Perhaps the greatest player to ever don the red and black is celebrating his 92nd birthday today. Charley Trippi, a member of both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame, was dominant in his days as a Bulldog and changed the face of pro football, becoming one of the first players ever to receive a signing bonus and was the subject of a bidding war between the NFL and the now-defunct AAFC. Bear Bryant called him "the greatest to ever play college football."
Trippi in 1946 photo:UGA Sports Information
Trippi came to UGA from his home in Pennsylvania. He had been a standout prepster, and it attracted the attention of a Coca-Cola bottler, who offered him a scholarship to play football at Georgia. (Is it just me, or does this sound like an Auburn plotline? But I digress.) He played halfback on the undefeated freshman team in 1941, and moved to varsity for the 1942 season. All-American and future Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich was seemingly entrenched at halfback, but less than halfway through the season, Wally Butts moved Sinkwich to fullback and inserted Trippi at halfback. The move worked; the Dawgs won the SEC and the Rose Bowl and won their first consensus National Championship. Trippi rushed for 1239 yards that season, capping it off with a 130-yard performance and Rose Bowl MVP honors in the win over UCLA in Pasadena. Trippi also punted for the Dawgs that day, returned four kicks, and was the Dawgs' second-leading tackler.
He left the University after the 1942 season, and spent the next two years serving in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. Trippi obtained his discharge at the end of the war in time to come back to play the second half of the 1945 football season. In a 33-0 pounding of the Nerds at Grant Field, he set SEC records for passing yards and total yards in a single game. For Trippi's senior year, he was the best player on the 1946 team that went undefeated and won the Sugar Bowl, and Trippi won the Maxwell Award, as the best college football player in the country. Trippi was also a baseball standout, and he'd been named an All-American for the Diamond Dawgs the prior spring.
A bidding war erupted for Trippi's services in pro football. The New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference offered him $100,000, but the Chicago Cardinals bettered that offer, adding a $25,000 signing bonus giving him a total contract equivalent to approximately $8.1 million in 2013. Between leaving UGA and going to Chicago Cardinals, he played for the Atlanta Crackers minor league baseball team, hitting .334 in 106 games.
Trippi's NFL rookie card via
He won an NFL championship as a rookie, returning punts of 44 and 75 yards for touchdowns. He totaled 201 yards that day. Trippi's professional highlights would include starting games at quarterback, halfback, fullback, kicker, punter, kick returner, punt returner, and defensive end. He is the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with at least 1000 yards passing, 1000 yards rushing, and 1000 yards receiving for his career. Read that last sentence again.
Charley and Peggy with Greg McGarity via dawgsports.com archive
Charley and his wife Margaret (nicknamed Peggy) still live in Athens. I've been fortunate to get to know him. He's the consummate gentleman; humble and unassuming. He talks of his love for the game and how much the University of Georgia gave him. He is still in great shape, mows his own grass, and walks in his neighborhood to stay active. Stan Mullins, the sculptor who created the Vince Dooley statue next to the Spec Towns Track and Butts-Mehre is currently working on statues to commemorate Trippi, Frank Sinkwich, and Herschel Walker. If you'd like to help, you can find Stan on Facebook and provide some financial backing, or you can contact Greg McGarity and voice your support for commemorating these Georgia greats.