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Next Penn State Football Jerseys to be Retired: Dunn, Higgins, Triplett, Robinson, Ham, Reid, Blackledge…and Poz

by on September 13, 2013 1:23 AM

John Cappelletti's No. 22 was the first Penn State football jersey to be retired. It won't be the last.

It was fitting that Cappy's jersey was the first to be so honored. He is Penn State's only Heisman Trophy winner, which puts him in a class by himself – 40 years after he won the honor.

Which Nittany Lion jersey number will follow suit?

The question is great fodder for tailgates and pay-site chat rooms – the kind of topic that folks could talk about 24/7, 'til they're blue-white in the face and there's a fight on state.

But, for now, let's take the emotion out of it. Penn State's Powers That Be – or Powers That Will Eventually Be – will need some solid criteria upon which to judge whether a player is worthy of such an honor. I'm here to help.

So was Lou Prato, the near-legendary Penn State football historian whose latest book is titled, "We Are Penn State: The Remarkable Journey of the 2012 Nittany Lions." I came up with the following criteria, which yielded a short list of potential honorees, and then had Lou poke a few holes in it.

The revised list follows and I'll take final responsibility for it. Actually, my goal is that the players' careers at Penn State speak for themselves, so -- ultimately -- when it comes to getting a number retired it's their responsibility. And reward.

THE CRITERIA

For a Penn State football player to have his jersey number retired, he must fit into at least one of the following categories. In addition, all players must wait 25 years for their number to be retired -- to allow for time, circumstances and history to play their rightful roles. And, finally, given the key role of academics at Dear Old State, each player whose number is retired must have received his degree from Penn State. (No time limit.) Penn State number, Penn State degree.

1. HEISMAN TROPHY

Win a Heisman and your jersey is automatically retired. There have been only 77 Heisman winners since 1935, so Cappy is in rare company indeed. In 1973, he was a consensus first-team All-America running back for coach Joe Paterno and won the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp, ABC-TV and UPI Player of the Year, in addition to the Heisman. He ran for 1,522 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior.

2. TWO HALL INDUCTION

You get your Penn State jersey number retired with induction into both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, plus first-team All-American status (a certainty, given the first two). Penn State has 19 players in the college hall, so they all can't have their number retired. And Penn State has six players in the pro hall.

Only two have been inducted into both. And while retiring a Penn State number is primarily based on their college years, the combo is so overwhelmingly unique that the two dual-winners both deserve the honor of a retired Penn State jersey. They are: linebacker Jack Ham (No. 33), 1968-70, and defensive end Dave Robinson (No. 67), 1960-62. Ham is terrific on Penn State football's radio broadcasts with long-time partner Steve Jones, while Robinson was just inducted into the pro hall this year.

3. PENN STATE PIONEERS

There have been very few true pioneers among the Nittany Lions who have played in the 127 years of Penn State football. These are special players who left an impact that is unmatched in its own special way. To start, I am allowing only three in this category:

W.T. "Mother" Dunn, 1903-1906, center, was Penn State's very first All-American, so honored by Walter Camp in 1906. Dunn was 29 years old when he earned the award. This makes the selection easier: he played so long ago that Prato reports Dunn did not wear a number at all.

Wally Triplett (No. 12), running back, 1946-48, was the first African-American to play varsity football at Penn State (1945) and also start (1946). He and teammate Dennie Hoggard integrated the Cotton Bowl in 1957.

Bob Higgins (No. 1), end, 1914-17, '19 was Penn State's second All-American, earning honors in 1915 and 1919. Although this list is for players only, that Higgins was Penn State's head coach from 1930-48, with a 91-57-11 record as the school's 11th mentor, counts for something as well. And there's more: Higgins was the first of four generations of Penn State football players. His daughter Ginger married Steve Suhey, a Penn State legend in his own right. They raised three Penn State football stalwarts of their own – Paul, Larry and Matt. Paul's son Kevin and Matt's son Joe completed the Higgins legacy by lettering in the 2000s.

4. FOUR OR MORE IS THE SCORE.

Categories 1, 2 and 3 are basically chip shots. But in setting up this final set of criteria, I looked for broad-reaching definable nationally-acclaimed success. That means they need to have achieved at least four separate distinctions among the group outlined below:

-- National award-winner (significant, at position), such as the Outland Trophy for the outstanding interior lineman in the country, the O'Brien Award for the top quarterback and the Maxwell Award for the nation's top player.

-- First-team All-American (two-time preferred). There have been 97 All-American selections in PSU football history. First team means best in the land.

-- College Football Hall of Fame; as noted, there are 19 Penn State players in this hall.

-- Pro Football Hall of Fame, which has six Penn Staters.

-- First-team Academic All-American; there have been 31 different Penn Staters so honored since 1965. In the true spirit of student-athletes, credit should also be given for what a jersey-wearer does off the field as well.

-- NCAA Silver Anniversary Award. Only six former college football players receive this honor each year. It epitomizes what Penn State football is all about, and three PSU alumni have won it. The award is given on the 25th anniversary of the winner's college graduation, and is weighted 40 percent to the nominee's status as a prominent college athlete and 60 percent to the nominee's career achievement. (Penn State has had three Silver Award winners – the two listed below, plus current PSU athletic director Dave Joyner.)

Only two former Nittany Lions meet at least four of the aforementioned criteria, and using this system they would be eligible to have their jersey number retired at tomorrow's game. A third will have to wait awhile, but his Penn State resume warrants his jersey being retired – when the time comes.

Todd Blackledge (No. 14), quarterback, 1980-82 – His four criteria met are: first-team All-American, first-team Academic All-American, NCAA Silver Anniversary Award and O'Brien Award. Blackledge also led Penn State to its first national title and had a 29-3 record as a starter, with wins over Missouri, Miami (Fla.), Pitt (twice, one of them when Pitt was No. 1) Ohio State, Notre Dame (twice), Southern Cal and Georgia.

Mike Reid (No. 68), defensive line, 1966, '68-69 – His five criteria met are: first-team All-American, Outland Trophy (PSU's only winner), NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, Maxwell Award, College Football Hall of Fame. Reid did it all: Eastern heavyweight wrestling champion, two-time captain of 11-0 teams and lead in "Guys and Dolls." And we're not even counting his Grammy.

This last player won't meet the 25-year rule until 2031, but at that point put No. 31 in mothballs -- Paul Posluszny, linebacker, 2003-2006, is getting his jersey retired. Poz was a two-time first-team All-American, an Academic All-American, won the Butkus Award as the country's top linebacker and twice won the Bednarik Award as the top defensive player. A nice added bonus: linebacking great Shane Conlan (1983-86) wore No. 31 as well.

 

 



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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