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Charley Trippi, star of 1942 UGA football championship team, dies at 100

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It’s futile to measure Trippi’s abilities against the contemporary game. Although he excelled at first as a one-wing tailback, he later won the Maxwell Trophy as a centerback for best college player when UGA coach Wally Butts switched to T-formation. Add his prowess on defense—some argue UGA has no better security—and his skill as a bookie and returns specialist, and today’s colleges will invest three or four scholarships to fill most roles.

After spending two years in the Army Air Corps, he played in Georgia in 1941-42 and 1945-46. He made every All-American team in 1946 and finished second to Army’s Glenn Davis in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Although he captained the 1946 Bulldogs’ first undefeated, undefeated season and led the SEC in scoring and rushing, it was the 1942 national championship that established his reputation. He ran for 130 yards in his Rose Bowl victory against UCLA, an experience that still pleases him in his 80s.

“I played 58 minutes of that game. I enjoyed the trip,” Trippi said in 2007. “Paramount had lunch for us and we got all the movie stars. I sat down next to Barbara Brittain and – oh, what’s her name? – Susan Hayward. I I was in the middle of these two.”

A fleet hitter, Trippi played baseball for a year for the Atlanta Crackers after the UGA before a nine-year NFL career with the Cardinals, leading them to a world championship in 1947.

Charles Trippi was born on December 14, 1921, in Pittston, PA, as close to the tracks as his home was on East Railroad Street. He was not pushed into football; The Italian immigrant coal miner, who didn’t like or understand the game, had to justify his training time to his father.

“Go on, you play,” Trippi remembered her father telling her. “But if you break one leg, I’ll break the other.”

A small but resilient boy, Trippi dropped out of his high school team in 1937 when he was a sophomore in 1937, when he was deprived of a pair of boots due to an unknown talent and had to work in work shoes.

At the insistence of a coach, Trippi returned as a teenager and played guard, center and gambler. According to Pittston lore, a failed gambling game is history.

It was in the middle of the 1938 season. Trippi grabbed the snap, took it, and fled. Eighty-two yards later, a star was born.

In 1939, “Triple Threat Trippi” caught the attention of former UGA team Harold Wayne Ketron, who ran the Coca-Cola bottling business in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

“I was 158kg at the time and Mr Ketron told me if I wanted to play college ball I needed to lose some weight,” Trippi said. “I went to LaSalle Military Academy on Long Island and that was the turning point in my career.”

Ten pounds heavier, he accepted a scholarship to Georgia in 1941. He turned down Notre Dame, Fordham and West Virginia.

Why UGA?

“Well,” said Trippi, “I liked the stadium, the people downstairs were friendly and there was an incentive to drive a Coca-Cola truck in the summer. There were only two options where I grew up. You could work in the coal mines or you could go to school and study. There was no way I could work in those mines.”

DiscoverKirby Smart surprises Charley Trippi on his 100th birthday

Trippi quickly became a star. After leading the Georgia freshmen to an undefeated season in 1941, he moved to college in 1942 and joined Frank Sinkwich, who would win the Heisman Cup that year, giving the Bulldogs one of the most feared combos in college football.

Trippi stepped in for stunned Sinkwich against undefeated Georgia Tech with a Rose Bowl bid as a result. He scored for two touchdowns and rushed for another in a 34-0 rout.

This created the biggest football thrill of Trippi’s career, playing in Georgia’s Rose Bowl victory.

“I resigned to not play much in that game,” Trippi recalled years later, “but in practice Frank sprained both ankles. Coach Butts pulled me aside on the morning of the game and said, ‘Charley, you’re going to have to go all the way’.

Trippi went 96 yards, rushed 130 yards and was on the defensive all around.

“Until that day, I really didn’t know what kind of football player I was,” Trippi later said. “This gave me the confidence to do what others say is my tremendous talent.”

Trippi enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II in 1943.

He once said, “Probably World War II. I am the only man who never held a gun and never fired in World War II,” he recalled. “For two and a half years I had the best time of my life. I did nothing but play football and baseball.”

He played five service matches while serving in Greensboro, NC in 1943, and a few more after being transferred to Charlotte. His biggest football service moment, of all places, came at Tech’s Grant Field, where he led the Third Air Force to a 14-7 defeat against the Second Air Force.

While in the ministry, Trippi met his first wife, Virginia, on a blind double date. They got married in 1944. He died in 1972.

Trippi was discharged in time to play Georgia’s last six games of the 1945 season. He set an SEC single-game rushing record with 239 yards against Florida. He broke the SEC one-game pass record with 323 against Georgia Tech.

However, in his final season in 1946, Trippi did his best. He captained UGA’s top team until Herschel Walker’s 1980 Bulldogs won the school’s second national championship.

DiscoverFrom 2017: A legendary conversation with Charley Trippi and Vince Dooley on the UGA national championships

Trippi led Georgia to its first undefeated, unsolved season, including a victory over North Carolina at the Sugar Bowl. In a 14-0 regular season victory against Alabama, he passed for one touchdown, rushed to the next, and put up a defense that didn’t allow SEC passing leader Harry Gilmer to complete it for the first time in his career. Jack Bell of the Miami Herald wrote of Trippi’s performance: “Charley Trippi beat Alabama 14-0 today and who is Harry Gilmer?”

Trippi was named to 13 All-American teams. But despite the excellent record, the team finished in third place in major news service polls, behind Notre Dame and Army, both undefeated but playing in their famous 0-0 draws.

Trippi became one of the biggest bonus babies of his time, turning his professional football prospects against professional baseball. The New York Yankees had managed to escort Trippi outside of New Orleans after the Sugar Bowl to negotiate a contract with Joe DiMaggio over the summer that would allow the Yankees to play out-of-court. NFL rival All-America Football Conference.

Alongside the NFL Cardinals, Trippi became part of the legendary “Million Dollar Backfield” alongside Paul Christman, Pat Harder and Marshall Goldberg. While the Cardinals won the NFL championship, Trippi set club records for offense, touchdowns, punting and comebacks.

Etched this championship game in Chicago, the Cardinals beat Philadelphia 28-21 on a frozen field in Comiskey Park. Wise to the harsh field conditions in her Pennsylvania youth, Trippi left her boots in her closet and wore high-heeled sneakers. He ran 44 yards from the scrimmage for a touchdown and returned a punt for a 75-yard score.

Trippi played nine years for the Cardinals and helped them have an undefeated regular season when they lost the championship game in 1948.

Those two seasons – 1947 and 1948 – remain the most successful seasons in franchise history. When Trippi retired after the 1955 season, he had set career records for the Cardinals for punt return yards (864), touchdowns (37), punt average (42.9) and yards per carry (5.1). In 1968, Trippi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After watching Trippi ruin the Washington Redskins one afternoon, the late Jim Thorpe, often considered football’s greatest player, said of Trippi: “The best player I’ve ever seen.”

Trippi returned to UGA in 1958 as backcourt coach until 1961, then returned to the Cardinals as assistant coach. He returned to Athens in 1964 and entered the real estate business. Most Saturday football could be found watching his favorite team in the Sanford Stadium press box.

“Football has given me a wonderful life,” he said in 2007. “I studied here. I made a lot of money from football. I invested. We are very, very lucky.”


TIMELINE

14 December 1922: Charles “Charley” Louis Trippi was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania, to an Italian immigrant grocer and his wife.

1941: Trippi enrolls at UGA after Harold “War Eagle” Ketron, who runs Coca-Cola bottling plants in western Pennsylvania, offers him a scholarship.

1942-43: Trippi finishes his sophomore year with a total of 1,239 yards; Georgia takes the SEC championship and goes to the Rose Bowl. Trippi sprinted for 130 yards, helping the Bulldogs win the University of California at Los Angeles 9-0. Honored with the Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player Award.

While serving in the Air Force during WWII, Trippi misses the next two and a half seasons.

[1945:[1945: The comeback of the last six games. In the season finale against Georgia Tech, Trippi broke SEC records for passing yards and total yards in a single game.

1946: In his senior year, he captains the Bulldogs, leads the team to an undefeated SEC championship season and a Sugar Bowl victory, and wins the Maxwell Award as college player of the year.

1947: He briefly plays with the Atlanta Crackers before deciding on his football career.

1947-55: He played professional football for the Chicago Cardinals for nine seasons, winning a world championship in his rookie year.

1948: He sets up a commercial real estate business in Athens (GA) to develop properties for rent.

After retiring, he joins the Cardinals’ coaching staff.

1958: He was hired by UGA as an assistant baseball coach.

(Trippi would later serve as Georgia’s baseball head coach—he was an All-American in 1946

1959: He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

1965: He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

1968: Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1971: His wife, Virginia, with three children, dies.

1977: He marries Margaret. They reside in Athens.

RESOURCES:

http://www.profootballresearchers.org/Coffin_Corner/11-01-359.pdf

http://www.uga.edu/ugara/newsletters/08/3-08.pdf

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-832

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