Heisman winner Cappelletti holds O’Brien in high regard, will speak to team this weekend

Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti has nothing but praise for Bill O’Brien and has accepted the coach’s open invitation to speak with the Penn State team this weekend.

Cappelletti and other members of the 1973 Nittany Lions team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan. Earlier this week, O’Brien mentioned he would welcome any members of that squad if they wanted to address this year’s team.

“It’s already in the works, and I’m not sure if it’s going to be pregame or postgame or even like Friday night,” Cappelletti said by phone Wednesday night from California. “Probably the most convenient way to do it would be after the game, after they get the win.”

Cappelletti said he’s looking forward to this anniversary trip back to Happy Valley as much as any he’s made in the past. The 1973 team, which went 12-0, has been honored three other times — the 25th, 30th and 35th anniversaries — but the 61-year-old Cappelletti said it means more with the passing of time.

About 50 players from that team are expected to be on hand for the reunion.

“As we get a little bit older, the time becomes a little bit more precious, and being part of the group and being able to participate in all the festivities certainly means an awful lot,” he said.

“Unfortunately, even at our age right now, we’ve lost some guys along the way, so it becomes even that much more important to get together with the guys who are still around.”

Cappelletti also is looking forward to meeting O’Brien for the first time. The two have exchanged emails on a couple of occasions — when the coach got the job and when the NCAA sanctions came down — and PSU’s only Heisman Trophy winner has high praise for the job O’Brien has done under tough circumstances.

“I think Bill’s done an absolutely wonderful job,” Cappelletti said. “I think he was the right guy for the right time, especially given the circumstances. He’s obviously committed to whatever he does, and that certainly was important in this situation.

“He brings an awful lot of the old-school ways with him, but also we see them on the field and what they’re doing on offense and defense, a lot of upbeat, new-school stuff, too. So I think he’s probably about the best combination you could find out there to coach college kids right now.”

Cappelletti rushed for 1,522 yards and 17 TDs in 1973 as the Lions went unbeaten during the regular season and beat LSU in the Orange Bowl, 16-9.

Cappelletti, who lives in Southern California and has long been involved in the classic car business, said the most important thing for Penn State has been moving forward after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

“Penn State’s been around for a long time, and there’s been an awful lot of good people that have done some unbelievable things there, dedicated their lives to the university, whether in sports or the classroom, and built that university,” he said.

“It’s had its hiccup, but it needs to move on. And I think it all started with the kids last year and their commitment to staying. I watched the ‘Training Days’ piece where a couple of the kids said they were ready to drive somewhere else and couldn’t do it, had to turn around and come back.”

Those players, Cappelletti added, have earned the respect and admiration of all Penn Staters. He’s also fully supportive of O’Brien’s decision to put names on the back of the jerseys because, “We needed to know who those kids were.”

What’s important now, Cappelletti believes, is that O’Brien and the football team continue doing what they’re doing to help Penn State move forward from a football standpoint.

“To be fair to the team, to be fair to the coaches, there’s other stuff going on behind the scenes that’s still in dispute with the NCAA stuff,” he said. “Well, let it stay there and let the team and the coaches do what they do.

“And if part of moving on is coming back to celebrate an anniversary or the Heisman or whatever else that could be thought of as positive, then I think that still needs to be done also.”