Bulldog Nation got some sad news last night with the announcement that Georgia football and NFL great Charley Trippi had passed away at his Athens home.
Trippi’s life story reads like an inspirational movie script. A smallish football/baseball player who grew up in a coal mining town during the Great Depression, Trippi was turned down by most area colleges when he went looking for a football or baseball scholarship. Trippi would later relate that his father, who worked in the mines, would sometimes come home so tired that he would have to lay on the couch and rest for an hour before summoning the strength to eat dinner.
Young Charley was determined to avoid that, and when he didn’t earn immediate college interest enrolled at LaSalle Military Academy on Long Island, a preparatory school with an excellent team in its own right. He got bigger and stronger, and the recruiting interest picked up. But Trippi remembered Athens from his initial visits, and though he didn’t know new coach Wally Butts, he decided to give Georgia a shot. Trippi would later admit that a UGA alumnus who worked with Coca-Cola had promised him that if he went to school in Athens he’d always have a job in the summers. Be that as it may, the boy from Pittston, Pennsylvania ended up in the Classic City.
After playing freshman ball in 1941 (at the time freshmen were not allowed to play for the varsity) Trippi emerged as the lightning to Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich’s hard running thunder. Highlighted by a 75-0 throttling of the Florida Gators, the 1942 season produced an 11-1 record and a national championship split with Ohio State. Trippi led the ‘Dawgs to a 10-1 record and a 9-0 victory over UCLA in the storied Rose Bowl, where he rushed for 115 yards on 27 carries.
Trippi’s collegiate career was interrupted by military service, as he spent all of the 1943 and 1944 seasons and the first part of 1945. In 1946 he returned to lead Georgia to an undefeated season, and won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s most outstanding football player, finishing second the Army’s Glenn Davis in the Heisman vote.
Trippi had been selected as the top overall draft pick by the Chicago Cardinals during his military service, but Cardinals owner Charles Bidwell allowed him to finish out his time in Athens. Once Trippi arrived in the Windy City he joined the famed “million dollar backfield” which would beat the Philadelphia Eagles to win the 1947 NFL Championship. Trippi would retire from the pros as the league’s all-time leader in total yards, and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968 (at his death he was the oldest living member of the Hall). The “quintuple threat” is still remembered as one of the greatest all-around players to ever grace the gridiron.
After a stint coaching in the NFL for eight seasons Trippi returned to Athens and went into the real estate business, calling the Classic City home for the next fifty-seven years. Throughout that time he remained a faithful supporter of his alma mater and of the Athens community. Trippi explained his devotion to Tony Barnhart for his book What It Means To Be A Bulldog. “It’s simple, really. My time at Georgia was the best thing that ever happened to me. That’s why I’m still here.”
As much as Georgia gave Trippi, he gave in return. He was, in the truest sense of the term, a Damn Good ‘Dawg.