10 Questions With Penn State Football All-American Bruce Bannon
Ask any Penn State fan old enough to remember the 1970’s who the greatest linebacker they ever saw was, and Bruce Bannon is usually one of the first answers. Although many great linebackers have come and gone since the 1972 All-American suited up for Penn State, Bannon was one of the first great products in the early days of Linebacker U. He would go on to play for two years in the NFL with the Dolphins, but he made his legacy on the gridiron here in Happy Valley.
We caught up with Bannon to talk Nittany Lion football, life after leaving Happy Valley, and his playing days.
Onward State: What have you been up to since graduating?
Bruce Bannon: I have a degree in geology and a minor in metallurgy. I work primarily with aerospace and defense businesses to grow their business and highly-engineered products. I played professional football for a few years. I was lucky enough to do that. And then I worked in the titanium industry for a variety of markets, primarily in the development of new applications for titanium, like implants or power generation. For the last 12 years, I’ve had my own business. I work as a hands-on consultant with highly-engineered industries to help grow their business.
OS: What are your thoughts on the current Penn State football program?
BB: I think the coaches are doing a great job. I think they’re operating under a lot of adversity because of the loss of the seniors and loss of scholarships. From an offensive standpoint, they’ve brought in a new system and have been pretty successful. I applaud them. I think they’ve done a great job. The players have done a great job too, especially the ones that decided to stay at Penn State and could have gone elsewhere. When you lose scholarships and seniors like they did and have this cloud hanging over your head, it’s tough for the team. I applaud them for how well they’ve done under very difficult circumstances.
OS: You mentioned the offense, but you were a defensive player. What have you seen from the defense this season?
BB: The defense is a real challenge for them. I think the thing that bothers me the most is some of the fundamentals. I see guys missing tackles and out of position on coverages. Coming from a defensive background that pains me. Defense is always a strength at Penn State. You were very disciplined, you did your job. As we all know, it’s a challenge right now.
OS: What are your thoughts on the scandal and the sanctions?
BB: I kind of divide the scandal into three different segments for myself. The first thing is Jerry Sandusky, who was one of my coaches, and what he’s done to these young boys is just beyond belief. It’s such a horrible thing and it’s disgusting. It’s hard to believe I knew this guy as a coach and see the way he became a predator. It’s beyond my words and the things he did and how he scarred these young guys’ lives is just terrible. It’s tough for me to talk about. It’s just so upsetting.
The second thing is that incident in the shower and it appears to me that Mr. Paterno did what he was supposed to do. He turned it over to the administration and I think it’s the administrators who were at fault. Frankly, I think they really made a bad decision and that’s really disappointing. They should have acted swiftly and severely and that would have put it to bed. As Mr. Paterno said, looking back he wished he could have done more. I think we all wish we could have done more.
And then there’s the third situation and that’s the involvement of Penn State football and I have no idea how there’s any connection whatsoever. I don’t know what the problem is with the NCAA. The rulings were totally arbitrary. Joe Paterno stood for student athletes and he really believed in that and lived and died by it. Penn State football had nothing to do with this terrible thing that happened. For the Board to give in like they did is really upsetting. I don’t have anything good to say about the NCAA.
OS: What is your best memory from your time in Happy Valley?
BB: Going to the bowl games was always a lot of fun. Playing in the bowl games and fighting some of the best teams in the country was always exciting for me. In the Cotton Bowl we played against Texas and beat them very badly. No one ever gave us a chance against them and we had a very significant win.
OS: What was it like lining up against John Cappelletti in practice?
BB: We never really practiced against the offense. We practiced against the scout team, so I never really lined up against John. But he was always a great person and a great football player and I think he got the Heisman because he was so well-rounded. He ran well, he blocked for everybody, he caught well. He was a selfless player and he played for the good of the team.
OS: Does it ever bother you that you missed the undefeated 1973 team by one year?
BB: I guess you could look back on a lot of different things. My junior year, we had a fantastic team with Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell and we kind of blew it. We should have been undefeated. We had a tremendous team, but we lost to Tennessee. We were really just not ready for that game. We were not ready mentally or emotionally. Tennessee came in and jumped out with a real fast lead and we never recovered. I really do not regret missing the ’73 team but I do regret that the team my junior year was not undefeated.
OS: What was it like playing for Joe Paterno?
BB: It’s interested because my coach that I interacted with the most of the time was the linebacker coach and the defensive coaches. Joe Paterno really worked more with the offense and then the overall team. I always say Mr. Paterno as the one who motivated you, who made the tough personnel decisions, who was sort of the face of the Penn State football team. I didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with him in practice.
OS: Was Paterno the coach that recruited you?
BB: When you came up to Penn State, you would meet Mr. Paterno and spend some time with him. And if you were lucky you got to spend some personal time. He was the one that really made me want to go to Penn State. Not too many people in my family ever graduated from college and for me, scholarship was a way to get a degree. I was very interested in going to a really good school and one that was good in geology and sciences too. I was going to go to an Ivy League school, but I did want to look at a big football school.
What happened is, the first day we came we spent the whole day in the geology department and met all of the professors and saw the labs. The next day, on Saturday, I had lunch with my father and Mr. Paterno. He started talking about education and turned to my father and said, “I can not guarantee that your son will ever play football at Penn State. I do guarantee he will get a degree.”
So on the way home, my father, who really did not want to influence my decision, said, “Of all the coaches you met, even the Ivy League coaches, the only one who said you’d graduate is Joe Paterno. I’m not going to tell you what to do but I think you should really consider that.” I chose Penn State because I saw I could go to a great geology college and play big time football. I got the best of both worlds.
OS: If you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?
BB: Oh boy, that’s a good one for a geologist. I would be a raptor. They were tall and thin and muscular, very strong. They were the smartest dinosaurs. Their brain case was for their body size the biggest. So they can actually work out problems and think. They hunted in packs and worked as a team. So they weren’t a big brontosaurus with a little brain and big body. They weren’t a T-Rex that just went and tore you apart. They were quick, agile, and strong, just like a good middle linebacker.