ATHENS, Ga. -- Hundreds of friends, family and dignitaries gathered Friday afternoon at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education to honor Charley Trippi -- a coal miner’s son from Pennsylvania who starred at Georgia in the 1940s and went on to become one of the most accomplished football players of all time.
A host of speakers paid tribute to the 90-year-old Trippi at the dais, including Athens mayor Nancy Denson, who declared Friday “Charley Trippi Day” in his adopted hometown.
“To me, this is a great day. I will cherish it the rest of my life,” Trippi said.
The Pittston, Pa., native helped Georgia claim a national championship in 1942 -- starring in the 9-0 win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl -- and spent 1943-45 in the Air Force during World War II before returning to UGA, where he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up and Maxwell Award winner in 1946. He led the SEC in scoring that year and finished with 1,366 yards of total offense (744 rushing and 622 passing) and was also a baseball star with the Bulldogs, batting .464 in 1946 -- a mark that still stands as the best batting average in school history.
Trippi signed with the Chicago Cardinals in 1947 to what was then a record five-year, $100,000 contract and played for the club for nine years -- which included a world championship. He spent time as a quarterback, running back, kick returner and defensive back in the pros, earning legendary status because of his versatility.
Trippi’s ability to contribute in so many ways dumbfounds even recent Georgia star Brandon Boykin, who on Friday received the football program’s first-ever Charley Trippi Award, which will now go to the team’s most versatile player each year.
“I can’t even imagine it,” said Boykin, who also gave the invocation at the luncheon. “Just playing special teams and defense, that in itself, you know I cramp up all the time, so for him to do all of that, I’m just trying to think about how that’s amazing. That was a different type of athlete, so it’s truly an accomplishment.”
Other speakers Friday included representatives from the Maxwell Award -- Trippi initially received a silver cigar box for winning the award in 1946, but on Friday received the actual trophy that goes to a Maxwell winner today -- and from both the college and professional football halls of fame, in which he was inducted in 1959 and 1968, respectively. Georgia football coaches Mark Richt and Vince Dooley, university president Michael Adams, athletic director Greg McGarity, Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston followed.
Former Georgia quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who played under UGA backfield coach Trippi from 1958-60, said Trippi was not just the greatest player in Georgia football history, but “the greatest college player that’s ever played. He’s the greatest pro player that’s ever played.”
Additionally, Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill attended the luncheon, along with his father and team owner Bill Bidwill. It was Michael Bidwill’s grandfather who originally signed Trippi and owned the Cardinals franchise when it was located in Chicago.
Trippi spoke of playing two years at quarterback, five years at running back and two years on defense with the Cardinals during his all-pro career, which lasted from 1947-55.
“I think, Bill, you owe me some money,” Trippi said to Bidwill, to raucous laughter. “I might have to see if I’ve got any money coming. There’s a thing that they say: deferred payments. I’m going to check into that.”
Georgia retired Trippi’s No. 62 decades ago, but bestowed further honors on the legendary back Friday. Along with numerous plaques and framed photos, the new Maxwell Award and having the day named in his honor, UGA also presented Trippi with a portrait painted by UGA alum Steve Penley and gave Trippi and his wife Peggy a five-day trip to stay at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.