John Cappelletti symbolized excellence and class during his days at Penn State, and remains the only Nittany Lion to win college football’s biggest individual prize.
So it was fitting that Penn State made Cappelletti the first athlete in any sport to have his or her number retired.
Cappelletti and his 1973 Nittany Lion teammates were honored Saturday at halftime of the 45-7 win over Eastern Michigan at Beaver Stadium. The 1973 team went 12-0 and won the Orange Bowl, and Cappelletti took home the Heisman Trophy and numerous other accolades.
“In all of the years that this school has been here and all the players that have gone through here, for me to be the one to get his jersey retired is unbelievable,” Cappelletti said Saturday. “It’s hard to comprehend right now.”
Cappelletti’s gritty, hard-nosed playing style is legendary among Penn State followers. So is his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, with the football star dedicating the award to his younger brother, Joseph, who was battling leukemia. Their relationship was the inspiration for the touching movie “Something for Joey.”
We applaud Penn State for taking the huge step of retiring a number to honor someone who gave so much to the university. We expect Cappelletti’s No. 22 will soon have company across Penn State teams.
“It’s such a nice thing, and hopefully meaningful for the fans and the school and we have a number retired now,” Cappelletti said.
Hats off also to the man now wearing No. 22 for the Lions, redshirt freshman running back Akeel Lynch, who will be the last to don that number for Penn State.
Cappelletti said he supports allowing Lynch to conclude his career before No. 22 comes off the field permanently.
“I said, ‘Don’t tear that number off the kid. Let him have it. Let him be the last one to wear it. Maybe that will give him some incentive,” Cappelletti said. “I don’t want him to feel something from the past is just now overshadowing some things that he’s been doing. It’s the right thing to do.”
Classy Cappy. And Lynch seems to be cut from the same blue and white cloth.
“I looked it up — all these greats wore it,” Lynch said of 22. “This is a pretty big number so I took it and every time I put it on, I just remember the guys before me and play for them.”
Lynch, wearing No. 22, ran for 108 yards and scored his first Penn State touchdown on Cappelletti’s historic day.
“It’s amazing,” Lynch said. “(He’s) Penn State’s only Heisman winner. To shake his hand and for him to say, ‘Good game’ to me and ‘We’re proud that you’re wearing the number’ was pretty cool.”