The memories flooded back.

The dam opened Saturday, when Penn State announced that it will retire the No. 22 jersey worn by John Cappelletti, the school's only Heisman Trophy winner. He earned the iconic award in 1973. That caused the mind to wander back to a year that seems like a lifetime ago.

In 1973, Nittany Lion football was an entirely different beast. In many ways, it was a simpler, yet more enjoyable era.

Beaver Stadium's capacity was a relatively cozy 57,538, and was regularly filled to the brim. Today, the stadium holds a cavernous 106,572, but the school has trouble filling it.

There was no slickly-edited, MTV-inspired "Penn State Football Story." Instead, there was the home-spun "TV Quarterbacks," a public-television show featuring former Yorker Jim Tarman, along with Fran Fisher, head coach Joe Paterno and a PSU player or two. By today's standards, "TV Quarterbacks" would be considered slow-paced and hokey, but it was also entertaining and endearing.

Forty years ago, PSU fans could only see their beloved Lions on TV two or three times a year. For the other games, the Blue-and-White faithful who couldn't get to Beaver Stadium had to keep their ears pressed to the radio, hope to catch a few video clips on the evening news and read the next day's paper. Now, every game is on TV, there's almost-unlimited and immediate Web reporting and there's blanket coverage from cable outlets such as ESPN or the Big Ten Network.


Speaking of the Big Ten, in 1973 it was a completely Midwestern league. Penn State, meanwhile, was a proud Eastern independent. Twenty years later, that all changed, when the Lions became the 11th member of the tradition-bound league. It was just the start of the conference-hopping craze that has swept college football.

In 1973, head coach Joe Paterno was growing into a football legend. He was completing his third unbeaten season since 1968, and he was almost universally acclaimed for his "Grand Experiment," which tried to successfully meld big-time football with players who actually attended class. Now, in many eyes, his legacy has been forever tarnished by the fallout from the Sandusky scandal and his stubborn determination to remain on the job into his 80s.

Those are just a few of the many changes that occurred in the past 40 years for PSU football.

Fans under 50 likely look at that period as ancient history. For those of us over 50, however, it's an era to be cherished, like a long-lost friend.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis