class of 1945
inducted in 1999
Born and raised in LaMott, Wally
Triplett was the fifth of six sons of Mahlon and Estella Triplett, all of
whom graduated from Cheltenham High School. During his high school years Wally
participated in basketball and baseball, but it was football that brought
this star athlete his greatest honors. Upon graduating from CHS in 1945 he
entered Pennsylvania State University.
Wally Triplett has been called the "Jackie Robinson of Penn State football, a pioneer in the civil rights
struggle." Before Lennie Moore, Lydell Mitchell, Curt Warner and Curtis
Enis, before any of the dozens of African-Americans who have played football
at State College, there was Wally Triplett. Triplett was
the first African-American ever to start and the first to earn a varsity
letter on a Penn State football team.
His first season at Penn State was not exceptional. His first start
came late in the season in a game against Michigan State. In a 33-0 loss, the young freshman
tailback had minus 18 yards on 10 carries. During his sophomore year he moved
to right halfback on a team that went 6-2. At mid-season, the 1946 team voted
to cancel a late November game in Miami after University of Miami officials informed Penn State that they would have to leave its
"Negro" players at home to avoid "unfortunate incidents."
The following season, Penn State was invited to play in the 1948 Cotton
Bowl against Southern Methodist. The game, played in Dallas, had never had a "Negro"
player until the Cotton Bowl committee decided to integrate their game that
year. However, because of Triplett and another African-American player, the
team could not find accommodations in Dallas. During that historic 13-13 tie game,
Wally Triplett scored the tying touchdown in the third quarter on a 6-yard
pass play and is credited with making three touchdown-saving tackles while
playing defensive back.
Twice in his Penn State career he rushed for over 100 yards, a
rare feat in those days. In 1948 he led the team in scoring with 36 points
and in all-purpose yardage with 424 rushing, 90 receiving and 220 on punt
returns. His name can still be found in the Penn State record books as number two for career
punt return average yardage with 16.5 yards per return.
Following graduation Triplett was drafted by the NFL's Detroit Lions, making
him the first African-American player to be formally drafted by an NFL team.
For that reason you can find his picture hanging in the Pro Football Hall of
Fame in Canton, Ohio. During his rookie season, in a game
against the Green Bay Packers on October 31, 1949, Triplett was playing right halfback
when he took a quick toss and went around the end for a 90 yard touchdown.
The play set a team record for the longest run from scrimmage.
On October 29, 1950 the Lions took on the Rams. The Lions' new, young
quarterback Bobby Layne was pulled at halftime as the Lions fell behind and
finally losing the game 65-24. The high-scoring Rams kicked off that day more
than usual. Early in the second quarter, Triplett returned a kickoff 81 yards
to the Rams' 16 yard line. Before the first half had ended he had returned
another 97 yards for a Lions touchdown. In the third quarter he returned
another for 42 yards. The Rams then got the bright idea to kick away from him.
Wally Triplett ended the game with 294 yards in return yardage, an NFL record
that stood for 44 years.
After the 1950 NFL season, Wally became the first NFL player drafted into
military service for the Korean War. When he returned from active duty, the
Lions traded him to the Chicago Cardinals. He retired from professional
football in 1953.
Triplett lived in Philadelphia and briefly taught at Ben Franklin High School
before he returned to Detroit. Since then Wally has worked as a teacher, in
the insurance business, in middle management for Chrysler at one of its
stamping plants, and as the first African-American pari-mutuel clerk in
Michigan horse racing history. He has also owned a liquor store, which he
traded for an apartment building.
In 1974 Triplett and his wife Leonore purchased their first motorhome in
which they travel extensively throughout the United States, Canada and
Mexico. They have been married for 49 years and have four children, two sons
and two daughters.