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Heroics, humility make UGA legend Trippi ‘The Man’
The Man - that’s what they called the Pennsylvania teenager when he scorched the gridiron for the University of Georgia.
Recently, I had lunch with Charley Trippi - The Man.
Rarely do you get to break bread with a legend, but the 89-year-old Bulldog gave me two hours of his life. All 7,200 seconds were an example for modern-day athletes on how humility helps define true greatness.
Charley’s red-and-black days were over before I was born, so I had to do my homework. With prompting, he rolled our conversation like a highlights film. There was no chest-thumping, just vivid recall.
As a quarterback, halfback and safety, Charley wore No. 62. I wondered how he got that number. “The guy in front of me,” he said, “got No. 61.” He should have been given “60” to signify the minutes he played every game. Besides running, passing, intercepting, tackling and punting, he returned kickoffs and punts. Once Charley Trippi’s cleats touched the turf, he was full-speed until the scoreboard clock drained to “00:00.”
In 2007, ESPN ranked The Man 20th on its Top 25 Players in College Football History. Alabama’s Coach Bear Bryant called him the best college football player ever. Frank Broyles, Bobby Dodd and Jim Thorpe said the same.
Charley calls the 1943 Rose Bowl a signature moment in his career. When the Bulldogs beat UCLA 9-0, he was named the game’s most outstanding player. Today, he’s in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
In 1946, Charley was runner-up for the Heisman, but he didn’t miss many other accolades. As a two-time All-American, he won the Maxwell Award. Almost always, he was the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders won fame as two-sport professionals. Charley was doing that when their parents were playing in the sandbox. In the spring of 1947, the Atlanta Crackers signed Charley with an unheard-of $10,000 bonus. He paid them back by hitting .331. In the fall, he pulled on helmet and pads for the Chicago Cardinals. As the NFL’s No. 1 draft choice, he landed a record $100,000 four-year contract. Again, The Man paid off by leading his team to an NFL championship, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21. Wearing basketball shoes on an icy field, he skated for 206 yards, including a 44-yard run and a 75-yard punt return. Charley got his third MVP of the year.
Studying for my visit, I found a YouTube clip of the 1946 Georgia-Alabama game. The Dogs thumped the Tide, 14-0, to win the SEC crown and remain undefeated. The Man did it all, including keep Alabama’s highly acclaimed quarterback, Harry Gilmer, from completing a pass. But Charley was quick to add, “There were 10 others on defense, too.”
The late Bill Hartman, who coached football with Wally Butts, told about watching a baseball game when Charley got knocked down by a pitch. Dusting himself off, The Man promptly jacked the next pitch out of the park. “Coach Butts,” Hartman said, “I think we’ve got us a competitor. Charley is tough.”
Four years ago, a friend asked Charley what his batting average would be if he played in Major League Baseball today. Charley thought a minute and replied, “About .230.” Startled, his friend quizzed, “Just .230?” With a devilish grin, Charley said, “Well, I am 85.”
After lunch, Charley walked me through his home. He didn’t point out the honors, but I noticed UGA Hall of Fame, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Collegiate Hall of Fame and NFL Hall of Fame. In fact, Charley is the only pro Hall of Fame member with 1,000 yards each in rushing, passing and receiving - in one season.
His walls resonate with evidence of athletic heroics, but Charley is a living testament that honors don’t define greatness. How you live your life does.
And that’s why Charley Trippi will always be The Man.
Dink NeSmith is president of Community Newspapers Inc. in Athens. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was printed in the Athens Banner-Herald.