Charley Trippi could do it all on the football field.
He could punt, return kicks, play defensive back, pass, and, most importantly, run which he did all the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Trippi, one of football’s biggest players of the 1940s and 1950s, died on Wednesday, according to the University of Georgia. He was one hundred years old.
“Charley Trippi will always have a special place in the history of the NFL, the Cardinals franchise, and particularly in the hearts of our family,” Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said in a statement. “My grandpa signed him to be a part of the ‘Million-Dollar Backfield,’ and he was an important element of the Cardinals’ NFL championship team in 1947, my grandmother’s first as owner, and on which my father was a ballboy.” In recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Charley and hearing his recollections from such a pivotal period for the Cardinals and the NFL.
Trippi, a Canton inductee from the Class of 1968, was the Hall’s oldest living member at the time of his death. That honor now belongs to Art McNally, a former referee and head of officiating who is a month older than fellow 97-year-old Hall of Famer Marv Levy.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Trippi family, particularly the University of Georgia community, with which he had such a deep relationship.”
Charley Trippi’s pro career didn’t begin until two years later in NFL
As the Chicago Cardinals selected him first overall in the 1945 NFL Draft. World War II had interrupted his collegiate days at Georgia. But he quickly proved worth the wait, guiding the team to the 1947 NFL Championship and scoring two touchdowns in the game. During a great nine-year career that lasted from 1947 to 1955, he was named to two Pro Bowls, one first-team All-Pro, and was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1940s.
Trippi rushed for 3,506 yards and 23 touchdowns on 687 attempts in his pro career (5.1 average). He also has 130 receptions for 1,321 yards and 11 TDS, as well as 2,547 career throwing yards and 16 additional touchdowns. Despite the fact that Trippi retired from football seven decades ago, he is the only Pro Football Hall of Famer with at least 1,000 yards passing, running, and receiving in his career. Trippi finished his NFL career with 7,241 all-purpose yards after accumulating 864 punt return yards and 1,457 kickoff return yards.
While it was not uncommon for players to play on both sides of the ball during Trippi’s prime, his adaptability distinguished out. When the Cardinals called on Trippi, there was little he couldn’t accomplish.
Trippi, who was born on December 14, 1921, in Pittston, Pennsylvania, thrived at Georgia before going on to dominate on the professional level. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Trippi’s time at UGA was split between his duty in the Air Force and his time at UGA. In 1943, he led the Bulldogs to a Rose Bowl victory, winning game MVP honors. Three years later, he won the Maxwell Award as the best college football player in America.
The beginning of Trippi’s NFL journey was front-page news. Trippi, a talented baseball player for Georgia, turned down many Major League Baseball offers. The New York Yankees attempted to get Trippi to join the All-America Football Conference, but he instead signed with the NFL’s Cardinals on a then-record $100,000 salary.
Trippi led Chicago to rapid success as a halfback in the “Million Dollar Backfield,” which also comprised quarterback Paul Christman, halfbacks Elmer Angsman and Marshall Goldberg, and fullback Pat Harder. During Trippi’s debut season, the Cardinals defeated Steve Van Buren’s Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 at Comiskey Park. Trippi famously wore basketball shoes while competing on a slippery field, in addition to the Eagles. Trippi was sensational in the clutch, scoring the game’s first touchdown on a 44-yard run and then adding another on a 75-yard punt return. He ended the game with 206 total yards.
The Cardinals and Eagles met again in the championship game a year later. This time, though, Philadelphia and the weather triumphed against Trippi and Chicago. The 1948 NFL Championship Game, held at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, was the first league championship game to be broadcast. It was also played under blizzard-like circumstances, which caused the game to start late. Trippi was restricted to 26 yards on the ground, and Van Buren’s fourth-quarter touchdown run was the game’s lone score in a 7-0 Eagles victory.
The Cardinals would not return to the playoffs for the rest of Trippi’s tenure in the league, but the Swiss Army Knife left an indelible imprint on the football world. Trippi ultimately rose to the position of starting quarterback for the squad. He was also the Cardinals’ regular punter. Again, the man did everything.
Trippi will be the second Pro Football Hall of Famer (after Clarence “Ace” Parker) to reach 100 years old on December 14, 2021. Along the way, Trippi seen the game change in front of him, after the $100,000 rookie had paved the path decades before.
Jim Thorpe, maybe North America’s greatest athlete of all time, once named Trippi the “greatest football player I have ever seen.”
He was a trailblazer and a gem on the gridiron, an all-time great and a symbol of flexibility.
Charley Trippi was a legend in his own right.