John Cappelletti’s Heisman Trophy Speech

InspiredON by Family — Usually it’s the top athletes who inspire boys to dream big dreams of being the star on the field and doing great things. This story flips that notion upside down. This time it’s an 11-year-old boy, stricken with cancer, who inspired his older brother, Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti. In 1973, in one of the most moving speeches in the history of college football’s top award, the Penn State running back dedicated the trophy to his 11-year-old brother, Joey, who was battling leukemia. What follows are some excerpts from his acceptance speech that night, and a video highlight of the evening.

John Cappelletti, from direct transcripts of the speech:

“My mother and my father, there isn’t a greater couple around. I know my mother always cries at these affairs, so I want to try not to. She’s a very, very strong woman and very dedicated, not only to her children and husband, but also to God, and I think this helped her out with putting up with us and going through all she has gone through. I think one small example of this, a personal thing with me that I think a lot of people may have noticed, is that my legs are as straight as arrows and that I have no trouble walking now or running, but one time in my life I couldn’t walk without tripping. My mother not only brought me through this but she brought just about every member of our family through something like this.

“My father is a very quiet man, he’s been a great father to all of us. He asked me the other day when I was home what I thought of him as a father. I wouldn’t say much to him then because it’s hard to express things like that, but there is no greater person I have more respect for than this man.

“The next part — I’m very happy to do something like this — I thought about it since the Heisman was announced 10 days ago. … The youngest member of my family, Joseph, is very ill. He has leukemia. If I can dedicate this trophy to him tonight and give him a couple days of happiness, this is worth everything. I think a lot of people think that I go through a lot on Saturdays and during the week as most athletes do, and you get your bumps and bruises and it is a terrific battle out there on the field. Only for me it is on Saturdays and it’s only in the fall. For Joseph, it is all year round and it is a battle that is unending with him and he puts up with much more than I’ll ever put up with and I think that this trophy is more his than mine because he has been a great inspiration to me.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as John gave this speech. Just watch the video:


Unfortunately, his little brother, Joseph, died two years later in 1975.

There’s more to the speech, too. Check it out here, at the Penn State University Archives.

3 thoughts on “John Cappelletti’s Heisman Trophy Speech

  1. I had the pleasure to meet John at PSU when Merrill Lynch sponsored an event honoring him as well as several other Heisman Winners, including John Bertelli, of Notre Dame. I especially remember shaking John’s hand and telling him how heart warming his Heisman acceptance speech was to me. My best friend, Owen Koch, a Pennsylvania All-State tackle, died of leukemia several weeks after our high school graduation. He, like John’s little brother, suffered greatly before death released him from his pain. I was never more proud to be a PSU grad the day that I met John.

    William R. Phillips, PSU Class of 1963

    1. Thank you for sharing this, William. Anyone who sees this speech will remember it always. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. May he rest in eternal peace.

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