ATHENS, Ga. — They don’t make football players like Charley Trippi anymore, but Georgia would like to find some.
It took the Bulldogs about five minutes to retire Trippi’s jersey in 1947, the season after he won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player and earned a lasting reputation as Georgia’s greatest all-around athlete.
It took them 65 more years to decide Trippi’s name itself should grace a trophy honoring versatility in a sport that more often than not embraces specialization.
In February, coach Mark Richt announced new team awards would be named after two legendary Bulldogs. Georgia’s “toughest player” will receive the Frank Sinkwich Award, named after the 1942 Heisman Trophy winner who famously played seven games in the 1941 season with a broken jaw. Its MVP – most versatile player – will get the Trippi Award.
“I have always heard that Charley Trippi was the most exciting player of his time,” Richt said.
Since Sinkwich died 22 years ago, Friday the 13th (a day before the annual G-Day spring game) has been declared “Charley Trippi Day” in Athens, where the 90-year-old still lives.
“Of course I’m honored; I never expected it,” said Trippi, who will be feted with a luncheon ceremony at the Georgia Center featuring a host of dignitaries including Gov. Nathan Deal and Athens Mayor Nancy Denson. “Sometimes they wait until you die to do something like this.”
Former Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin will be honored at the luncheon as the first Trippi recipient. It’s a fitting tribute after a season in which Boykin rushed for an 80-yard touchdown on his first carry, scored two receiving TDs, a punt return touchdown, intercepted three passes and forced two fumbles.
Trippi – who faithfully attends every home game and watches the rest on television – certainly approves of the choice.
“He’s an outstanding football player,” Trippi said of Boykin, who awaits the NFL Draft. “He’s got tremendous speed and he knows how to find the opening. He’s the type of guy who can go all the way every time he gets the ball. Tremendous vision on the football field. He’s an exceptional athlete, really.”
So was Trippi. He did so many things in his three stellar seasons at Georgia that notable Bulldog historian and commentator Loran Smith said “they’d give four scholarships today to do what Trippi gave them then.”
Trippi was a regular on offense and defense as well as serving as punter and kick returner. He rarely left the field.
“Nobody else was available so I did it,” he said. “The coach tells you to do it, so you do it.”
Trippi did it well enough to be inducted into both the College (1959) and Pro (1968) Football halls of fame. ESPN in 2007 named him the 20th greatest college player of all time.
He played with Sinkwich in 1942, leading Georgia to a consensus national title and earning MVP in the Rose Bowl. After serving in World War II, he returned to Georgia for the 1945-46 seasons, leading the Bulldogs to an 11-0 record, SEC title and Sugar Bowl victory his final year.
He was so talented that he sparked a recruiting battle between two pro leagues, with Charles Bidwell and the Chicago Cardinals winning his services with a record $100,000 contract. It was money well spent, since the rookie Trippi dominated in the 1947 NFL Championship Game with 206 total yards on an icy field including two touchdowns (44-yard rush, 75-yard punt return) in a 28-21 Cardinals victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bidwell’s son, Bill, and grandson, Michael – owner and president of the Arizona Cardinals – will attend the Trippi Day luncheon in Athens.
“I’m gonna sign a new contract,” said Trippi, who last year underwent heart bypass surgery.
Despite the joke, Trippi was never comfortable about the attention his original contract received.
“I don’t like to talk about how much money I made when I played, but I did get a good contract,” Trippi said.
“The one thing I dislike in professional sports is everybody knows what you earn and they put it in the paper. That should be a private affair.”
Trippi’s versatility didn’t diminish after college. He played halfback for five seasons, quarterback for two and defense for two more in the NFL, while also serving as punter and returner.
He is the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to surpass 1,000 yards rushing (3,506), receiving (1,321) and passing (2,547). He also averaged 40.3 yards per punt in eight seasons, returned 2,321 yards of kicks (two touchdowns) and snagged four interceptions (one touchdown).
“When you’re on the field you’re always looking for a way to score,” Trippi said. “That used to be my intention.”
Trippi says his teammate Sinkwich was just as exciting.
“Frank was tremendous,” he said. “He was the quickest guy to the line of scrimmage when he got the ball. From tackle to tackle, nobody was any better than him. He could break more tackles than anybody who’s ever played at Georgia.”
Herschel Walker fans might wish to see the video evidence to prove it, but no one could deny Sinkwich’s toughness of playing with that broken jaw.
“Took a lot of courage for him to do that,” Trippi said. “There’s not many athletes who would attempt to do what he did.”
The Bulldogs just hope to find a few athletes who can live up to the names of Trippi and Sinkwich.