the man who once was the brains of the famed Nittany Lions defense. The man who served at the right hand of the head coach.
Then the athletics director and a university vice president — who left their jobs Sunday night — reported to be charged for perjury. A perp walk for Penn State.
"This is not a case about football," commissioner Frank Noonan said at the news conference. "It's not a case about universities. It's a case about children who have had their innocence stolen from them, and a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others."
You wonder after Monday, after all the hard days to come, how long it will be before Happy Valley will seem completely normal again.
And you wonder about him. Joe Paterno. What is going on inside his head? How goes the spirit that age could never tame?
He is Penn State, and so many times has that been a blessing and an honor. But not right now.
It doesn't matter how far he was removed from this alleged darkness, or that he spoke up the one time suspicions were taken to him. There are so many more questions, so many more gaps to fill in, and he must help fill them. He has to.
Because he is Penn State.
There are accused felons fighting for their freedom here, and alleged victims trying to get over their pasts. But Joe Paterno's credibility and legacy, and how tall they stand in the light when this is all over, are what the public will talk most about. That will be the most awaited verdict of all.
You wonder if he could have ever imagined in his worst fears that it would come to anything like this. To live a life so full and successful, to have a career exalted by presidents, to have won into his golden years and beyond — and now to face the most serious professional crisis of his life.
The persona of his university will be on trial, and his program.
You wonder how ready he is for that, at 84. This society pounces at scandal. The ugly tumult to come will not care about his graduation rate or his 409 wins or his 37 bowl trips. It will seek the most sordid details, and his picture will often be included. Fair or not.
This question won't go away: What did Joe know and when did he know it?
Such is the storm that has broken above the tranquil football Eden of State College.
In the 2011 Penn State media guide is a quote from Graham Spanier about overseeing a school so well known for having a football program above repute.
"That makes me the luckiest university president in the country," Spanier said.
Finally, I know what to say.
Graham Spanier is not feeling lucky at the moment.