University of Georgia Hall of Famer Charley Trippi, said by many to be the greatest all-around athlete to ever play for the University of Georgia, touches the bust of himself following Hall of Fame ceremonies in 1998. Players were able to keep the bust for themselves.Photo courtesy of Don Burk
On October 29 the University of Georgia and Florida football teams played for the 91st time. Two days earlier the Florida Times-Union ran a feature story called “90 Games - 90 Players ”which ranked the 90 best players from the first 90 games of what is known as the Border State Showdown.
So ,who was No. 1?
Pittston’s own Charley Trippi.
Trippi, who was voted the Greatest Local Athlete of the 20th Century by the Times Leader in 1999, starred at old Pittston High in football and track in the 1930s.
Reached by phone at his home in Athens, Georgia, Trippi – who was an All-American and Maxwell Award winner at Georgia in the 1940s – was surprised to learn that he had been ranked as the best player of the series.
“That’s great,” Trippi said. “In the three years I played against Florida, we never lost.”
The first time Trippi played against Florida in 1942, Georgia won 75-0.
Trippi went into the Army after the ’42 school year and didn’t play against Florida again until 1945 when Georgia won 35-0. The 1946 game was 32-14.
In the three games combined, Trippi rushed for 412 yards, passed for 198 yards, and accounted for 10 touchdowns. In the 75-0 game in 1942 he was 2-of-3 passing for two touchdowns, rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns, and returned an interception 48 yards for touchdown.
Trippi said the game was an aberration. “That never should have happened,” he said. “Florida laid down and we just had an unusual day. Everybody that touched the ball scored. We always played good down there. Normally Georgia had as many fans down there as Florida did. It was a real happy occasion for fans.”
In the 1945 game, Trippi rushed for 239 yards, an SEC single-game record at the time. In 1946, he ran for 93 yards, was 7-of 7 passing for 126 yards and accounted for TDs running, receiving and passing.
Herschel Walker was no. 2 on the top 90 list. Trippi’s teammate Frank Sinkwich was fourth. “Any of those players from that time could have been number one,” Trippi said. Tim Tebow is sixth.
Trippi, 90 next month and doing well after recent bypass surgery, still goes to Georgia home games. “You better believe it. I’m up in press box.”
Trippi was also an All-American baseball player at Georgia. He played baseball in the Army in the outfield with two Major League players, Taffy Wright and Lee Gamble. Grady Hatton, who had a long Major League career and managed the Houston Astros in 1966-67-68, was the third baseman on that team.
After batting .475 with 11 homers in 30 games for Georgia in 1946, Trippi was offered a contract to play baseball in the New York Yankees organization and football for the Yankees football team in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).
The offer was worth $105,000 for five years of football and two of baseball. Benefiting from a bidding war between the AAFC and the NFL, Trippi accepted an offer from the Chicago Cardinals for $100,000 for four years of football, leaving him free to make his own baseball deal.
He signed with the Atlanta Crackers, an AA team in the Southern Association, for a $10,000 bonus and $500 a month salary. “By managing my own affairs, I made out better. I told Mr. Mann, the Crackers owner, for the money you gave me I won’t go to Atlanta and embarrass myself.” He didn’t. He batted .338, seventh best in the league among batters with more than 100 at bats. But after that season he gave up baseball to concentrate on football. Trippi played nine seasons for the Cardinals from 1947 to ’55, four at halfback, two at quarterback and three as a defensive back.
From his Hall of Fame biography: In the 1947 NFL Championship Game when the Cardinals beat the Eagles, 28-21 on an icy field in Chicago, Charley wore basketball shoes for better traction and totaled 206 yards, including 102 yards on two punt returns. He scored touchdowns on a 44-yard run and a 75-yard punt return.