Published : Saturday, December 30, 2017 | 9:04 PM
Football Hall of Famer Charles Trippi played with the University of Georgia Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1943, when the Bulldogs, in their first appearance in the “Granddaddy of Them All,” beat UCLA 9-0.
ESPN says Georgia officials invited the 96-year-old to come with the team playing Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl Game this New Year’s, but his wife, Peggy, was worried about him making the long trip. Instead, he’ll be watching the game on TV from his home in Athens, Georgia.
If the No. 3 Bulldogs defeat Oklahoma and advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship on January 8 in Atlanta, Georgia officials promised to take him there instead, ESPN says.
Trippi, widely regarded as the best all-around athlete ever to play at Georgia, was part of a star backfield that included Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich at that Rose Bowl game. He is believed to be the only living member of the 1943 Rose Bowl team.
That season, the Bulldogs also had a menacing defense that shut out six opponents, including UCLA, and allowed only 76 points in 12 games, ESPN says. And just like the current Georgia team that will play Oklahoma at the Bowl, the 1942 Bulldogs suffered only one loss during the regular season — to rival Auburn.
“It’s great,” Trippi told ESPN, when he learned Georgia was going back to the Rose Bowl after 75 years. “It’s just like 1942.”
Trippi was a 21-year-old sophomore when he and 42 of his teammates boarded a train in Athens on December 18, 1942, for the four-day trip to Pasadena. After defeating Georgia Tech, 34-0 in the regular-season finale, the Bulldogs immediately voted, in their locker room, to accept the Rose Bowl invitation over playing in the Sugar Bowl.
The previous year, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Rose Bowl had been moved to Durham, North Carolina. After the Allied victory at the Battle of Midway six months later, the U.S. Army decided the West Coast was no longer vulnerable to attack and allowed the Rose Bowl to return to Pasadena.
Both Trippi and Sinkwich were household names by the time they arrived in L.A., the ESPN report said. One of the first congratulatory telegrams then Georgia coach Wally Butts received after the Bulldogs were selected to play in the Rose Bowl came from UGA alumni serving in North Africa: “Congratulations on Rose Bowl bid. After game please send us Charley Trippi to help us catch Rommel. At present he’s running like hell.” The message referred to Nazi general Erwin Rommel who was in command of German forces in North Africa at that time.
Sinkwich had arrived in L.A. with a badly sprained left ankle after final practice in Athens. During Georgia’s first practice at Tournament Park, the site of the very first Rose Bowl, Sinkwich was tackled out of bounds and injured his right ankle. He was confined to bed for the next few days.His injury caused Butts to scale back his plan of having two-a-day practices up until the Rose Bowl.
“We were preparing for him not to play,” Trippi tells ESPN as he recalls the episode. “It changed the complexion of the game.”
When game day finally arrived, Sinkwich’s availability was still in question. He had been able to take part in a few of the final practices but was running with a noticeable limp. But it wasn’t too different from 1941 when he played with a broken jaw for much of the season.
Sinkwich didn’t start the game, ESPN said, but scored the only touchdown on a one-yard run to seal the Bulldogs’ 9-0 victory.
Georgia had 25 first downs to UCLA’s five. Trippi carried the ball 25 times for 130 yards, completed six passes for 96 yards and played 58 of 60 minutes while playing both offense and defense.
In 1953, Trippi was named MVP of the 1943 Rose Bowl retroactively.
“You get a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, you don’t ever want to come out of it,” Trippi tells ESPN. “You want to stay in there for 60 minutes and don’t ever get tired. You hate to see it end. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
The Bulldogs remained one more day in Los Angeles after the game to celebrate their victory before making their way back to Athens.
Within a few weeks, Trippi and many of his teammates reported for active military duty. By the spring of 1943, all but 10 of the 43 players who made the trip to Pasadena were serving in the military, and many of them were fighting overseas.
Trippi served in the Fourth Air Force during the war and returned to play at Georgia in 1945 to 1946. He signed an unprecedented $100,000 contract with the Chicago Cardinals and led them to the 1947 NFL championship as a rookie.
Of the Bulldogs return to Rose Bowl Stadium he told ESPN, “”It’s great Better late than never.”