This Day in College Football History – December 14th

Charles Trippi (born December 14, 1921) is a former football player for the Georgia Bulldogs and Chicago Cardinals. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968. Trippi currently resides in Athens, Georgia. The football stadium at Pittston Area High School (Pittston, Pennsylvania) is named “Charley Trippi Stadium” in his honor.  Trippi attended the University of Georgia and was a two-time All-America selection. He played for Georgia in 1942 alongside Heisman winner Frank Sinkwich. Georgia finished the season 11-1 and were named consensus national champions. He was named Most Valuable Player in the 1943 Rose Bowl in Georgia’s 9-0 victory over UCLA. After his college career was interrupted by World War II, he completed his career at Georgia by playing in 1945 and 1946. He won the Maxwell Award in the 1946 season. In 1947, Trippi played one season of minor league baseball with the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers before joining the NFL. He hit .334 in 106 games.

Trippi was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1959. He was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1965. In 2007 he was ranked #20 on ESPN’s Top 25 Players In College Football History list. Trippi was a big part in the battling between the National Football League (NFL) and All-America Football Conference (AAFC). The AAFC’s New York Yankees (AAFC) were sure they had signed Trippi, but Charles W. Bidwill Sr. of the Cardinals signed Trippi to a four year contract worth $100,000 along with a first year bonus of $25,000.  Trippi participated in the 1947 NFL Championship Game when the Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 28-21. Playing on an icy field in Chicago, Trippi wore basketball shoes for better traction and totaled 206 yards, including 102 yards on two punt returns. He scored touchdowns on a 44-yard run and a 75-yard punt return. Trippi played as a left halfback for four seasons before switching to quarterback for two seasons. He then moved back to offensive halfback for one season before switching over to play 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 1000 yards of receiving, 1000 yards passing, and 1000 yards rushing (two other players that are not in the hall of fame–George Taliaferro and Bob Hoernschemeyer—have that distinction as well)

Ernie “”The Express”” Davis (December 14, 1939 – May 18, 1963) was a running back and the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy. Wearing number 44, Davis competed collegiately for Syracuse University before being drafted by the Washington Redskins, then almost immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns in December 1961, when he was issued number 45. However, he would never play a professional game, as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962. He is the subject of the 2008 Universal Pictures movie biography The Express, based on the non-fiction book Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, by Robert C. Gallagher.

Davis was born on December 14, 1939 in New Salem, Pennsylvania. From 14 months of age, Ernie was cared for by his maternal grandparents, Willie and Elizabeth Davis, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Davis played football for Syracuse University between 1958 and 1961, and went on to national fame for three seasons (1959–1961), twice winning first-team All-American honors. As a sophomore in 1959, Davis led Syracuse to the NCAA Division I-A national football championship, capping an undefeated season with a 23-14 win over the University of Texas in the 1960 Cotton Bowl Classic, where Davis was named Most Valuable Player. That same season, Elmira Star-Gazette sports writer Al Mallette coined the nickname for Davis, the “Elmira Express”. In his junior year, 1960, he set a record of 7.8 yards per carry and was the third leading rusher in the country with 877 yards, having rushed for 100 yards in 6 of 9 games. The 1960 Syracuse Orangemen finished with a record of seven wins and two losses and did not play in a post-season bowl game. In 1961, Ernie’s senior year, the Orangemen finished with a record of 8 wins and 3 losses, closing with a 15-14 victory over the Miami Hurricanes in the Liberty Bowl, played at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field. It is important to note that college football was using limited substitution rules at the time and players played both offense and defense.

Davis found discrimination prevalent in the American South during his Cotton Bowl Classic visit to host city Dallas, Texas. Author Jocelyn Selim writes that at the banquet following the 1960 game, Davis was told he could only accept his award and then would be required to leave the segregated facility. Davis and his black teammates were allowed to finish their meals at the banquet. When dessert was brought, a gentleman quietly approached them and told them they would have to leave when the doors were opened to the public for a dance. The three got up to leave and when the teammates found out, they wanted to leave too, but were told that it would only cause a bigger problem, so they stayed. A different account of the banquet is given by John Brown. He was Davis’ teammate at Syracuse and on the Cleveland Browns, his roommate and a close friend. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, all the players from the game attended the banquet. Brown recalls that the teams sat on opposite sides of the room. After everyone ate and the trophies were handed out, the three black Syracuse players, including Brown and Davis were asked to leave and were taken to another party in Dallas by local NAACP representatives. One Syracuse player, Ger Schwedes, recommended that the whole Syracuse team leave the banquet to show solidarity with their black teammates, but the suggestion was overruled by Syracuse officials. When the Chronicle asked Brown whether the film is a truthful portrayal of his friend, Brown said ” … in short, no.”

During his time at Syracuse, Davis wore the same number, 44, as legendary Orangeman Jim Brown, helping to establish a tradition at the school that was acknowledged on November 12, 2005, when the school retired the number in an on-field ceremony. Davis also played basketball at Syracuse for one season 1960-1961. Syracuse University, as a way to honor all of the athletes that have worn the number 44, was granted permission by the United States Postal Service to change its zip code to 13244. While attending Syracuse, Davis was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity, a nationally recognized Jewish fraternity. Davis was the first African-American to become part of the organization not only at the Syracuse chapter, but for the national fraternity as a whole. Davis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Davis was the number-one pick in the 1962 NFL Draft. Selected by the Washington Redskins, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. He was also drafted by the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League.  The Browns’ dream of pairing Davis with Jim Brown in the backfield took a tragic turn when Davis was diagnosed with leukemia during preparations for the 1962 American Football Coaches All-American Game in Buffalo, NY and also at Browns training camp. The rift between Coach Brown and Modell worsened when Modell brought in doctors who said Davis could play pro ball but Brown refused to suit him up. This contributed to Modell’s decision to replace Brown before the 1963 season. Ernie was allowed to practice on the field (without physical contact) and helped Brown with play plans for the team, but was never played. Brown was concerned that Ernie’s condition, although in a remission brought the morale of the team down. Davis never played a game as a professional, with his only appearance at Cleveland Stadium coming during a 1962 pre-season game, in which he ran onto the field as a spotlight followed him. Following his death, the Browns retired his number 45 jersey.

In the summer of 1962, Davis was diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia and began receiving medical treatment. The disease was incurable and he died in Cleveland Lakeside Hospital May 18, 1963, at the age of 23. Ernie went to Johns Hopkins when he was dying, three months after being diagnosed and through chemical treatments experienced a 4-5 month remission. That was the time that the controversy between Paul Brown and Art Modell took place. Both the House and the Senate of the United States Congress eulogized Davis, and a wake was held at The Neighborhood House in Elmira, New York, where more than 10,000 mourners paid their respects. During the funeral, a message was received from President Kennedy, and was read aloud to all of the people attending the service. Davis is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York, the same cemetery in which Mark Twain is buried. His commemorative statue stands in front of Ernie Davis Middle School, which Davis attended as Elmira Free Academy during his high school years. The building was named in his honor after its conversion to a middle school. Another statue of Davis stands on the campus of Syracuse University, near the steps of Hendricks Chapel and the Quad where pre-game pep rallies are held. He was elected to the college football hall of fame in the Fall of 2008, coinciding with the premiere of The Express and the beginning of construction of Ernie Davis Hall, a dorm on the Syracuse campus.

George “The Gipper” Gipp (February 18, 1895 – December 14, 1920) was a college football player who played for the University of Notre Dame. Gipp was selected as Notre Dame’s first All-American and is Notre Dame’s second consensus All-American (of 79), after Gus Dorais. Gipp played multiple positions, most notably halfback, quarterback, and punter. He is still considered today to be one of the most versatile athletes to play the game of football and is the subject of Knute Rockne’s famous “Win just one for the Gipper” speech. Gipp died at the age of 25 of a streptococcal throat infection, days after leading Notre Dame to a win over Northwestern in his senior season.

Born in Laurium, Michigan, he entered Notre Dame intending to play baseball for the Fighting Irish, but was recruited by Knute Rockne for the football team, despite having no experience in organized football. During his Notre Dame career, Gipp led the Irish in rushing and passing each of his last three seasons (1918, 1919 and 1920). His career mark of 2,341 rushing yards lasted more than 50 years until Jerome Heavens broke it in 1978. Gipp also threw for 1,789 yards. He scored 21 career touchdowns, averaged 38 yards a punt, and gathered five interceptions as well as 14 yards per punt return and 22 yards per kick return in four seasons of play for the Fighting Irish. Gipp is still Notre Dame’s all-time leader in average yards per rush for a season (8.1), career average yards per play of total offense (9.37), and career average yards per game of total offense (128.4).

Gipp died December 14, 1920, two weeks after being elected Notre Dame’s first All-American by Walter Camp and second consensus All-American overall. A frequently told but probably apocryphal story of Gipp’s death begins when he returned to Notre Dame’s campus after curfew from a night out. Unable to gain entrance to his residence, Gipp went to the rear door of Washington Hall, the campus’ theatre building. He was a steward for the building and knew the rear door was often unlocked. He usually spent such nights in the hall. On that night, however, the door was locked, and Gipp was forced to sleep outside. By the morning, he had contracted pneumonia and eventually died from a related infection. It is more likely that Gipp contracted strep throat and pneumonia while giving punting lessons after his final game, November 20 against Northwestern University. Since antibiotics were not available in the 1920s, treatment options for such infections were limited and they could be fatal even to young, healthy individuals. Gipp’s hometown, Laurium, built a memorial in his honor; he is buried in nearby Lake View Cemetery in Calumet, Michigan.

It was on his hospital bed that he is purported to have delivered the famous,”win just one for the Gipper” line. He apparently said this line to Knute Rockne, the football coach of Notre Dame.  The full quotation from which the line is derived is:

“I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”

Rockne used the story of Gipp, along with this deathbed line that he attributed to Gipp, to rally his team to a 12-6 underdog victory over the undefeated Army team of 1928 with Jack Chevigny making the famous, “that’s one for the Gipper” tying touchdown at Yankee Stadium. Chevigny was later killed in action in World War II at Iwo Jima. The phrase “Win one for the Gipper” was later used as a political slogan by Ronald Reagan, who in 1940 portrayed Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American and was often referred to as “The Gipper”. His most famous use of the phrase was at the 1988 Republican National Convention when he told Vice President George H. W. Bush, “George, go out there and win one for the Gipper.” The term was also used by President George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican Convention when he honored the recently deceased President Reagan by stating, “this time we can truly win one for the Gipper.”

On October 4, 2007, George Gipp’s body was exhumed for DNA testing to determine if he had fathered a child out of wedlock with an 18-year-old high school student. The right femur was removed and the rest of the remains were reburied the same day. A sports author who was present at the exhumation said it was requested by Rick Frueh, the grandson of one of Gipp’s sisters. The tests showed that Gipp was not the father of the child who was born within days of Gipp’s death and who died in 2006.

 

Lloyd Jordan (December 14, 1900 – February 24, 1990) was a football, basketball, and baseball player and coach. He served as the head football coach at Amherst College from 1932 to 1949 and at Harvard University from 1950 to 1956, compiling a career college football record of 101–72–8. Jordan was also the head basketball coach at Colgate University from 1928 to 1932 and at Amherst from 1932 to 1948, tallying a career college basketball mark of 159–103. He played football, basketball, and baseball at the University of Pittsburgh, from which he graduated in 1924. Jordan was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1978.


 

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