EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth story in a series counting down the top five players in University of Georgia football history. A companion series for Tennessee is planned for May 18-22; an Alabama series was published on May 4-8.
There are no limits in terms of debates regarding former Georgia standout Charley Trippi.
Was Trippi better on offense, defense or special teams? Was he more productive before or after his service during World War II? Was football or baseball his best sport, given that he earned All-America honors in both during his time with the Bulldogs?
Let's just admit that he was very good at whatever he did, which is why former Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley considers Trippi the greatest all-around player ever to suit up for the Bulldogs. Dooley was a 10-year-old in Mobile, Alabama, when Trippi and Frank Sinkwich guided Georgia to the 1942 Southeastern Conference championship, and he was 14 when the war had ended and Trippi led the Bulldogs to the 1946 league crown.
"He kicked and played defense and returned punts," Dooley said. "Charley Trippi was a single-wing tailback, so he got the snap. He was one of the greatest defensive backs that has ever been. He did it all."
Sinkwich won the 1942 Heisman Trophy and ended his Bulldogs career by scoring the lone touchdown in the 9-0 blanking of UCLA in the 1943 Rose Bowl that capped Georgia's 11-1 season, but it was Trippi who rushed for 130 yards against the Bruins and earned game MVP honors. Trippi compiled 1,239 total yards as a sophomore in 1942, rushing 98 times for 672 yards and 6.9 yards per carry.
Trippi then served in the Air Force from 1943 to 1945 but was discharged in time to play the final six games of the 1945 season, when the Bulldogs went 9-2 and defeated Tulsa 20-6 at the Oil Bowl in Houston.
In his abbreviated 1945 season, Trippi set SEC single-game records by rushing for 239 yards during a 34-0 thrashing of Florida in Jacksonville and by throwing for 323 yards in a 33-0 drubbing of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. He also rushed for 61 yards against the Yellow Jackets, setting the league standard for total offense in a single contest at 384.
As a senior in 1946, Trippi was the star of an 11-0 journey that culminated with a 20-10 downing of North Carolina in the Sugar Bowl, Georgia's closest game that season. His 84 points led the league in scoring, and he won the Maxwell Award that year while finishing runner-up for the Heisman.
Trippi played on three Georgia teams that compiled a 31-3 record, and his No. 62 Bulldogs jersey was retired in 1947. The Chicago Cardinals made him the No. 1 pick in the 1945 NFL draft and had his rights when his college competition days, which included All-America baseball recognition in 1946, were over.
As an NFL rookie, Trippi guided the Cardinals to the 1947 league title, collecting a 44-yard touchdown run and a 75-yard punt return for a score during a 28-21 downing of the Philadelphia Eagles in the championship contest. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1921, the 98-year-old Trippi is currently the oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the oldest living former No. 1 draft pick as well.
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