Originally created 05/01/00

Trippi a Derby hopeful



ATHENS, Ga. -- Let Charley Trippi take you on a tour of his modest suburban Athens home to understand the athletic presence you're in. Start at the replica bust given to him when he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. Onto the living room, where centered on the coffee table is the bronze statue Trippi received when he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

Trippi still resembles the oil painting of him in his No. 62 Georgia red uniform; only his taut cheeks, strong hands and the nose have aged. Downstairs to the red-carpeted recreation room, where black-and-white pictures hang of Trippi as a Bulldog, of signing his first contract as a Chicago Cardinal, of standing next to Babe Didrickson Zaharias, of shaking hands with Tommy Lasorda.

The remnants of a marvelous athletic career can be found all around Trippi, who then takes his visitor to the fireplace in his sitting room. It is here where an enlarged photograph of a horse winning the Flamingo Stakes hangs proudly.

That horse is Trippi, named for the 78-year-old Georgia great by Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell. Trippi will run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, it seems the only sporting event that Trippi the man hasn't been a part of.

Trippi is honored in four halls of fame, is one of four Bulldogs to have his jersey retired, played professional baseball with the Atlanta Crackers, coached at the college and NFL level, and retired to establish a reasonably successful real estate business. A thoroughbred champion seems to be the natural progression, doesn't it?

"He's a pretty looking thing, isn't he? Much prettier than the guy he's named for," Trippi said. "My friends tease me because they don't know which end looks like me.

"I told Cot when he asked me if it was OK to use my name if the horse was a winner. He assured me he was."

In four starts, Trippi, so far, is perfect. And winning is important to Trippi because that's all he has known.

From the small Pennsylvania town of Pittstown, Trippi was the son of a coal miner who made up his mind early that coal would not be his life's work.

"You either had two options," Trippi said. "Go into coal or get a scholarship to go to college. Watching my father endure the mines, I knew it was not very pleasant."

Colleges did not camp out in Trippi's driveway hoping to lure the small running back. Trippi did catch the eye of a local Georgia alumnus, Harold "War Eagle" Ketron, who captained the 1903 Bulldogs and operated the local Coca-Cola distributor.

Ketron promised Trippi a summer job driving trucks if he agreed to go to Georgia. Since Georgia was the only option after his senior season, Trippi agreed.

"I graduated on a Friday and was driving trucks all over Pennsylvania on Monday," Trippi said.

Trippi would head to prep school on Long Island, where recruiters from Notre Dame and Penn State tried to persuade him to change his mind. They had no luck. Trippi boarded a Greyhound bus in the summer of 1941 for a two-day, 800-mile trip to Athens that would change his life.

"Georgia at that time didn't have the tradition it does now," Trippi said. "We had 65 freshman competing for jobs, and by the end of the season, we had 18. Coach (Wallace) Butts worked us hard."

Trippi joined the T-formation backfield with Frank Sinkwich, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1942. Sinkwich, the senior, would be Mr. Inside, Trippi, the freshman, became Mr. Outside.

"We kept defenses guessing which way we would go," Trippi said. "If they didn't guess right, they'd be in trouble."

Trippi is full of stories about Butts and Sinkwich, and one of his favorites happened the Friday night before Georgia would play in its only Rose Bowl.

"The Rose Bowl was the aspiration for every college football player then," Trippi said. "It's so different; it's hard to explain. I guess it would be like a horse running in the Kentucky Derby instead of other races. The Derby's the top.

"We were 10-1, and playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl (in 1943). Coach Butts walked up to me the night before and said, `Charley, Frank can't play. He's got two bad ankles. You're going to have to carry us.' You know how much sleep I got that night? I would up playing 58 minutes of that game."

Georgia won 9-0, captured the school's second national championship, and Trippi's legend began.

He would miss more than two years when he was drafted to serve in the Air Force during World War II. Trippi never fired a gun or found himself in combat; he played football for the Air Force team.

When he returned in 1946, Trippi captained the undefeated national championship team that defeated North Carolina in the Sugar Bowl.

"When I got on that bus to come to Athens, I kept thinking to myself if I did the right thing," Trippi said. "Georgia and Athens turned out to be perfect."

Campbell was a teen-ager watching the Chicago Cardinals in old Comiskey Park when Trippi first caught his eye. Trippi's Cardinals would win the 1947 championship, when he scored on an end sweep and punt return in the title game.

Campbell, who buys yearlings and 2-year-olds for Dogwood Stable, paid $65,000 for a horse named End The Appeal last April. A look at End The Appeal's lineage showed his sire to be End Sweep.

"I saw that and thought `this horse needs some football ties, a football name,"' Campbell said.

Campbell has named horses for Bronco Nagurski, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. His original idea for End The Appeal was Red Grange, but that name is already in use.

So Campbell returned to his teen-aged days in Chicago, when he watched Trippi run the end sweep so sweetly during that rookie championship season. Campbell and Trippi never have met, so it was a bit of a surprise when the horseman phoned the football star to ask for his permission to use his name on a horse.

"I figured people have called their dogs, their cats, their children after me, why not a horse?" Trippi said. "I'm not really a big horseman, but I like to see 'em run. They're beautiful when they run. My wife (Peggy) will put a $2 bet every now and then. Not me. I'll be watching. I want to see Trippi run."

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.