Charley Trippi, Versatile Football Hall of Famer, Dies at 100

Charley Trippi, who became one of college football’s most celebrated players at the University of Georgia and then led the long-suppressed Chicago Cardinals to the 1947 NFL Championship en route to a career in the Hall of Fame, died Wednesday at home in Athens, Georgia He was 100.

The death was confirmed by his grandson, Clint Watson.

Despite being a soccer star at a time when many players played both offense and defense, Trippi was particularly known for doing almost anything but scoring field goals, extra points and snatching the ball.

In his nine years with the Cardinals, he rushed for 3,506 yards, threw for 2,547 yards and rushed for 1,321 yards on passes — the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to surpass 1,000 yards in every category. He played at left halfback and quarterback, punting and returning punts and kickoffs, and ended his career as a defensive back.

Trippi led Georgia to an unbeaten season in 1946 when he finished second to Army’s Glenn Davis in the Heisman Trophy. He received the Maxwell Award, which also honors college football’s foremost player.

Selected by the Cardinals as the No. 1 in the 1945 NFL draft while he still had two years of college eligibility, Trippi signed the Cards to a four-year, $100,000 contract in January 1947 — a staggering payoff for his time — after you outbid by the New York Yankees of the fledgling All-America Football Conference.

The Cardinals have been mostly losers since winning the 1925 NFL championship, a feat that was under a cloud. At a time before there was a championship game, the Cardinals finished with the best record in the league. But the Pottsville Maroons of Pennsylvania, who were contenders with them for the title, had their franchise suspended from the league late in the season for violating another team’s territorial rights in a scheduling matter.

Twenty-two years later, in Trippi’s rookie season, the Cardinals emerged from the shadow of the crosstown Chicago Bears, known as the Monsters of the Midway.

Trippi, who is listed at about 6’1″ and 180 pounds, played as a halfback in the championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Wearing tennis shoes on the icy field at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, he scored a touchdown on a 44-yard run from the line of scrimmage and ran back a punt 75 yards to win another as the Cardinals won 28-21 .

But there was no victory parade. The players partied at a bar on the South Side, and then management threw them a banquet.

The Cardinals faced the Eagles again in the 1948 championship game, but were defeated 7-0 in a snowstorm at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

“It was a shame,” Trippi told The Augusta Chronicle of Georgia in 2012. “The commissioner should have postponed the game. They couldn’t see the lines on the field. They couldn’t see the security. It wasn’t football. It was just a bunch of pressure.”

Trippi teamed with Paul Christman as quarterback, and at the other halfback position was Elmer Angsman, who had two 70-yard touchdown runs in the 1947 championship game. Along with Pat Harder at full-back, they became known as the Dream Backfield.

He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968, and was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1940s. At his death, he was the oldest living member of the Pro Hall of Fame.

Charles Louis Trippi was born on December 14, 1921 in Pittston, Pennsylvania to a coal miner’s son and became a football star in high school. Harold Ketron, a Bulldogs star center in the early 1900s, owned a Wilkes-Barre, Pa., bottling franchise for Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. He gave Trippi a summer job driving his trucks and arranged for him to try out in Georgia, which resulted in an athletic scholarship.

“I wanted to get out of the area,” Trippi told The Athens Banner-Herald long afterward. “I couldn’t see myself mining coal eight hours a day for the rest of my life.”

As a sophomore with the Bulldogs, Trippi played in a single wing offense in traffic jams and played in the 1943 Rose Bowl game. He ran for more than 100 yards in the 9-0 win over UCLA. His backfield teammate Frank Sinkwich, the 1942 Heisman Trophy winner, saw only spot action due to ankle injuries, although he did score the game’s only touchdown.

In a 2006 oral history interview with the University of Georgia, Trippi recalled playing 58 of the 60 minutes that day because Wally Butts, the head coach, “had a philosophy: If you can’t play defensively , you can’t play it offensive.” He called that game “probably the biggest thrill I’ve ever experienced playing football”.

Trippi played soccer for a US Army Air Forces team during World War II. He returned to Georgia midway through the 1945 season and set a school record in a T-formation by gaining 239 yards against Florida. The mark is now held by Herschel Walker, who gained 283 yards against Vanderbilt in 1980.

Trippi led the Bulldogs to an 11-0 season in 1946, then threw a long touchdown pass in their 20-10 Sugar Bowl win over North Carolina, outplaying his quintessentially American jam by Charlie Justice, known as Choo Choo .

In Georgia, he ran for 24 touchdowns and caught four touchdown passes and was a two-time All-American.

Trippi was also a standout baseball player in Georgia, playing outfield for the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers in 1947. He was considered a potential major league player, but quit baseball to pursue football full-time.

He retired after the 1955 NFL season after playing as a halfback, quarterback, and then primarily defensive back late in his career. He ran for 23 career touchdowns, passed for 16, caught 11 touchdown passes, and hit twice on punt returns and once on an interception.

Trippi later served as an assistant coach at Georgia and the Cardinals in Chicago and St. Louis, her first stop before moving to Arizona. He had lucrative commercial property investments in Athens after retiring from football full-time.

His first wife, Virginia (Davis) Trippi, died in 1971. Trippi is survived by his second wife, Peggy (McNiven) Trippi; his son Charles Jr. and daughter Brenda Fleeman, both from his first marriage; three stepchildren, Rob Bell, Kim Gunnin and Terry Bell; 15 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren. Another daughter from his first marriage, Joann Trippi Johns, died in 2019.

Long after Trippi’s exploits in Georgia, the football program hosted an annual Charley Trippi Day before the Intrasquad Spring Game, and the Bulldogs bestow an annual Trippi Award on their most versatile player.

Jim Thorpe, considered one of America’s greatest all-around athletes, called Trippi “the greatest football player I’ve ever seen.”

“Trippi is an excellent runner, player and passer,” Thorpe told The Associated Press in 1949. “He blocks well and is a solid tackler. Guess that covers the field.”

Alex Trot contributed reporting.