Local legend honors national legend
Last Modified: February 19. 2013 3:45AM
‚??I took some pretty easy classes that semester and I remember Joe (Paterno) calling me in and raking me over the coals for it,‚?Ě Cefalo said. ‚??My usefulness to him was done, but he said ‚??come on, you‚??re better than that. That‚??s beneath you.‚??‚?Ě
As he would as a speaker representing the ‚??70s decade at Thursday‚??s ‚??Memorial for Joe‚?Ě in State College, Cefalo told this story during a cell phone call from the Tavern in State College on Wednesday where, after serving as a Letterman honor guard at Paterno‚??s public viewing, he waited for the funeral procession to pass by and thought about what he would say during the memorial service.
‚??I‚??ll talk about his legacy,‚?Ě Cefalo said of his former coach. ‚??It‚??s in our hands now. It was one of the best times of my life; one of the best things that happened to me was to play for him. It led me to a successful adult life. It‚??s a commonality among the Lettermen. We all look back at the little things he did that helped us become successful fathers, husbands, business people, just successful in life.
‚??Football was important, but Joe was really about life‚??s journey. We all have that outlook. Doctors, lawyers, millionaires. We‚??re happier and more successful, thanks to Joe.‚?Ě
Cefalo said Paterno‚??s everyman quality was endearing. ‚??He was a devoted family man. He was in the phone book,‚?Ě he said. ‚??Joe kept about as normal life as you could, given his stature. He was more professorial than coach-like. He‚??d always talk to students, not just athletes, but students looking for advice ‚?Ľand he‚??d give it to them.‚?Ě
In a radio interview during the week, Cefalo, who went on to play professional football for the Miami Dolphins, said he was disappointed in the way Paterno was treated by the board of trustees and the governor, but in his eulogy at Thursday‚??s service he stayed away from the Sandusky scandel and, as did other former players who spoke during the memorial service, he talked about how Paterno‚??s influence guides him to this day.
Cefalo stayed in touch with Paterno periodically over the years at various alumni events, most recently at a Letterman‚??s luncheon in 2010 when he spent an hour with his former coach. They also visited on the sidelines when Penn State played in the 2006 Orange Bowl in Miami where Cefalo works as a radio news show host and play-by-play announcer on Miami Dolphins radio with color men Jim Rose and Bob Griese.
His radio show, ‚??South Florida‚??s First News,‚?Ě is a news, politics and economics-oriented show on Clear Channel‚??s WIOD in Miami that airs from 5 to 9 a.m. weekdays.
Cefalo is also a Wine Ambassador for Bacardi USA. He travels the country, training sales people on Bacardi‚??s wine portfolio. When he travels, he does his radio show remotely and will broadcast this week from Indianapolis, site of this year‚??s Super Bowl.
Cefalo, 55, lives in the Miami area with his wife, Janice, and three daughters, Mia, 14; and twins Ava and Katie, 10.
‚??They are singers, not athletes,‚?Ě he said. ‚??Mia has been performing since she was five. They have terrific voices.‚?Ě
The local 2012 high school football season will mark the 40th anniversary of Cefalo‚??s debut as a varsity high school football player at Pittston Area. He was a 160-pound, 14-year-old sophomore coming off a season with the freshman team where he scored 23 touchdowns in seven games.
The first time Cefalo touched the ball in a varsity game, he ran 80 yards for a touchdown and finished that game with 127 yards on eight carries. In two other games as a sophomore, he ran 105 yards on four carries, three of them for touchdowns and 141 yards on eight carries, three of those for touchdowns. He finished his sophomore season with 1,046 yards on only 109 carries for an average of just under 10 yard per carry.
As a junior, he had a 310-yard game against Meyers, the only time in his career he carried 30 times and finished his junior season with 1,437 yards.
As a senior playing for the first time on artificial turf in Wilkes-Barre, he ran over Meyers again, gaining 278 yards on 26 carries with touchdown runs of 70, 60, 24 and 13 yards. He got his second 300-yard game as a senior, going for 310 yards against Dallas on 29 carries.
Finishing his career on Thanksgiving Day in 1973 with 278 yards against Wyoming Area, Cefalo had a career total of 4,388 yards, considered a state record at the time. That‚??s not even the school record now. Matt Pisano holds that. The state record, held by Rushell Shell of Hopewell, is over 9,000 yards. Shell, however, played in 44 games.
Cefalo racked up his 4,388 yards and 64 touchdowns in 30 games, starting in only 20 of them. Of those 20 starts, he played full games in about 14. In six games during Cefalo‚??s senior season, the Patriots outscored their opponents more than 10 times to 1, 260-52. In most of those games, Coach Bob Barberi removed Cefalo from the game in the third quarter.
The most astonishing fact about Cefalo‚??s high school career rushing is that he rushed for 4,388 in three 10-game seasons (there were no playoff games then) and carried the ball from scrimmage only 507 times, an average of just 16 per game.
There were two all-state teams in 1974, AP and UPI, and Cefalo was named to the first team on both. He was a Parade First Team All-American. The only other Pennsylvania player on the Parade team was Joe Montana. In the Big 33 football game that summer, Cefalo caught a touchdown pass from Montana.
During his high school football career, Cefalo received 3,000 pieces of mail from colleges and well-wishers. He was offered 200 full scholarships.
The story Cefalo tells about how Penn State won that recruiting war is quintessential Paterno. Cefalo told the story again during Thursday‚??s memorial service of how Paterno charmed Cefalo‚??s mother by declaring the pasta she served him at her kitchen table in Pittston was ‚??better than Mrs. Cappeletti‚??s,‚?Ě referring to the mother of John Cappeletti, Penn State‚??s only Heisman Trophy winner.
Given Cefalo‚??s rushing prowess in high school, Paterno‚??s decision to make Cefalo a flanker, or wingback as they were called in those days, was met with consternation in Pittston.
Physically, though, it made sense. Cefalo was probably 6-feet and 180-lbs. when he arrived at Penn State, he could run through people but he wasn‚??t a powerback like Mike Guman, the Penn State running back in Cefalo‚??s junior and senior seasons, who was 6-2, 220.
And Cefalo had wide receiver speed. As a senior at Pittston Area, he set a District 2 record in the 100-yard dash at 9.8 seconds. That‚??s about 10.71 for 100 meters, fast enough to win in most of the last 40 years and only .05 off John Dessoye‚??s District 2 record of 10.64.
Penn State was 37-11 during Cefalo‚??s four seasons as a Nittany Lion. In his senior season in 1977, the team finished with an 11-1 record. Cefalo led the team in all-purpose yards and was second in receptions to All-American tight end Mickey Schuler.
Cefalo played in four bowl games. As a freshman in the Cotton Bowl on a January 1, 1975 ‚?? a 41-20 win over Baylor ‚?? he caught three passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and rushed 11 times for 55 and a touchdown.
After his sophomore season playing in the first Sugar Bowl in the Louisiana Superdome on New Year‚??s Eve in 1975, Cefalo caught five passes for 60 yards. He was selected Penn State‚??s outstanding player in a 13-6 loss the Alabama on December 31, 1975.
In his junior season, Penn State lost to Notre Dame, 20-9, in the Gator Bowl.
In Cefalo‚??s last game for the Nittany Lions on Christmas Day in 1977, he caught three passes for 39 yards and returned a punt 67 yards to set up a Matt Bahr field goal in a 42-30 win over Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl.