May 17, 2017

Bulldog legend: ‘Things have changed a lot since I played’

     When Charley Trippi took off his sweaty shoulder pads in 1942, the future NFL Hall of Famer hung his gear on a nail.  Seventy-five years later, the Bulldog legend can’t believe how much college football has changed.  As we walked through the University of Georgia’s new $31 million indoor-practice facility—stretching over 102,306 square feet—my 95-year-old friend just kept shaking his head.
      College football has become a spending-frenzy arms race.  Whatever glitz Nick Saban adds to Alabama’s program, the scramble is on to one-up the Crimson Tide at Georgia, Florida, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee and the rest of the Southeastern Conference.  National champion Clemson and the Atlantic Coast Conference are running in overdrive, too.  No one wants to be left behind.
     Still, Charley Trippi kept saying, “I can’t believe how much things have changed since I played.”
And play he did.  As a quarterback, halfback and safety, Charley wore number 62 and played all 60 minutes of the game.  His coach, Wally Butts, proclaimed his greatest backfield ever was Charley Trippi, Dick McPhee, John Rauch and Jesup’s John Donaldson.
     I met Charley in the 1980s, when The Press-Sentinel sponsored a John Donaldson Day.  One by one, as I contacted that famous fleet of backs, each accepted the invitation to honor their teammate.  So when Charley said he wanted to see the jaw-dropping indoor facility of our alma mater, I emailed Athletic Director Greg McGarity.
     For 90 minutes, Charley; his wife, Peggy; and our mutual friend Spratt Bullock, a UGA baseball catcher from the 1960s, trailed our guide, Vince Thomas of Douglas.  When he discovered my hometown, Vince said, “Jesup.  I played golf with Hunter Stuckey at the College of Coastal Georgia.”  And my friends smiled.  They know the axis of my world is Jesup.
     In fact, Charley smiled all the way through the tour.  Even though his picture is everywhere in the sprawling Butts-Mehre athletic complex, you won’t hear the Bulldog great brag.  As Vince, Spratt, Peggy or I pointed out where Charley’s gridiron heroics were featured, he would smile and say, “I remember that, but things have changed a lot since I played.”
     Before we left, I asked Charley whether there was anything else he wanted to see.
     With another smile, he said, “Yeah, my nail on the wall.”