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September 6, 2013By Lou Prato
Blue White Contributor
In the 40 years since he won the Heisman Trophy in leading the 1973 team to an undefeated season, John Cappelletti has come to personify all that is good about Penn State and college football. Cappelletti's emotional acceptance speech, in which he dedicated the trophy to his dying younger brother Joey, turned what is still a routine annual award given to the best player in college football into a legend of sometimes mythical proportions.
Cappelletti's teammates have been overshadowed in the wake of his growing legend, including his fellow All-America co-captains: defensive tackle Randy Crowder and linebacker Ed O'Neil (first team) and guard Mark Markovich (second team). And no one is more forgotten than the inexperienced junior quarterback who handed the ball to Cappelletti and had his own breakout season that was almost as impressive as Cappelletti's.
His name is Tom Shuman, and many Penn Staters still get him confused with another Nittany Lion passer of that era with a similar name, Tom Sherman, quarterback of coach Joe Paterno's first two teams in 1966 and 1967. Whenever fans talk about the best quarterbacks in Penn State history, Kerry Collins and Todd Blackledge usually head the list. Chuck Fusina and John Hufnagel are in the mix as well, and Shuman often is an afterthought.
Yet it is doubtful Penn State would have won 12 games, including an exciting 16-9 victory over LSU in the Orange Bowl, if not for Shuman's passing and leadership. Despite not playing as a freshman (they were ineligible at the time) and not playing enough to earn a letter as a sophomore in 1972, Shuman had a marvelous junior season, throwing for 1,375 yards, the third-best total in Penn State history at the time, behind Hufnagel (2,039 yards in 1972) and Sherman (1,616 yards in 1967). He also threw 12 touchdown passes that season, and with his 15 the following year (and one in 1972), Shuman set a team record with 28 career scoring passes.
Today, one can hardly find Shuman's name in the record book because Penn State's passing offense has changed so much in the past 15 years. But he is still ninth in career touchdown passes, second in career touchdown pass efficiency (7.67), fifth in career passing efficiency (136.68) and 10th in lowest career interception percentage (3.29).
It was Hufnagel who kept Shuman on the bench as a sophomore. Hufnagel finished sixth in the Heisman voting in 1972 as he led the Lions to a 10-1 record and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. With Cappelletti sidelined by the flu, the Lions lost that Sugar Bowl game to Oklahoma, 14-0. But nine offensive starters returned the following year, and it was up to Shuman to continue the success Hufnagel had enjoyed after becoming the starting quarterback midway through the 1970 season.
However, Shuman was not sharp in spring practice and threw five interceptions in two public scrimmages. And in the preseason, he admitted he was concerned, telling The Daily Collegian, "I don't know how to react to the big game. I can't play unless I'm psyched, and I can't get psyched for practice."
Forty years later, Shuman cannot remember having a bad spring or preseason practice. What he does remember is the team's first game against Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.
"I felt absolutely as confident as I could be stepping onto the field that first game out at Stanford because I felt that I was very well prepared," Shuman said recently from his home in Plano, Texas. "I even tell folks today that when I played little league football and through high school I'd get butterflies in my tummy before the games. Then you go on to play college football with 60,000 people or more at most games and I was never nervous and never had a single butterfly. I walked onto the field confident at Stanford that I was going to perform well and the team was going to perform well, and we were going to have a lot of success that day."
As a national television audience watched, the Lions dominated Stanford on both sides of the ball, winning 20-6. Shuman threw for a touchdown and a two-point conversion in completing 11 of 18 passes without an interception and was named by ABC-TV the offensive player of the game. Cappelletti had what would turn out to be his second-worst game of the year, gaining only 76 yards on 26 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown, and fumbling twice.
Meanwhile Penn State's defense, a mix of veterans and talented underclassmen, held Stanford to minus-8 yards rushing and sacked their highly touted quarterback Mike Boryla (the nation's fourth-leading passer in 1972) seven times. Stanford barely avoided a shutout with a touchdown in the last two minutes against the Lions' reserves.
"I believe it was all due to preparation," Shuman said. "The coaches really had us prepared to go out there on the field and execute and do our best."
One of those coaches was Shuman's new quarterbacks coach, Bob Phillips. George Welsh, the offensive backfield coach who helped recruit Shuman out of Pottstown (Pa.) High School, left at the end of the 1972 season to be the head coach at his alma mater, Navy. Phillips, who had been coaching the offensive line and receivers, took over the offensive backs in the spring.
"Bob Phillips had a tremendous amount of influence on me throughout the rest of my career," Shuman said. "Bob was like having your dad in State College with you. He was a great guy, always very supportive and always helping to build your confidence."
Penn State's overpowering victory over Stanford solidified preseason judgments that the seventh-ranked Lions could contend for the national championship. But after two more relatively easy wins - over Navy and Iowa - many sportswriters figured Penn State would not get past a strong Air Force team in the high altitude of Colorado Springs.
Air Force, which had won its first two games, scored first on a field goal, but with the running of Cappelletti, the passing of Shuman and an aggressive defense, the Lions won, 19-9. Cappelletti ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries, and the ABC regional TV announcers were so impressed they mentioned the magic word "Heisman" several times. Shuman threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to his favorite receiver, Gary Hayman, as he completed 12 of 20 passes with one interception.
The game would be the turning point of the season. "Like all other games, we went out on the field confident that we were going to do our job, execute and win the ballgame," Shuman said. I don't remember the altitude bothering us at all. We expected to do well and win the ballgame, and we did."
The next two games were somewhat embarrassing for traditional Eastern rivals Army and Syracuse. The Lions defeated Army, 54-3, as Cappelletti gained 151 yards on 17 carries, and then smashed Syracuse, 49-6, with Cappelletti on the sideline nursing an injury.
It was the next week against a good West Virginia team when the nation's sportswriters began to take Cappelletti seriously as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He scored four touchdowns and gained 130 yards on 24 carries in a 62-14 romp over the visiting Mountaineers. Within a day or two, Penn State's sports information director, John Morris, was being inundated with interview requests for the Lions' tailback. "Cappelletti is a hot item," Morris said.
"I remember it was after West Virginia that the media started talking about John for the Heisman," Shuman recalled. "So the team was well aware of that and happy about it." Shuman said the team was pulling for Cappelletti but also concentrating on winning its four remaining regular-season games and perhaps getting a shot at the national title in a bowl game.
In the next three games, Cappelletti continued his march toward the Heisman, rushing for more than 200 yards in victories over Maryland (42-22), North Carolina State (35-29) and Ohio University (35-16). But the Lions almost stumbled at North Carolina State. Playing in the freezing cold and snow in Raleigh, Penn State's offense fumbled away potential touchdowns in the first half as the Wolfpack took a 14-9 lead. Cappelletti scored three touchdowns in the second half on runs of 34, 4 and 27 yards, gaining a total of 231 yards on 41 carries, but with less than nine minutes to play, the Lions clung to a six-point lead after a missed PAT. Once again, the defense was up to the task, keeping the Wolfpack from getting past the Lions' 40-yard line, as Penn State recorded victory No 9.
The victories over North Carolina State and Ohio did nothing to help Penn State get closer to the national championship. In that era, bowl pairings were sometimes announced in mid-November, before the end of the regular season. With No. 1 Ohio State seemingly headed to the Rose Bowl to play a much lower rated USC team and the AP's No. 2 team, Oklahoma, ineligible because of NCAA penalties, Alabama (No. 3 AP, No. 2 UPI) was in the driver's seat for a possible national title game if the Buckeyes weren't able to defeat Michigan. So, on the weekend the Lions defeated Ohio, Alabama coach Bear Bryant manipulated a possible showdown game with then-No. 5 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. That left No. 6 Penn State to accept an Orange Bowl date against No. 7 LSU.
By the time of the bowl games, Michigan had tied Ohio State, and LSU had lost to both Alabama and Tulane. Those results all but guaranteed that the winner of the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve would claim the national title, eliminating any chance that Penn State would be voted No. 1.
Pitt almost took even more luster off the Orange Bowl matchup the week after the pairings were announced. The Panthers were just 6-3-1, but their new head coach, Johnny Majors, had his team primed for an upset at Pitt Stadium. The Lions' offense was listless in the first half, and just before halftime Pitt's freshman kicker, Carson Long, hit a 51-yard field goal to give the Panthers a shocking 13-3 lead. Long defiantly shook his fist at the Penn State bench as the entire Pitt team ran onto the field to celebrate Long's kick.
"We were seething in the locker room," Shuman recalled. "When he made that field goal, Pitt acted as if it just won the national championship, and that really made us mad."
The Lions scored on their first possession of the second half, but it wasn't easy. In a series of plays at the Pitt 2-yard line that involved an offside and an interference penalty, the Panthers stopped Cappelletti four times from crossing the goal line before reserve senior fullback Bob Nagle scored from the 1 and Shuman hit Hayman for a two-point conversion to narrow Pitt's lead to 13-11.
Late in the third quarter, Penn State started a drive at midfield and ended it on the third play of the fourth quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run by Cappelletti. Chris Bahr kicked the extra point, and the Lions led for the first time, 19-13. A minute later, linebacker Tom Hull intercepted a Pitt pass and dashed 27 yards for a touchdown, and it was all over for the Panthers. The Lions won, 35-13, with Shuman throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to Chuck Herd to add to Pitt's misery.
"That game against Pitt and the one the next year when I threw a couple of touchdown passes [in a 31-10 rout of the Panthers] were among the best games I played in my career," Shuman said. "Of course, the Orange Bowl my junior year may have been the best."
Three weeks after the Pitt victory, Cappelletti made history with his dramatic, heartfelt acceptance speech at the Heisman dinner. By that time, the players knew their national championship aspirations were over. No. 1 Alabama was set to play No. 3 Notre Dame on New Year's Eve for the national championship, and only its own fans and college football diehards cared about Penn State's game against LSU the next night in Miami. In the AP poll before the bowl games, LSU had slipped all the way to No. 13 after ending its regular season with back-to-back losses.
By the time the Orange Bowl kicked off, Notre Dame had upset Alabama, 24-12, and was a shoo-in to be voted national champion. That didn't help the mental attitude of the Lions, who looked listless in the early minutes of the Orange Bowl and allowed LSU to run the opening kickoff to midfield and then score on a 51-yard touchdown drive.
"LSU was ready for us," Shuman said. "They put eight men in the box to stop Cappelletti and said if Penn State is going to beat us, they're going to have to beat us with the passing game. We hurt them with a couple of passes, and our defense stopped them cold."
After its opening touchdown, LSU scored only two more points when Penn State took a safety early in the third quarter.
Following LSU's touchdown, Bahr kicked a 44-yard field goal, the longest in Orange Bowl history to that point. The Lions could have broken the game wide open in the second quarter, but an apparent 65-yard touchdown pass to Herd was called back when an official ruled that the receiver had a foot out of bounds deep in the end zone. Minutes later, Hayman seemed on his way to a touchdown on a 70-yard punt return but was halted by another official who ruled that his knee had touched the ground. TV replays clearly showed both calls were wrong, but the Lions were not disheartened.
Two plays after Hayman's overturned punt return, Herd made one of the greatest catches in Penn State history. With the ball at the Penn State 28-yard line, Herd streaked down the right sideline. Shuman heaved a pass, and Herd reached up high with his left hand at the LSU 35, caught the ball on his fingertips, pulled it into the crook of his arm, clutched it with his right arm and ran for a touchdown.
"I really didn't see the catch until seeing the game films because his back was to me," Shuman said. "I threw it like any pass, just trying to lead him down the field, and I apparently overthrew it by a couple of feet. Chuck made all of us look good on that play."
The score was 10-7, but that spectacular pass seemed to deflate LSU. Penn State's defense held the Tigers' vaunted offense in check, and a long punt return set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Cappelletti. The Lions went on to win, 16-9. Shuman's leadership and his spot passing (he was 6 of 17 for 157 yards with one TD and one interception) earned him recognition as the game's outstanding offensive player.
"Obviously, I was elated," Shuman said. "I kinda felt like the world's tallest midget. We didn't have a great night offensively. Cappy was held to very low yardage. Their eight, nine men in the box opened up our passing game, and Chuck and Gary made some great catches."
Cappelletti finished with 50 yards on 26 carries - the lowest total of his career. He later admitted he had sprained an ankle in practice but said the injury didn't bother him in the game, crediting the LSU defense instead.
With the victory, the 1973 team became the first in school history to win 12 games. In the locker room, Paterno said, "This was the best team I ever coached." Bristling at the lack of respect from the pollsters, Paterno said, "We have as much right to claim the top place as anyone else. ... I have my own poll - the Paterno poll. The vote was unanimous - Penn State is No. 1."
Shuman is still disappointed the team never had a chance to play for the championship. "I wish there had been a playoff," he said. "And to this day, I am not a fan of the BCS. We would have given anybody more than they bargained for that year. We were very underrated and not given the recognition and respect nationally that we deserved.
"We had a tremendous lineup of players. John was very gracious in giving accolades to the team when he won the Heisman Trophy, and rightfully so. When you look at that team on both sides of the ball and you count our punter, Brian Marsella, and field goal kicker, Chris Bahr, as the starting 24, 20 of those players were drafted or went [into the pros] as free agents. It was an unbelievable team of talent."
In his senior year, Shuman led the Lions in total offense, and they finished 10-2 with a 41-20 victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl and a national ranking of No. 7 in both the AP and UPI polls.
That spring, Shuman was drafted in the sixth round by Cincinnati but was cut just before the season when the Bengals went with just two quarterbacks. He then spent three weeks with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League before the league folded. The next year, he was cut by New England on the eve of the NFL opener. So Shuman joined the Canadian Football League and played three seasons for Hamilton and Montreal before deciding to "get on with my life."
That became a long career in the bottling and soft drink business, and Shuman wound up making his home in the Dallas suburb of Plano. He still lives there with his second wife, Kelly, and their two young children. He also has a son and daughter from his first marriage.
Shuman is now an entrepreneur, and he and his wife have developed a 100-calorie margarita called SmarteRita that is being sold in four states. The drink already has received national publicity in the trade press and on Fox News, and the Shumans' plan is to distribute the drink nationally in the near future.
"You can order a bottle or two over the Internet if you're interested," Shuman told this writer.
Perhaps he can persuade some of his 1973 teammates to become customers, too. That's the least they can do for their one-time "inexperienced" quarterback who took them to the brink of the national championship.
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