Trippi has vested interest in game

ATHENS, Ga. --- For anyone who thought it would be a cold day in you-know-where before the Arizona Cardinals won a championship, Charley Trippi can vouch for the last one.


"It was a cold day," Trippi remembers of the 1947 NFL championship game at Chicago's Comiskey Park. "The field was frozen and we wore tennis shoes."

That was Dec. 28, 1947, and Trippi was the rookie superstar from the University of Georgia who helped deliver the championship to the Cardinals.

The Hall of Famer, like most people, certainly didn't expect to see this year's Cardinals get a shot at Super Bowl XLIII in the significantly warmer climes of Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium.

"I was up at Canton (Ohio) at the Hall of Fame in August and visited with Billy Bidwell and his son," Trippi said of the Cardinals ownership. "I told them good luck and have a good year and they sure had one. Everybody picked them to lose. I think they've surprised a lot of people."

The Bidwell family has been much-maligned for its stewardship of a franchise long-considered the worst in the NFL, but you won't hear that opinion from Trippi. He had come to know Chicago Cardinals owner Charlie Bidwell while he was serving in the Air Force during World War II.

"He would come to Tampa on business with his dog track there and he would always invite me out with them to have lunch or dinner," Trippi said. "So I got to be very close with Mr. Bidwell."

After Trippi finished what many consider an unjust second in the Heisman Trophy balloting his senior season at Georgia in 1946, he was the most sought-after talent by the professional leagues. The Cardinals had the top "bonus" pick of the NFL in 1947, and Charlie Bidwell picked Trippi.

But the Bulldog star was also getting keen interest from the New York Yankees of the rival All-America Football Conference.

"When the Yankees wanted to distract me, Mr. Bidwell said, 'You go to New York and see what they'll give you and I'll duplicate it,' " Trippi said. "When I told him what they offered me he said 'You got it. You're going to be a Cardinal.' I wanted to be with the NFL because I felt that was the right place for me to be."

Trippi reportedly got a $100,000 contract that was the richest ever for an NFL player. He joined what was dubbed the "Million-dollar backfield" in 1947 and proved to be the final piece of a championship puzzle. Sadly, Charlie Bidwell died before the season started and never got to see his Cardinals play host to the 1947 NFL championship game at Comiskey Park.

On that frozen day in their tennis shoes, the Cardinals scored four long touchdowns -- including a 44-yard run and 75-yard punt return by Trippi -- to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21.

"The novelty of the game was we scored four touchdowns and they were all on long runs," said Trippi. "You'll never see a football game like that where the winning team scores on four long runs."

A year later the Cardinals and Eagles met again for the championship, only this time during a snow storm in Philadelphia. The Eagles won the rematch 7-0.

"It was a terrible day," Trippi said. "The officials couldn't even see the lines on the field. They improvised the game. If they said it was a first down it was a first down. It was a pushing affair, really, rather than a football game. I think the fans got cheated. They went to see a championship game and they saw a terrible exhibition of football."

That could have been a refrain for most of the next six decades as the Cardinals moved from Chicago to St. Louis to Arizona and rarely experienced even modest success. Trippi -- who played for nine seasons and spent five more with the Cardinals as an assistant coach -- believes the franchise quickly got stale and left behind by the rest of the league.

"After we won the championship in 1947 and had a good year in '48, the organization stayed pat," he said. "They got sentimental with the talent we had instead of injecting new blood into the system. We kind of aged out all at the same time and it kind of hurt the ballclub and they had to rebuild it over again."

It took them 60 years to return to the championship stage under the direction of another Peach State collegian. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt -- a Richmond Academy and Georgia Tech grad -- can count one Bulldog legend among his biggest fans.

"I think there's surprise that the Cardinals are going to play in the Super Bowl, but they appear to be a pretty good football team," Trippi said of the current club that once again went through the Eagles to get another title shot at a team from his home state of Pennsylvania. "I think they've put it together this year and their coaching appears to be excellent because they look real good to me. I thought their gameplan was excellent."

Unless Trippi gets an invitation from the Bidwells to go to the game in Tampa, he'll watch from his home in Athens -- a town he adopted as his own ever since he left coal country for college. He certainly ranks as the most content Cardinals fan anywhere.

"In college football you always want to play in the Rose Bowl, which I did," he said of the 1942 national championship clincher at Georgia. "In pro football you always want an opportunity to play for a championship, and I did that. So I'm complete now. I got everything I wanted out of football."

Almost everything. The 86-year-old would like to see the franchise he devoted 14 seasons to capture a Super Bowl.

"I want to see them win -- bad," he said.

Would that eclipse his championship in 1947?

"If they win the Super Bowl, yes," he admits. "That's the big daddy."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or



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