Charley Trippi: Football’s oldest living member of the Hall of Fame;
With the recent passing of Jim Taylor it’s a good time to go back and review the careers of former stars. Let’s not wait for their passing to celebrate their achievements.
There is no current player that can be compared to Charley Trippi. Playing college ball for University of Georgia, Trippi was a 5-way threat. He was an accomplished running back, quarterback, punter, kick returner, and defensive back in his sensational college career. Then was drafted the overall #1 by the Chicago Cardinals in 1945 and added a Hall of Fame professional career. In the 1942 rivalry game against the University of Florida, Trippi threw a touchdown pass, ran for two others TDs, and for good measure had a pick 6 on defense. As a pro he scored touchdowns rushing (23), receiving (11), returning kicks (2), returning interception (1), plus as a quarterback he threw 16 TD passes.
Trippi is one of the last of his kind, the football player that could do it all.
Charles Louis Trippi was born on December 14, 1921 in Pittston Pennsylvania. Pittston was coal mining town (his father was a miner), and young Charlie realized at an early age that the only way out of his father’s life was through sports. He was a two sport star on his high school teams. A tailback on the football team and a shortstop on the baseball squad. This earned Trippi an athletic scholarship to the University of Georgia to play both baseball and football.
Due to the outbreak of World War II, Trippi’s college career would have two distinct timelines. As a sophomore in 1942 he teamed with Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich to lead the Georgia Bulldogs to an 11-1 record, capped by a Rose Bowl win over UCLA, and a consensus National Championship. In the 1943 Rose Bowl, Trippi rushed for 115 yards, while he led the team in passing and also handled the punting duties. He was later named the MVP of the game. This would be Georgia’s last appearance in the Rose Bowl until January 1, 2018.
Trippi interrupted his college career to join the Army Air Corps during World War II. He spent most of his time in the service playing football for the 3rd Air Force Gremlins Team. He would not return to the University of Georgia until after the war in late 1945. It was while he was in the service he was made the #1 Draft Pick by the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals. Despite missing the first five games of Georgia’s 1945 he still was named first team All Conference in the SEC, while also starring in the Bulldogs 20-6 victory over Tulsa in the Oil Bowl.
Due to his two year stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, the Cardinals allowed Trippi to return to Athens for his senior year. Charley responded by leading Georgia to their first undefeated season in 1946 and a 20-10 victory in the Sugar Bowl. That season in the inter-state battle against Georgia Tech, Trippi had 544 total yards and three touchdowns. He would be a unanimous first team All-American and finish second in the Heisman Trophy Vote to Army’s Glenn Davis.
Baseball then came calling. Trippi hit an impressive .475 his senior year with 11 home runs in 30 games. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Boston Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies attempted to sign the budding star. He played one season in the Southern League, hitting .334 in 106 games before finally signing with the Football Cardinals. In a time when baseball was king, this stars pick of football was unique.
The bidding war was intense. Pro Football had two competing leagues. The All American Football Conference thought they had him signed, as did the New York Yankees, but Trippi ultimately signed with the football Cardinals for 4 years at $100,000 with a $25,000 signing bonus, the largest football contract up to that time.
His rookie year in 1947 saw the 26 year old Trippi lead the Cardinals to the NFL Championship. In the Title Game against the Philadelphia Eagle he scored the first touchdown on a 45 yard run in the first quarter, and put Chicago up 21-7 on a spectacular 75 yard punt return in the 3rd quarter. Chicago would go on to a 28-21 triumph, still it was the Cardinals franchise’s only championship.
A running back in his early years, Trippi led the NFL in total yards in 1948, and again led Chicago to the Championship Game., but this time they fell to the Eagles in a heavy snowstorm, 7-0.
In 1949 Charley was both Chicago’s top rusher and top receiver, again leading the league in total yards, but his team fell to 6-5-1. For the rest of his career the Cardinals would never again play for a championship. In 1951 he was switched to quarterback and played that position for two years, before returning to running back until his retirement following the 1955 season.
His life outside football was good. He coached the Georgia Bulldogs Baseball team for two years, then went into real estate after his football life was over. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1958, and then the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. He is the only player in the Hall to have accumulated 1,000 yards passing, rushing, and receiving in his NFL career.
ESPN ranks him as the 20th greatest college football player, this to an athlete who competed over 70 years ago. Let’s now celebrate him in his 97th year as the oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame!