FEATURE: `One Team' Since 1973
Sep 5, 2013
By Gabrielle Richards, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
While these moments in sports history still come up in conversation today, '73 was also a big year for Penn State Football; it was a year that put Penn State on the national map.
Prior to the '73 season, Penn State's most successful seasons to date were 1968 and 1969. But, even an 11-0 record, two Orange Bowl victories, and a No. 2 overall final AP ranking in '68 and `69 wasn't enough for Penn State to be considered to be direct competition to the likes of Notre Dame, Alabama and others in the national spotlight.
Normally, when a team becomes as successful as Penn State was in '68 and `69, winning a bowl games shouldn't come as a surprise. However, an article written by Sports Illustrated after Penn State's 1969 Orange Bowl victory attests to this, stating that Penn State had to overcome "great odds" to pull off the win.
"No one took us seriously," said Gregory Murphy, former defensive end for the '73 Nittany Lions and the New York Jets. "We could win every game and it wouldn't matter."
Regardless of Penn State's athletic talent on the gridiron, many people still didn't know who Penn State was.
Tom Donchez, former running back for the '73 team and the Chicago Bears put it perfectly, "the `68 team was spectacular, but nationally we were underestimated."
Sports Illustrated journalist, Dan Jenkins, mirrored this perception when he wrote a follow up article about Penn State's Orange Bowl win over Kansas, "...the Nittany Lions don't command enough respect." That mentality soon changed.
The 1969 freshman class would quickly turn into a force to be reckoned with.
"We had big shoes to fill...that is how the tradition began," said Donchez.
Among the freshman class were the likes of Mark Markovich and the great John Cappelletti, Penn State's only Heisman winner.
"We were successful because of our foundation," said Cappelletti. "By the time we were seniors, we had been playing alongside the same people for four years. We knew that this was it for us."
Penn State opened the '73 season at Stanford, the first of many games in a schedule that was considered "tougher than usual".
"We had a chip on our shoulder," said Donchez. "It wasn't until we started playing teams like Stanford or North Carolina State that people started to take us seriously."
The Nittany Lions beat Stanford and North Carolina State, 20-6 and 35-29, respectively.
"We always expected to win, regardless of how good our opponent was. That was our mindset," said Murphy.
Halfway through the season, the Nittany Lions were winning consistently; they were averaging 32 points per game, ranking them No. 5 overall in scoring percentage.
"We treated every game as if it were the only game...that is what we were taught," said Cappelletti. "You can't worry about beating a team two weeks from now, when you haven't beat the team you are playing this weekend."
"When `Cappy' started putting up 200 yards a game, that is when I knew we had something going," said Murphy.
Penn State finished the regular season 11-0.
"We were so successful because our bench was deep. Our team was successful because the second and third strings were just as talented as the first," said Murphy.
The Lions finally received the recognition they deserved after an Orange Bowl victory against LSU, taking their record to 12-0.
"We weren't considered for the national championship that year, but we felt like champions," said Cappelletti.
Cappelletti, who rushed for over 1,500 yards that season, wasn't considered for the Heisman until October.
"I was sat down after practice one day and was told that my name was being thrown around for a Heisman nomination," said Cappelletti. "That wouldn't have happened if we weren't successful as a team."
John Cappelletti became a household name in college football that year, and unanimously won the Heisman. Cappelletti dedicated his Heisman, one of the most prestigious awards in collegiate athletics, to the efforts of everyone, except himself.
"I wouldn't have been able to win such an award if it wasn't for the men playing beside me, our coaching staff, the athletic trainers, my family and the fans."
Cappelletti's Heisman speech is remembered as one of the most memorable in college sports.
"When I was up on that stage, all I could think about was how I got there, how did this happen," said Cappelletti. "That was a symbol, at the time, for the team to move forward as a successful program."
It's hard to imagine a time when Penn State wasn't a household name in college football, and even, academically.
"We were successful on the field because we were just as successful in the classroom," said Murphy. "We were participants in the `Grand Experiment,' and you know what, it worked."
Cappelletti, Murphy, and Donchez all agreed that without the pressure to excel in the classroom, they wouldn't have turned out to be the men they are today.
"If you didn't get the most of your Penn State education, the wins and athletic success didn't matter. You would have wound up with nothing," said Murphy.
Penn State had three first-team All-Americans, a Heisman winner, and 10 NFL Draft picks following the 1973 season.
"It was never about winning. We might have been taught how to run faster or push harder, but we were also taught how to be a decent human being," said Murphy.
"We learned an awful lot back then," said Cappelletti. "As a team we were taught to overcome boundaries, a lesson that transcends into every day life. It is ingrained in our personalities. Somehow, someway, things will always workout."
This weekend, this team will be reunited once again for the 40th anniversary of the program's first 12-0 squad.
"We might not have played together in 40 years, but we have never stopped being a team," said Cappelletti.
"Forty years from now, they will still be my family," said Murphy.
The traditions and the foundations laid by the '73 team have remained steadfast today.
"During a winning season or a losing season, the coaching staff always kept you grounded," said Cappelletti. "Practice was always harder after a win, than it was after a loss."
"The `One Team' philosophy has always existed at Penn State. The fans, the students, the coaches and the alumni have always been united by the love that they have for this university...nothing can change that," said Donchez.
Cappelletti, Donchez and Murphy each applauded Coach O'Brien's efforts and noted that the kids deserve all of the credit in the world.
"Its hard to stay true to yourself as a college athlete today because of the pressure from the media, let alone during times of adversity," said Murphy. "Those kids are gems. If Coach O'Brien wants to put names on their jerseys, let him do it. Those kids deserve to be recognized, not just for their talent, but for their perseverance."
"We as former players and Penn State alumni are so incredibly proud of the job that Bill is doing," said Donchez. "I admire him for sticking around for more than he signed on for."
"Bill came into a situation that is difficult," said Cappelletti. "He is an individual that will overcome this and always find a way."
Winning a season opener is always a great way to start off the season. According to Murphy, Syracuse has always been a rival of Penn State.
"It is always a good day when you beat (a traditional rival like) Syracuse," said Murphy.
The 1973 team will be recognized during this weekend's game against Eastern Michigan. Forty years later, the relationships developed while wearing the blue and white still exist today, and they are stronger than ever.
"I'm looking forward to this weekend," said Donchez. "At a time like this, we all need to remember why we love Penn State."