STATE COLLEGE - Not long after John Cappelletti had his jersey retired in a halftime ceremony, his famed No. 22 willed its way into the end zone.
Saturday was a memorable afternoon for the double deuce at Beaver Stadium. Cappelletti, the only Heisman Trophy winner in Penn State history, became the first player in the program to have his number retired. And Akeel Lynch, who wears No. 22, ran for 108 yards and a touchdown in his collegiate debut.
Cappelletti spoke to the Nittany Lions after their 45-7 win over Eastern Michigan, and had a special message for Lynch.
"He called me out in the locker room and said, 'Where's Akeel Lynch?' " said Lynch, a redshirt freshman. "He was talking to some other guy, and said, 'We want you to carry 22 for the rest of your career. And make sure you give it back when you're done.' "
Cappelletti, a Monsignor Bonner High graduate, was on hand Saturday as part of a recognition of Penn State's 1973 team, which went 12-0. The Upper Darby native ran for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns 40 years ago, and was awarded the top individual prize in college football.
A College Football Hall of Fame member, Cappelletti said he found out that Penn State was going to honor him a week earlier, when he got a call from athletic director Dave Joyner. With the trophy on hand, Cappelletti received a special halftime tribute in front of 92,863 fans at Beaver Stadium. Afterward, he said it was hard to fathom.
"In all the years this school has been here, and all the players that have gone through here, for me to be the one to get the jersey retired, it's unbelievable," Cappelletti, 61, told reporters. "It's hard to comprehend right now."
Cappelletti's number was not just the first retired in the history of Penn State football, but the first the school has ever put to rest in any sport. The former tailback noted he was nervous leading up to the ceremony, but was pleased with the way it turned out.
"Last week was probably one of the more miserable weeks of my life, thinking about this the whole time," Cappelletti said. "Now it's great. It's such a nice thing, and hopefully meaningful for the fans and school that we have a number retired now."
With the decision coming recently, Cappelletti made sure to mention he did not want to "tear the number" away from Lynch, who said he plans to wear No. 22 for the rest of his career. And in his first action in the jersey, he had a Cappelletti-esque performance.
Lynch was part of a Penn State three-player rushing attack, which combined to gain 259 yards on the ground. A Toronto native, who is called "Big Maple" by his teammates, Lynch did most of his damage late and gained 94 yards in the fourth quarter. That was also when he scored his touchdown, Penn State's sixth of the day.
He totaled 65 yards on the Lions' second-to-last drive, and his final carry went for 18 yards and ended in the end zone. Lynch got tripped up near the goal line on his 13th carry of the contest, but managed to get the football across the plane.
"I saw the end zone and was like 'I gotta get in, there's no way I'm not scoring,' " Lynch said. "I got in, I actually got in, and I was too excited. I kept running around, I was gassed as soon as I went to the sideline."
Lynch was in a jovial mood after the game, and coach Bill O'Brien said: "It was just great for us as a staff to watch him with a big smile on his face."
The running back also discussed how he ended up with No. 22, and it was not his original plan. Lynch initially wanted to be No. 5, but the number was taken when he arrived at Penn State. So, equipment manager Brad "Spider" Caldwell recommended No. 22, and Lynch took it.
It belonged to Cappelletti and Evan Royster - Penn State's all-time leading rusher - before, and after Lynch studied the history of his digits, he was not giving the number up.