April 13, 2012

Bulldog legend honored

Georgia legend Charley Trippi pondered the question before cracking a wry smile. His father Joseph would have been proud.

Who would have every thought that?

Certainly not Trippi, whose father - a coal miner in Pittston, Pa. - wanted nothing to do with his son playing a sport, who in his opinion risked major injury from "getting knocked down."

"He couldn't believe it, really. He never would have imagined anything like this," the 90-year-old Trippi said after being honored during a Thursday luncheon attended by over 300 people Friday, a group that included Governor Nathan Deal.

That wasn't all.

Hosted by Loran Smith, the luncheon included a long list of dignitaries, including House Speaker David Ralston, Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill and president Michael Bidwill, Maxwell Club executive director Mark Wolpert, UGA president Dr. Michael Adams, representatives of the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Bulldog great Fran Tarkenton, former football coach Vince Dooley, and head coach Mark Richt. One by one each strode to the microphone to pay tribute to the man many still consider the greatest all-around athlete ever to wear the red and black.

Trippi led the 1946 Bulldogs to an 11-0 record, the SEC championship and a win over North Carolina in the Sugar Bowl. Trippi also led the SEC in scoring in 1946 and won the Maxwell Award as the country's most valuable player and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy to Glenn Davis of Army.

Following his collegiate career, Trippi led the NFL's Chicago Cardinals to the world championship as a rookie. He has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and the State of Georgia Hall of Fame. He is one of only four Georgia players to have his jersey retired, a list that includes Theron Sapp, along with former Heisman Trophy winners Frank Sinkwich and Herschel Walker.

"We all knew who he was; we knew what he represented," Tarkenton said of Trippi, who served as Georgia's backfield coach during his time in Athens.

Trippi's Georgia career saw him rush for 1,669 yards and 32 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,566 yards.

Oh yes, he also played defense and averaged nearly 60 minutes per game, something former Bulldog Brandon Boykin could not even imagine.

"No, not at all," said Boykin, who received the first-ever Charley Trippi Award, which will be awarded annually to the most versatile Bulldog.

"I can't even imagine it. Playing special teams and defense - that in itself is tough - but to do all of that? That was amazing," Boykin said. "He was a different type of athlete."

But even a 'different type of athlete' wasn't about to get any special treatment from former Bulldog coach Wally Butts.

"I've had a lot of wonderful experiences. The greatest of which was playing for Coach Butts. I had no idea what was going to transpire. I heard a lot of rumors about him. In one situation, he didn't like what I was doing coming out of the huddle," Trippi said. "It was a custom, when I played at Georgia, to play 60 minutes and I'd do everything in the world to conserve energy. When I had to come out of the huddle, I'd walk up the line of scrimmage. So, one day he stops the practice, he says 'Trippi, the way you come out of the huddle, you demoralize the whole damn football team.' Well, as you know, you never answered Coach Butts when he made a statement like that. Later, I wanted to ask him - have you ever played 60 minutes?"

Trippi did, not only in the collegiate, but the professional ranks as well.

That's just what he did during a nine-year career with the Chicago Cardinals, Trippi rushed for 3,506 yards and 23 touchdowns as a halfback. As a quarterback he threw for 2,547 yards and 16 touchdowns. For good measure, he also caught 1,321 worth of yards with 11 scores, returned punts for 864 yards and 1,457 on kickoffs.

He also played defense for two seasons and served as the Cardinals' punter, averaging 40 yards per kick, something he jokingly reminded Cardinals' owner Bill Bidwell.

"I might have to see if I got any money coming. You know … deferred payments? I've got to check into that," said Trippi. "But playing football was always a part of my life. When I started playing football in the 10th grade, my dad was completely against me playing."

Trippi still remembers those days well.

"My dad was anti -football. Italian people are very protective of their children and they don't like them to get involved in any form of contact on the football field," Trippi said. "I played 18 years in football and my dad never went to a football game. He could not stand people knocking me down. But nevertheless, he was a great fan of mine. He always waited for me to come home and he'd ask. 'How did you do today?' Well, if we won, he was happy. If we didn't he said, 'Well, I'm going to have a glass of wine.'"

Joseph Trippi even gave his son a warning.

"He said 'you play and get a broke leg, you come home and I'll take care of the other one,'" Trippi recalled. "The greatest fear I had was injury, because I knew if I got any kind of injury that would have been the end of my career."

Friday, that career was remembered as one of the greatest of all time, certainly in Bulldog lore.

Not only did the two-and-a-half hour program include a number of tributes, but a plethora of plaques, a painting, topped off by a five-day all-expense paid trip to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for Trippi and his wife - paid for by the UGA Athletic Association.

"I really don't know what to say about all this," Trippi said. 'It's just a great day. I will cherish it the rest of my life."