Loran Smith: Remembering Charley Trippi

Home >

Loran Smith: Remembering Charley Trippi

Georgia vs. Tennessee – Lettermen’s Day – April 28, 2018

The immigration stories of the 19th century are fascinating.  People from the old countries of Europe primarily came to America, the land of opportunity, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

There were a few requirements, mainly that you had to have a connection, a sponsor who could vouch for your honesty and integrity.  Not everybody was processed through Ellis Island.  Some had to return to their country of origin.





It was not a bed of roses when they got here.  They worked in coal mines and steel mills, for example.  It was exhausting and physically intimidating.  Most survived by underscoring family togetherness and the work ethic.

I remember seeing a sign at Ellis Island when it was opened as a museum in 1976 which read: “(In the old country) I heard that the streets of America were paved with gold.  When I got here, I discovered that was not true.  They were not even paved, and when they were paved, I paved them.”

Those early immigrants, however, were free to worship as they pleased.  They could run for political office, and they could own property options which many did not have back from where they departed.





The story of Georgia football great, Charley Trippi, is a treatise on the positives of immigration.  Trippi’s Sicilian parents settled in Pittston, Pa., where his father became a coal miner, happy to be in the U. S. with a job, earning his daily bread by the sweat of his brow.

When his son asked about playing football, his father emphatically said, “No. You’ll get your leg broke, and I will break the other one.”  Most everybody knows the rest of the story.   Trippi epitomized the American dream.  Come here, work your backside off, keep your nose clean and the results should be redeeming.  In Trippi’s case, they were dramatic.

His ability to play a game fluently with the best not only brought him success, it brought him headlines and opportunity he could not have imagined when he was growing up.

That Trippi was gifted is obvious. He was a natural, and he had exceptional competitive instincts that made him the best of the best.  Once kickoff ensued in a football game, he had no peer.  His versatility was so remarkable that it caused the legendary Jim Thorpe to say that Trippi was the greatest football player he ever saw.  They give four scholarships today for what Trippi did in his time at Georgia, playing offense and defense, punting and kick returning.

I had the good fortune to get to know Trippi when he returned to Athens following a career in the National Football League, playing for the Chicago Cardinals who signed him to an unheard contract of $100,000 in 1946.  

Before joining the Cardinals, he got a $10,000 bonus from Earl Mann of the Atlanta Crackers to play a partial season of minor league baseball where he batted .334, confirming that he could have succeeded on the major league level.  I once asked him why he didn’t try to be the first to play two professional sports as did Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson for example.  He had a simple answer, “That would not have been fair to either team.”

Think about this salient fact.  He played high school, college, military, and pro football for over 20 years with a reputation as being as hard nosed as anybody who ever played the game and lived to be a hundred years old without a hint of mental issues.  “It is simple,” he told me years ago. “I led with my shoulder, not my head.”

There are so many interesting vignettes in his life.  He was extremely loyal to his friends and to the University of Georgia.  It was Harold Ketron, a Georgia football letterman in the early 1900’s, who discovered Trippi.  Ketron became the Coca-Cola bottler in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., about eight miles southwest of Pittston, Trippi’s hometown.  A native of Clarkesville in the North Georgia mountains, Ketron was given to calling Coach Butts and exhorting the Bulldog coach to sign Trippi whom he described as “the slickest back I have ever seen.”

One night, Coach Butts chose to needle Mr. Ketron:.  “Just how slick is this guy Trippi?”  To which Ketron replied, “Wally, he is slicker than owl (expletive) in the moonlight.  

Trippi did not catch the eye of many college scouts when he finished high school but after a sensational year at LaSalle Prep in New York, all the major colleges, including Ohio State and Notre Dame, came calling.  Trippi’s coal mining father said to his son.  “You gave your word to Mr. Ketron that you would go to Georgia and that is where you will go.”  Trippi didn’t have any misgivings.  He was happy to sign with the Bulldogs.

Georgia partisans can thank the biggest soft drink company in the world for Trippi’s having come UGA’s way.

Trippi cut his own grass until he was 95 years old.  I never saw him order more than two drinks (mostly it was one).  He did everything in moderation and never stuck his nose in anybody’s business.  Known as a frugal man, he never let me get the check when we went out for a meal.  The only time I paid was when he came to my house for dinner.

This parting shot regarding Trippi.  I once asked him if he had any interest in wing shooting, such as quail and dove, which many athletes and coaches enjoy.  Trippi, who would scratch your eyes out for victory on the football field, said, while vigorously shaking his head, “Oh no, I could never shoot anything like a little bird.”





share content