ATHENS – It has been a great year for the Georgia Bulldogs. It has been kind of tough one for Charley Trippi.
I had the great privilege and good fortune of visiting Trippi at his longtime Athens home over on Riverhill Court back in August. This was right before the Bulldogs’ 2017 football season got underway. The purpose of my call then was to interview him for the “Georgia Greats” series we were doing. You can read that profile and watch the video we did right here at DawgNation.
Me with Charley Trippi in the basement of his Athens home this past August. (Nate Gettleman/DawgNation)
On Sunday, I had the honor of informing Mr. Trippi and his lovely wife Peggy that Georgia was going back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since he played there at the end of the 1942 season. Actually, it wasn’t my intention to inform them of the news, necessarily. I merely meant to get his reaction.
But inform them is what I ended up doing because, as of 2 p.m. on Sunday, they had not yet heard that Georgia was in the Rose Bowl. Remarkably, the 95-year-old Trippi wasn’t monitoring Twitter or following my Facebook Live broadcast when the news broke Sunday that the Bulldogs had been awarded the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoffs and would face No. 2 Oklahoma in the national semifinal out in Pasadena.
But as soon as that possibility emerged Saturday, as the Bulldogs were putting the finishing touches on their 28-7 whipping of Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, my thoughts returned to Trippi and that terrific two-hour visit we had during the dog days of summer. He was so excited then about Georgia and its prospects under head coach Kirby Smart. He said he felt Smart would be able to lead the Bulldogs to another national championship, “as long as he can get the personnel.”
And he was thrilled, even then, to talk about Georgia’s Rose Bowl appearance 75 years ago. That’s right, it has been 75 years since Georgia last participated in that game. Trippi and fellow halfback “Flatfoot” Frankie Sinkwich starred in the Bulldogs’ 9-0 win over UCLA, which resulted in Georgia being declared the 1942 national champions of college football.
So, what was Trippi’s reaction to the Bulldogs going back to the Rose Bowl?
“Oh, wow, just like ’42!” he exclaimed. “Now I’m sure they’ll win it all, just like we did.”
Full disclosure here: I did not actually get that directly from Trippi. That was his wife Peggy relaying Trippi’s reaction to me. Trippi can’t hear well enough to talk on the phone. So I just told Peggy what I wanted to ask him, and she told me what he said.
As you might expect, hearing is just one of the issues. Trippi will celebrate his 96th birthday on Dec. 14th, and not many people on Earth get the opportunity to do that. I was informed that he has been hospitalized a couple of times since our last meeting and is not getting around even as well as he was then, just three or so months ago.
But Trippi was doing what he always does on Sunday. When I called he was raking his yard, holding his walker in one hand and his rake in the other, according to Peggy. And he’s still keeping up with the Bulldogs.
Mr. and Mrs. Trippi were watching Georgia play Auburn on television on Saturday. So they were fully aware of what the Bulldogs were able to accomplish last night. They just weren’t fully apprised of all the ramifications that came with that. I had to explain the College Football Playoff to Ms. Peggy, so she could explain it to Charley.
And Trippi, in turn, informed me of something that I wasn’t aware of. He reminded me that his team also lost to Auburn in the regular season.
“That’s why I know now they’re gonna win,” he said, only half-joking I think.
And both he and Peggy have been paying attention to college football all season. They were immediately conscious of the challenge awaiting the Bulldogs in drawing Oklahoma. The Sooners (12-1) have one of the most explosive offenses in college football and are led by veteran quarterback Baker Mayfield, one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. In fact, Mayfield will be at the College Football Awards Show in Atlanta at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
“Oh, no,” said Peggy, relaying the sentiments of both her and Charley. “I’ve watched Oklahoma play. Oh, dear. Win or lose, it’s great, but oh my goodness to win it.”
Trippi was telling me all about winning it when I visited with him three months ago. He still gets excited telling the stories. It took them three days to get to Pasadena from Athens by train, and after they won, there were a few players who didn’t bother to come back. They just settled out there.
And he talked about pulling back into the downtown Athens train station and the huge reception that awaited them there. The whole city crowded the platform and the marching band was there and the mayor. UGA had seen nothing like it.
So it’s understandable when Mr. Trippi says he’s “ecstatic” that his Bulldogs are heading back to the Rose.
Trippi would like to make the trip back himself, but he knows that’s not going to be possible. The legs that served him so well at Georgia and in the NFL just don’t work as well anymore. He’ll just hang back there on Riverhill with his bride Peggy and take it all in on TV.
But you can be sure there will be no one pulling harder for the Bulldogs on Jan. 1 than Charles Louis Trippi.
In the meantime, there’s a birthday party to be planned. Charley’s daughter is making a cake with “all the fixings” for a soiree scheduled for Dec. 14th right there at the house. Maybe Kirby Smart will stop by, grab a slice of cake and get some intel on how best to prepare for a Rose Bowl since Trippi’s the last to play there.
And with a little luck, maybe Georgia can pull through for the Trippi’s and make it to Atlanta for the national championship game. He’d be more likely to make a 70-mile trip for a game than try another 3,000-miler, even if he could make it by plane these days.