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Onward Debates: Should Penn State Retire Numbers?

The biggest story to come out of last Saturday’s game might not have been the score, but the halftime presentation. Former Penn State running back and 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti became the first player in the university’s history to have his jersey number retired. The move was generally well received, but for a program like Penn State, any change in tradition will cause some uneasiness.

Two of our writers discuss: Should Penn State football retire jersey numbers?

Yes – Mike Reisman

The numbers below the suites, each signifying a historic season in Nittany Lion football, are one of my favorite things to see at Beaver Stadium. My friend from home visited last week and asked what the numbers meant.  As a second generation student who was taught to love Penn State football from a very young age, I went on a 20-minute history lesson on every team I could remember, probably boring him to death more than anything.

It wasn’t such a great experience for my friend, but talking about all those great seasons was awesome for me. So what about the players that have gone above and beyond the numbers they wear?  People like John Cappelletti that aren’t just players, but legends at Penn State.  They deserve to have their story told by fans in Beaver Stadium to curious outsiders coming to their first game.  These are people who have given everything to Penn State, Penn State should at least give back to them by forever recognizing the number they wore as theirs alone.

But now, with 22 retired forever, there’s an even bigger reason to keep retiring numbers. Only having one retired number is a little awkward, even if it’s John Cappelletti. Penn State has over 100 years of incredible football tradition. It would be easy to say that the school isn’t going to retire any numbers, but now that we went down that path, only having 22 down would imply that Cappelletti is the school’s only great player ever. Is he the school’s only Heisman winner ever? Yes. Does that make him the only one deserving of having his number retired? No. It would be a disservice to other Penn State football legends to only have Cappelletti’s number retired now that we started.

No – CJ Doon

During halftime of Penn State’s 45-7 blowout of Eastern Michigan, the university chose to honor running back John Cappelletti by officially retiring his No. 22 jersey, celebrating the only Heisman Trophy winner in the history of Penn State football. It was a truly historic moment at Beaver Stadium, considering that before Saturday, a jersey number had never been retired in the history of Penn State athletics.

And you know what? It should have stayed that way.

First of all, let it be known that I’m not discounting any of Cappelletti’s accomplishments. The All-American running back is the 9th leading rusher in Penn State history, and his single-season rushing total of 1,522 yards ranks 4th, behind only Larry Johnson (2,087), Lydell Mitchell (1,567), and Ki-Jana Carter (1,539). Not to mention the fact that during his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, he captured the hearts of the American public by dedicating the award to his younger brother Joey, who died of leukemia just three years later. So trust me, if any Penn State player is deserving of this award, it’s Cappelletti.

However, I just can’t help but feel that honoring individual accomplishments is sending a conflicting message. Penn State athletics has always preached a “team first” mentality. Until last season, the football team kept names off the back of their jerseys, proudly displaying the plainest uniforms in all of sports. Black shoes. White helmets. Blue and white jerseys. It spoke to the rich tradition of Penn State football, an idea the team, fans, students, and alumni have always cherished.

After Saturday’s contest, Bill O’Brien said, “I think you have to win the Heisman Trophy to get your number retired at Penn State.” That seems a little ridiculous, considering there have been some great players that have worn the blue and white who may not have had superb levels of on-field success.

Take Adam Taliaferro, for example. After a violent collision with an Ohio State player in 2000 that left him paralyzed from the neck down, Taliaferro was given a 3% chance of ever walking again. After eight months of grueling rehab, he was able to lead the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel on his own two feet. He is one of the most inspiring football players in Penn State history, and he only played five games.

Or what about Michael Mauti? The 2012 graduate and current Minnesota Viking was snake-bitten by injuries for the first three years of his career at Penn State, tearing his ACL in both knees. However, the Louisiana native returned with a vengeance during his senior season, and was named a first team All-American and All-Big Ten selection. After suffering another knee injury late in the season, Penn State wore No. 42 decals on their helmets during the final game of the season, a thrilling 24-21 overtime victory over Wisconsin. The nod was a clear sign of respect and admiration for the unquestioned leader of the historical 2012 squad, a player who may not have left Penn State as the leading tackler of Linebacker U, but was revered as a tough player and fierce competitor.

I think it would be great to see the numbers of Penn State greats adorning the facade at Beaver Stadium, hanging in the rafters of the BJC, or framed in the Penn State All Sports Museum. Great players deserve recognition, and its a simple, yet touching gesture to those who represented Penn State with tremendous pride. But the simple fact is that Penn State sports is a unifying experience on campus, creating a sense of community that is unrivaled in college sports.

There’s a reason we chant “WE ARE”, not “I AM”.

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About the Author

Mike Reisman

is a senior Supply Chain Management major with an Economics minor (Read: Business Douche) from South Jersey. He has an intense fear of graduating so please don't bring it up. He writes about stupid things nobody cares about, and student life if the site is low on content that is clearly supposed be funny but is really very unfunny. He is lovingly (?) known around the staff as Baby Mike which may or may not be because he has a child (hint: it’s not). He’s also a second generation Penn Stater who has been wearing Penn State sweatshirts since before he was two, a habit he hasn’t grown out of. If you really hate yourself, you can follow him on twitter at @mike_reisman or email him at [email protected]

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