Charley Trippi-A Georgia Immortal

Charley Trippi is considered by many to be the greatest all-around athlete ever to wear the red and black of Georgia.

Trippi was born Dec. 14, 1920 in the coal mining town of Pittstown, PA. He credits the late Harold "War Eagle" Ketron, who had played football at Georgia in the early 1900s for the opportunity he had to play for the Bulldogs. After graduating from Georgia, Ketron operated Coca-Cola bottling plants in Western Pennsylvania, where he always was on the look out for athletic prospects who had the ability to play for Georgia. 

At that time, boosters could recruit--even offer scholarships--and Ketron knew Trippi had marvelous athletic potential, so he offered the 19-year-old a scholarship to Georgia. 

"A tremendous amount of the success I enjoyed as an athlete and the fine education I received from the University of Georgia is parallel to 'War Eagle' Ketron taking a chance on me," said Trippi. "He took a great interest in me, and I'm so happy he did. I wanted to get away from home, because I certainly didn't want to be mining coal eight hours a day the rest of my life.'' 

Trippi said he asked Ketron if he could spend one more year at a prep school- LaSalle (N.Y.) Military Academy - to hone his skills as a halfback before making the jump to the big leagues of college football. 

Ketron agreed, and it benefited Trippi greatly, helping him gain more size, confidence, ability -- and perhaps, most important--exposure. Trippi had a successful season at LaSalle and suddenly offers poured in from major college powerhouses wanting him to play for their school. 

But there was no doubt where Trippi wanted to play--Georgia. 

"I was recruited by dozens of schools and I had a lot of pressure to attend other schools," he said. "But I'm a man of my word, and I had told Mr. Ketron that I was going to Georgia, and that was it. I was not changing my mind." 

Trippi spent his first year (1941) as the star halfback on Georgia's undefeated freshman team (freshmen weren't eligible to play on the varsity then), while the varsity Bulldogs played in their first bowl game, the Orange Bowl, claiming a 42-26 win over Texas Christian on Jan. 1, 1942 behind All-American halfback Frankie Sinkwich

Midway through Trippi's sophomore season, Georgia Head Coach Wally Butts inserted Trippi at tailback and switched Sinkwich to fullback. The move proved to be a stroke of genius as Trippi gained 1,239 yards in total offense (672 yards rushing on 98 carries and 567 yards passing), an amazing accomplishment considering he was a reserve player for part of the season. 

The switch in positions helped make Sinkwich a better player. He went on to win the 1942 Heisman Trophy for his sterling play at fullback. 

"We had a good offense that became very explosive after Coach Butts put me at halfback and Frank at fullback," Trippi said. "Frank made me a better player and I made him a better player. Frank's quickness off the ball was devastating, and I've never seen a more effective inside runner. And his running opened up the outside lanes for me. We were quite a one-two punch." 

Georgia compiled an 11-1 record, with one of the wins coming to the tune of 75-0 over hated Florida. The Bulldogs' lone loss was to Auburn, but they bounced back the next week to rout a highly regarded Georgia Tech team 34-0. Trippi made an 85-yard touchdown run against the Yellow Jackets to help Georgia earn a trip to the Rose Bowl against Pacific Coast champion UCLA.

The trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA was a dream come trip for Trippi and most of his teammates, who had never been out West. The Bulldogs dined with some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities, including Bob Hope, Barbara Britton, Ginger Rogers, Susan Hayward and Rita Hayworth

"Each player got to sit between two Hollywood stars," Trippi proudly recalls. "I sat beside Susan Hayward and Barbara Britton. As you can imagine, I held my head high. That was one of the highlights of my life." 

A few days later, Trippi played before the largest crowd he had ever seen at the time--90,000. 

"The first time I saw the Rose Bowl, I couldn't believe my eyes," he said. "It was the biggest and most imposing structure I had ever seen. And it was hard for me to imagine having 90,000 people at a football game. I didn't know there was that many people in the world."

Trippi added: "Every college football player in those days wanted to play in the Rose Bowl. It was considered the bowl of bowls then, and it was a tremendous thrill just to walk on the field and warm up--let alone play in the game.'' 

Trippi played an integral role in the Bulldogs' 9-0 shutout win over mighty UCLA. With Sinkwich nursing two badly sprained ankles, Trippi carried the offensive load and gained 130 yards rushing and was named the game's outstanding player. 

Georgia was declared the 1942 National Champion in six polls. 

World War II interrupted the playing career of many college athletes, including Trippi, who served three years in the Air Force. After the war ended, he returned to Georgia and played in the Bulldogs' last six games in 1945. 

When the war ended and Trippi returned to Georgia, he discovered that Butts had implemented a new offensive system while he was away--switching from the single wing to a T-formation. Trippi said it took him time to get the feel of the new offense, but he learned to like it because it gave him more opportunities to throw the ball, something he did extremely well. 

In the season finale against Georgia Tech in 1945, Trippi set a Southeastern Conference record for passing yards in a single game at the time (323) and also gained 61 yards rushing for a total of 384 yards total offense, which was another league mark at the time. 

The junior capped his war-shortened season by helping the Bulldogs to a 20-6 win over Tulsa in the Oil Bowl. Trippi completed a 47-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and then ran back a punt for a touchdown. The 68-yarder is still considered one of the most spectacular plays in Bulldog history as Trippi "practically touched both sidelines," completely reversed his field and ran over two Tulsa tacklers who had him trapped. 

In 1946, the senior captained the undefeated (11-0), SEC champion Georgia team that defeated North Carolina, led by star halfback Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice, in the Sugar Bowl 20-10. Trippi played the entire 60 minutes, completing a 67-yard touchdown pass to end Dan Edwards in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs a lead they did not relinquish.

Trippi was also a great safety. He reacted well on passes, was an outstanding tackler and a great punt returner. Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd called him the "best safety man the South ever had." He was one of only a few players in college football history who could have won the Heisman Trophy for both his offensive and defensive play.

Along with his defense, Trippi led the SEC in scoring his senior year with 84 points by scoring 14 touchdowns. He rushed for 744 yards on 115 carries and passed for 622 yards. He was the SEC Player of The Year, a unanimous All-America choice and the Maxwell Award winner. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. 

In fact, he was probably the best player never to win the Heisman Trophy. Legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant called Trippi the greatest college player ever, as did longtime television sports broadcaster Keith Jackson.

Which team does Trippi consider the best he played on at Georgia?

"That is a good question. Every team I played on for the Bulldogs was great. But I would have to say the 1942 championship team was the best because it had superior depth to the other two," he said.

His career offensive statistics at Georgia are remarkable. He rushed for 1,669 yards on 260 carries (6.4 average per carry) and scored 32 touchdowns. He also completed 87-of-179 passes for 1,566 yards and 15 touchdowns.

1952 Trading Card
Chicago Cardinals
Charley Trippi
Photo Courtesy of Carlyle Rood
Click on image for larger size

In 1947, Trippi joined the Chicago Cardinals (the organization that is now the Arizona Cardinals) for his rookie season in the pros and sparked the team to a world championship. He was an All-Pro choice in the process. In the title game, Trippi scored on a 44-yard touchdown run and a 75-yard punt return as the Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21. The Cardinals lost in the world championship game the next year, but Trippi was again an all-league selection. He played in four all-star games during his nine-year professional career.

Just months prior to playing in the world championship game, Trippi had made the decision to play football full time after splitting time with baseball. An All-American at Georgia, Trippi batted .331 for the Class AA Atlanta Crackers in 1947, but he didn't like all the time he was spending away from his family.

After retiring as a professional football player, he became an assistant coach with the Cardinals. He later was an assistant to Butts and then Johnny Griffith at Georgia. He also was the Bulldogs' head baseball coach for a few years. Some have maintained that Trippi could have been the head football coach at Georgia had he pushed himself for the post. 

Trippi was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968, the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. He is also one of only four Bulldog players (along with Sinkwich, Theron Sapp and Herschel Walker) to have his jersey retired. In addition, he was named to the all-time Rose and Sugar Bowl teams.

"A lot of people ask me about the difference in the football played today and back when I played," Trippi said. "The main difference is it was a more disciplined game when I played. The players are bigger and faster today, but the players of yesteryear didn't have the diversions the players today do. We just went out and played--that's what we were taught to do and that's what we did. When a coach told me to do something, I did it. Today, players expect a coach to tell them why they want them to do it."

Trippi added that he owes much of his life to football.

"Life has been really good to me, and one of the primary reasons is because of football. I love the game and I wouldn't trade the experiences I had playing and coaching for any amount of money," he said.

Trippi resides in Athens, GA with his wife Margaret. His first wife, Virginia, passed away in 1971. Trippi has three children--daughters Jo Ann and Brenda, and son Charles, Jr. from his first marriage. 

Trippi said he is in "fabulous health" and plays golf "every chance he gets". He also regularly attends Georgia football and baseball games and is one of the Bulldogs' staunchest supporters. 

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