PITTSTON — When the National Football League announced its No. 1 draft pick in 1945, there wasn’t any fanfare like you saw Thursday night on the NFL Network and ESPN.
But you can be sure that the residents of Pittston knew who went first — it was the city’s favorite son, Charley Trippi, halfback from the University of Georgia via Pittston High School who was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals.
Trippi, now 92, lives in Athens, Ga., and is the oldest living NFL No. 1 pick. USA Today published a feature story about Trippi, and Wednesday he talked to The Times Leader about his career and his life growing up in Pittston.
Growing up in the coal mining town of Pittston was a challenge, Trippi said. “My dad was a miner,” he said. “I used to greet him at the door when he came home from work. He was always tired, and I could see the pain in his eyes.”
Feeding five kids was difficult, and after seeing the struggles of his parents, Trippi said, he came up with a game plan.
Door to future
“I knew if I could excel in baseball or football or both, I could get a scholarship, go to college and find a career to benefit me in the future,” Trippi said. “Once I got to Georgia, doors opened up for me.”
Trippi was always a little apprehensive when he was a child, he said, but he always felt confident about his athletic ability.
And he proved it through his career:
• Trippi was a two-time All-American at Georgia.
• He was named Most Valuable Player in Georgia’s 9-0 victory over UCLA in the 1943 Rose Bowl, outshining teammate and Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinwich. Georgia finished the season at 11-1 and the consensus national champion.
• Trippi won the Maxwell Award in 1946 and finished runner-up to Army’s Glenn Davis in the Heisman Trophy voting.
• Drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals as the top overall pick in 1945, Trippi served in the military in World War II and returned to Georgia to complete his degree, playing for the Bulldogs in 1945 and 1946.
• Trippi played in the NFL for nine years; he later coached in Chicago for five years and five years at Georgia.
• He played baseball for the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers before joining the NFL; he hit .334 in 106 games.
• Trippi played in the 1947 NFL Championship Game when the Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21. Trippi wore basketball shoes because the field was icy; he ran for 206 yards and scored two touchdowns — a 44-yard run and a 75-yard punt return.
• Trippi played halfback for four seasons before switching to quarterback for two seasons, then back to offensive halfback for one season; he switched to defense in 1954 and 1955. He was also the Cardinals’ punter and he excelled on special teams.
• He is the only player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with at least 1,000 yards of receiving, passing and rushing.
“It makes me feel good,” Trippi said, reflecting on his athletic career. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities I had in football and baseball.”
He grew up at 90 E. Railroad St. After graduating from Pittston, he attended LaSalle Military Academy in Long Island, N.Y. He was recruited by several major colleges.
“Notre Dame came to my house wanting to recruit me,” he said. “But I had already committed to Georgia.”
Draws NFL pension
He watches the NFL draft on TV, he said, but not as intently as he has in the past. He’s not jealous of the multimillion-dollar contracts of today. “We get a good pension from the NFL,” he said.
The memories of a storied football career remain fresh in his mind, but Trippi plays a different game these days against much smaller competitors.
“I have 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren,” he said. “Every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas they all gather here. I love to play with the grandkids. We have a great time.”
Trippi signed a four-year deal with the Cardinals for $100,000 for four years.
According to The USA Today article, Trippi decided to attend Georgia on the recommendation of Harold Ketran, a former Georgia player who had opened a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Wilkes-Barre. Ketran gave Trippi a job driving soda trucks in the summer.
Trippi lives in Athens, where he became successful as a real estate developer. He attends as many Georgia Bulldog home games as possible.