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On This Date in Sports December 8, 1973: For Joey

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Penn State Running Back John Cappelletti wins the Heisman Trophy, by doubling the number of first-place votes received by John Hicks of Ohio State. Cappelletti who emerged out of the shadow of Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell led the Nittany Lions to a perfect 12-0 record. During an emotional speech, John Cappelletti would dedicate his win to his younger brother Joey, who was suffering from Leukemia.

John Cappelletti was born on August 9, 1952, in Philadelphia. When he arrived at Penn State, Cappelletti played defensive back with a crowded backfield, featuring Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell playing ahead of him in 1971. After Harris and Mitchell moved on the NFL, Cappelletti got his chance to play and had a strong junior season, rushing for 1,117 yards with 12 touchdowns, as Penn State went 10-2 on the season and finished the year ranked #10.

While John Cappelletti was excelling on the field, off the field life was hitting him hard as his younger brother was dealing with a Leukemia and had been in a coma. By the time his senior season arrived, Cappelletti’s brother Joey was going better. The Nittany Lions were off to a 5-0 start as they hosted West Virginia on October 27th. Before the game, Joey approaching his birthday was asked by John Cappelletti what he wanted as a gifted, and he asked his brother to score four touchdowns. Cappelletti quickly got three touchdowns but was removed from the game that was already a blowout as coach Joe Paterno did not like rolling up the score. However, upon learning of his brother’s wish, Paterno put John Cappelletti back in the game as he crossed the goal line for his fourth score, as the Nittany Lions beat West Virginia 62-14. He repeated the four-touchdown game a week later, in a 42-22 win over Maryland. Cappelletti would finish the season with 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns as Penn State posted an unbeaten season at 12-0 and finished with the #5 ranking.

John Cappelletti would go on to be a consensus All-American, winning the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Award. Not well known when the season, began Cappelletti won the Heisman Trophy surprisingly easy more than doubling the vote total of Ohio State Tackle John Hicks. Upon receiving the Heisman Trophy, John Cappelletti broke down and dedicated the trophy to his brother, and his brave battle with Leukemia.

John Cappelletti would be picked #11 overall in the 1974 draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He would have a rather unremarkable nine seasons in the NFL, playing five seasons with the Rams and four with the San Diego Chargers. Joey Cappelletti died at the age of 13 in 1976. The story became an inspiration as a television movie dramatizing the relationship between the Cappelletti brothers, titled “Something for Joey” aired a year later.