Charley Trippi, one of football’s most versatile players, dies at 100
Mr. Trippi’s death, at age 100, was announced by his alma mater. No specific cause was provided.
During the 1940s, when football was played without face masks, Mr. Trippi dominated the sport at just about every offensive position — first for Georgia, where he played quarterback, running back and defense, and then for the Chicago Cardinals, which won the NFL title in his rookie season.
In that championship game, played on a sheet of ice at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Mr. Trippi swapped his cleats for sneakers to get better traction. He scored two touchdowns — a 75-yard punt return and a 44-yard run.
Mr. Trippi was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968, and he is still the only NFL player to rack up at least 1,000 yards in passing, rushing and receiving. Jim Thorpe, the Olympic gold medalist and football star, called him “the greatest football player I’ve ever seen.”
Known as much for his soft-spoken manner as his athleticism, Mr. Trippi gave a brief speech at his induction ceremony.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I just wanted to say I’m glad I played football.”
Charles Louis Trippi was born on Dec. 14, 1921, in Pittston, Pa., a blue-collar coal mining town along the Susquehanna River not far from Scranton. The son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Trippi grew up on Railroad Street with five brothers and sisters. His mother was a homemaker. His father worked in the coal mines.
“Of course I grew up during the depression, which in my case gave me inspiration to do something out of my life, because I did not want to ever work in the mines,” Mr. Trippi said in an oral history conducted by the University of Georgia. “Regardless of what happened, I would never stay there.”
Mr. Trippi viewed sports as a way out. He took up baseball and football, excelling at both, though his father didn’t understand why he’d want to get tackled.
“Go ahead, you play,” Mr. Trippi’s father told him, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “But if you break one leg, I’ll break the other.”
There are many stories still told about his career back in Pittston, where the high school football team plays at Charley Trippi Stadium.
One is how Mr. Trippi’s family was too poor to buy him football shoes, but he punted so well in street shoes that his high school coach bought him a proper pair of cleats. Another is about the time his punt snapper launched the ball over his head during a game against rival West Wyoming, whose players raced for the loose ball.
“Trippi got there first,” the Scranton Times reported, “scooped up the ball, and ran around the entire West Wyoming team for an 85-yard touchdown play.”
The extraordinary run convinced Mr. Trippi’s coaches that he had the athletic ability to be more than just a punter, and pretty soon he was playing just about every position on the field.
His talent caught the attention of Harold Ketron, a University of Georgia graduate who owned a nearby Coca-Cola bottling plant. Ketron helped persuade Mr. Trippi to become a Bulldog, in part by offering him a summer job driving a delivery truck — a favor that undoubtedly would be illegal in college football today.
At Georgia, Mr. Trippi led the Bulldogs to a 1943 Rose Bowl win over UCLA, playing all but two minutes of the game and collecting more total yards himself than his opponent. He missed nearly two full seasons for military service, but in 1946 led the Bulldogs to an undefeated season, winning the Maxwell Award as college’s most outstanding player.
Mr. Trippi briefly considered a career in baseball, but after he was drafted No. 1 by the struggling Chicago Cardinals he signed a record $100,000 contract to play professional football. Meanwhile, the lineman who protected him barely made $5,000 a year.
“I felt kind of guilty,” Mr. Trippi once said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If I ever went out to dinner with them, I’d never let them pay.‘’
Mr. Trippi led the Cardinals to two league championship games in his first two seasons. He played another seven seasons for them, retiring after the 1955 season. He coached in the NFL and at Georgia, then later went into commercial real estate in Athens, where he lived with his family not far from the university.
Mr. Trippi’s first wife, Virginia Davis, died in 1971. He is survived by his second wife, the former Peggy McNiven; two children from his first marriage, Charles Trippi Jr. and Brenda Fleeman; stepchildren Rob Bell, Kim Gunnin and Terry Bell; 15 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. A daughter from his first marriage, Joann Trippi Johns, died in 2019.
In late 2021, Mr. Trippi’s family and friends threw him a party for his 100th birthday. He wore a Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket. Georgia football coach Kirby Smart brought a cake with 100 candles. Mr. Trippi knew exactly what to do.
“Was I impressed to see him blow out all the candles?” Smart said. “Being such a great second-effort athlete, he wouldn’t stop until he blew them all out.”