Loran Smith: Charley Trippi remains the hero next door

Charley Trippi, perhaps Georgia's greatest athlete of all time, occasionally signs autographs but more often moves inconspicuously throughout Athens. DAVID BARNES / UGA

ATHENS — Sometimes we take things for granted. Family, friends, a corner drug store, an ice cream cone or a shade tree in our yard.  That is because we see certain things and people every day.  We get used to their presence.

For over 60 years this fall, there has been a Bulldog hero hanging around Athens, moving about without fuss or baggage, one whose name resonates not only in the Classic City but nationally. He frequently gets calls from writers, historians and researchers about his fabled career with the Chicago Cardinals.

Charley Trippi — after playing nine years in the National Football League where he set records, collected big checks, certainly for the times, and dabbled in real estate on the side — settled permanently where he attained unparalleled glory as a collegian. He had made his home in Athens while he was playing for the Cardinals. When he came home in winter, for the off-season, he investigated real estate opportunity and has always done well, operating as a principal.

A contract with the Cardinals for $100,000 meant that Trippi had the resources to compete in real estate. While he never had a broker’s license, he could buy and sell — understanding the principle of sound investment with as little risk as possible — as well as anybody in town.

Trippi’s longevity, in part, has resulted in his affinity for moderation in everything, even at the liveliest of cocktail parties. As long as I have known him, I never saw him go past a second drink. Good habits and daily exercises have enabled him to enjoy a long and fruitful life. Last spring I went by his home on Riverhill Court and found him in his front yard. He had just mowed his lawn and was raking the excess grass into small piles to be placed in a wheelbarrow. That routine, for him, is better than an elliptical machine.

The cynics among his closest friends would apply the needle, noting that with his assets, he could hire the best lawn maintenance service in town. In Trippi’s case it is not about the money. Frugal yes, but he is also keenly aware of the benefit of outdoor exercise.

This icon whom Athenians have rubbed shoulders with for decades, turns visitor heads yet blends into the scene with locals: a chili dog at the varsity, dinner at the Athens Country Club where he played golf for years, a fixture at Georgia home football games. He has become something of a landmark, always generous with his time and accommodating with autograph requests.

His 95th birthday is coming up in December. More than likely, his pretty and charming wife, Peggy, will give him something practical on his milestone day. Perhaps a new lawnmower. But, only if the old one has used up all its life.

Charley Trippi, has lived the Everyman’s life in the community where he first earned fame. As a football player, his name will always be highlighted in the Pantheon of Great Bulldogs.

With all due respect to our other great heroes, we are often reminded that the consensus of the experts is that Georgia has never had a greater all-around player than Charley Trippi.

As confirmation of that, recall with me his sensational year of 1947:

  • On New Year’s Day, he led Georgia to the National Championship 20-10 over North Carolina in the Sugar Bowl.
  • In the spring, Earl Mann of the Atlanta Crackers paid Charley a $10,000 bonus to play a partial season of baseball.
  • Before the Crackers season ended, Coach Wallace Butts, who was coaching with Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy in the College All Star game, called Earl Mann, owner of the Crackers, and asked him to release Charley so he could play in the game against the defending NFL champion Chicago Bears.  It was Trippi’s fourth appearance in this once popular game.   He led the College All-stars to victory, 16-0.
  • He then, as a rookie, led the Chicago Cardinals to the NFL championship.

It is doubtful that any athlete has ever had a greater year than Charley Trippi in 1947.

What a performance, which is why he was All-America, All-Pro and is a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame.

Loran Smith is a writer, a UGA track letterman, a former executive secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club and a longtime employee of the UGA Athletic Association who currently serves in the development office. His columns will appear weekly on DawgNation.

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