Cappelletti is the only Penn State Football player to have his number retired (#22)
As a running back, he led Penn State to a 12-0 record in 1973 and proceeded to play 9 seasons in the NFL with both the Los Angeles Rams and the San Diego Chargers
He is Penn State’s only Heisman Trophy Winner (1973)
For this week’s Game Changer, the Penn State Sports Business Conference team has chosen to highlight former Penn State Nittany Lions Running Back John Cappelletti. He was a member of Joe Paterno’s football team from the years 1971 to 1973 and is the only player in school history to have his number (#22) retired.
Before getting his time to shine, Cappelletti had to wait behind legendary running backs Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, but he took full advantage of his opportunity in 1973. After rushing for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior year, Cappelletti stamped his name as one of Penn State’s all-time great athletes and secured the school's first Heisman Trophy.
Later that year, he was also awarded the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, UPI College Football Player of the Year, and was unanimously selected as an All-American running back. And if that was not enough, he helped lead the Nittany Lions to a perfect 12-0 finish on the year.
Even though John Cappelletti was taking the college football world by storm, he had more important things on his mind, his younger brother Joey. Joey was diagnosed with Leukemia at a young age and the disease was slowly taking control of his body. Inspired by his brother, John channeled this adversity and used it to fuel his legendary season.
During a game against West Virginia, Joey asked his older brother if he could score 4 touchdowns for him since the game was on the same day as his birthday. Within the first half, Cappelletti had already scored 3 touchdowns and the team was up big on WVU, but he still needed a fourth. Not knowing of Joey’s wish, along with being up by multiple scores on WVU, Joe Paterno had taken Cappelletti out of the game making the chance of scoring a fourth touchdown very slim. Due to this, another player on the PSU football team had informed Coach Paterno of Joey’s wish and he immediately sent #22 back into the game. Knowing how much this meant to his brother, Cappelletti scored his fourth touchdown and the Nittany Lions ended up beating WVU 62-14 on Joey’s birthday.
Quickly, the media world fell in love with the Cappelletti brothers, but more importantly the way in which they inspired each other to continue to push through adversity, and their story was shortly turned into both a movie and a book titled Something for Joey.
After his breakout year in college, NFL scouts were doing anything they could to land John Cappelletti in the 1974 NFL draft. The day had finally arrived and PSU’s very own #22 was selected 11th overall by the Los Angeles Rams.
For five years he called the City of Angels his home until he later moved down the coast to San Diego where he played four more years with the Chargers. Over the course of his NFL career, Cappelletti racked up 2,951 rushing yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, and had a total of 24 touchdowns.
Through his excellence in both college and the NFL, along with the lasting impact he has left on Penn State University, the Penn State Sports Business Conference team could not be prouder to name John Cappelletti as this week’s Game Changer.