Lionize This: Top 5 JoePa Statue Replacements
The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium is gone and isn’t coming back. But Penn State football fans still have other, non-JoePa memories they can cherish — and memorialize. On top of a much-needed memorial for Jerry Sandusky's victims outside the stadium, we humbly propose five replacements to Paterno's statue.
The first is of linebacker Pete Giftopoulos’ game-clinching interception at the goal-line in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, preserving No. 2 Penn State’s 14–10 upset of No. 1 Miami.
“We were a team that couldn’t be intimidated, and that's what Miami liked to do to other players,” Giftopoulos recalled 15 years after the game. “How are you going to intimidate a bunch of steel-town kids from Pittsburgh, Ohio, Pennsylvania? You just can’t do that.”
Never mind that Giftopoulos hailed from Hamilton, Ontario. It was a huge upset that sealed Penn State's second national title — with a player from a linebacker, naturally. (More on that later.)
It’s fitting that it was a Pennsylvania native that came down with the catch that clinched Penn State’s first national title.
In the 1983 Sugar Bowl, the Nittany Lions clung to a 20–17, fourth-quarter lead over a Georgia team led by Herschel Walker. That’s when quarterback Todd Blackledge saw Gregg Garrity streaking down the left sideline and threw one deep.
Garrity — who hailed from Wexford — needed all 5-foot-10 inches of his height to dive for the ball before it hit the Superdome turf. Garrity’s subsequent celebration after the 47-yard touchdown landed him on the cover of the Jan. 10, 1983 issue of Sports Illustrated — under the cathartic headline “No. 1 At Last!”
The image of Garrity's stretched-out body is one of the most indelible Penn State football images and would look great as a statue.
“We are! Penn State!”
The story behind the Nittany Lions’ rallying cry is a powerful one. In 1946, Penn State voted unanimously to cancel a scheduled game against the then-segregated University of Miami rather than play without its two black players, Wally Triplett (pictured) and Dennie Hoggard.
The solidarity remained in 1948, when rumors circulated that SMU wanted to meet with Penn State to discuss the team not bringing its black players to the Cotton Bowl. Triplett says that was when the saying was born, as he recalls guard Steve Suhey saying, “We are Penn State. There will be no meetings.”
The Paterno statue used to stand for honor and integrity and a new sculpture of the two men that united Penn State together in a stand against racism would restore that pride to Happy Valley.
John Cappelletti — Penn State’s lone Heisman Trophy winner — didn’t tote the rock for personal glory or for the cheers from Nittany Lions fans. He did it for his brother, Joey.
Born 10 years after John, Joey was diagnosed with leukemia at age five. Even as he struggled to survive, Joey made sure he was at every one of John’s home games during his big brother's senior season in 1973.
When John accepted that year’s Heisman Trophy, he tearfully thanked his brother, saying that the trophy was “more his than mine because he has been such an inspiration to me.”
Joey succumbed to his illness two years later, but not before he and his brother reminded us of all that is right with college sports. A statue of the two of them would be a moving tribute to the most inspiring Heisman winner ever.
How fearsome would Penn State’s twist on Mount Rushmore be if they saluted linebackers instead of presidents with statues of five hulking defenders in granite outside of Beaver Stadium?
Jack Ham. LaVar Arrington. Paul Posluszny. Shane Conlan. Dan Connor. There would certainly be much discussion about which five players should be included in the "Linebacker U" statue to honor the teams great history of defenders but those are the five that get our votes. But considering all the great candidates, choosing the quartet of illustrious presidents was probably easier.
Aside from Paterno, "Linebacker U" is the most recognized tradition in Penn State football history and a statue honoring that would certain bring mcuh of the immense pride Penn State fans have back to the exterior of Beaver Stadium.