Penn State

John Cappelletti 
(Authentic Reproduction)





Winner of the Heisman Trophy and that certainly should say volumes about John Cappelletti and his performance in 1973. Coming out of Monsignor Bonner High School in Upper Darby, PA, he was a player that Penn State wanted but he began his career as a defensive back, seeing a lot of action there as a sophomore. Soon enough it was obvious that he needed to be in the backfield, in part making up for the loss of Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris and he certainly delivered with 2839 career rushing yards. Cappelletti was the featured part of an offense that took Penn State to a 12-0 record in 1973 and he did it by gaining 1522 yards on 286 carries, gaining two hundred yards or more in three consecutive games. In a year where no one came close to beating the Nittany Lions Cappelletti scored 17 touchdowns. He won both the Heisman and Maxwell Trophies and became the L.A. Rams first draft choice. Cappelletti enjoyed a productive pro career, playing with the Rams from 1974-1978 and the Chargers from 1980 through 1983. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall Of Fame in 1993 but is as widely remembered for his compassionate speech when accepting the Heisman award, focusing on his ill younger brother, and the heartwarming movie that was made about their family relationships.  

The 1974 record of 10-2 would be great anywhere but Nittany Lion partisans were getting acclimated to seasons that did not include stumbles against the likes of Navy (7-6) and North Carolina State (12-7). Still, this was an outstanding squad that had to replace thirteen starters from the undefeated '73 team. QB Shuman and receiving TE Dan Natale returned with FB Tom Donchez and kicker Chris Barr stepped into the spotlight. Future Cowboy Tom Rafferty earned a starting position on the offensive line to round out a fine attack. The defense was almost the equal of '73 with future pros Matt Hartenstine and Greg Buttle in the forefront. A romp over Baylor, 41-20 in the Cotton Bowl gave promise for 1975.

Adding three-inch thick-style navy blue numerals to the sides of the helmet dressed up the uniforms a bit in this significant season. The jump to 8-2 was fueled by young, aggressive players including ten sophomores who cracked the starting lineup and who pushed the upperclassmen ahead of them. The names on the Penn State roster would now appear in the pro ranks in significant numbers and on a yearly basis. Tom Sherman ran the show at QB and after two years in the NFL later reappeared with the N.Y. Stars of the WFL and his target was often junior All American Ted Kwalick, now a 220 pound TE with the agility of a running back. Jack Curry came back for another solid season opposite Kwalick. The sophomore running backs  Charlie Pittman, who stepped in as the leading rusher had pounding Don Abbey a do-it-all FB in front of him. Reserve QB Frank Spaziani was moved to defensive end and later in his career safety, moves which gave him the experience to eventually become the head coach at Long Island's Hempstead H.S. and he current defensive coordinator at Boston College. Rich Buzin and Bill Lenkaitis were solid in prepping for their eventual NFL careers. The defense had an influx of Super-Sophs with Dennis Onkotz following Ralph Baker as the pipeline to the pros for Penn State linebackers. Onkotz was in on the game-saving tackle that preserved the 13-8 win over Number Three ranked North Carolina State (QB'ed by future Marshall and Georgia head coach Jim Donnan) that brought more national attention and a Gator Bowl bid to Penn State. The defense also featured soph starters Steve Smear, John Ebersole, and Mike Reid, all of whom had the NFL in their future. The shaven-headed Lions closed out the season with a 17-17 tie in the Gator Bowl against a loaded Ron Sellers-led Florida State team and Paterno knew he could tweak his young talent and take them even further. As the '67 soph class matured, Paterno had the makings of a dynasty and his juggernaut stoned all ten opponents before playing in one of the most exciting Orange Bowl games ever. Onkotz, Reid, and Pittman played at All American level and TE Ted Kwalick, later to take his wares to the 49ers, was everyone's All American. Steve Smear at DT lived up to his name, teaming with future Jet John Ebersole and Mike Reid to lead an awesome defense. Between them, Reid and Smear had 108 tackles, 62 assists, four recovered fumbles, and two blocked kicks. The constant pass rush helped shutdown defensive backs Pete Johnson and Neal Smith to numerous interceptions. A growing talent opposite Onkotz was outside linebacker Jack Ham. Center Warren Koegel from Seaford (LI) H.S. and Chuck Burkhart provided offensive stability and leadership with Bob Campbell again the all around back who augmented the brilliance of Pittman. The Lions first 10-0 season was followed by a heart-stopping Orange Bowl contest against a Kansas team featuring John Riggins, Bobby Douglas, and Don Shanklin. The tense, hard-fought game was 7-7 at the half, and with less than two minutes to play, 14-7 Kansas. With 1:20 remaining, the Lions blocked a punt with a ten man charge and then drove to the Jayhawk three where a Burkhart rollout made the score 14-13. Electing to go for the win, Burkhart's pass was deflected by a group of jubilant defenders but flags were down indicating that Kansas had twelve men on the field. Films later showed that Kansas had twelve men on the field for the final eighty seconds of the tense finish! Linebacker Rick Abernethy never left the field when his sub came in. Now facing eleven men, Campbell swept to his left for the 15-14 victory that left Penn State ranked number two in the nation with an undefeated and untied 11-0 season.

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