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Wally Triplett, N.F.L. Trailblazer, Is Dead at 92

Category: Football,Sports

Wally Triplett, one of the first African-Americans drafted by a National Football League team, died on Thursday. He was 92.

His death was announced by the Detroit Lions, the team that drafted him in 1949. The announcement did not say where he died.

Triplett, a running back, was the third African-American selected in an N.F.L. draft, but he was the first to play in a regular-season game. He played 18 games for the Lions in 1949 and 1950 and, after serving two years in the Army during the Korean War, six games for the Chicago Cardinals in the 1952-53 season.

George Taliaferro, who died in October, was the first black player drafted in the N.F.L. but played instead for a team in a rival league that season. He was chosen in the 13th round, six rounds before Triplett, in 1949.

Triplett was also the first African-American to start for Penn State, and in 1948 he and his teammate Dennie Hoggard became the first to play in the Cotton Bowl. Their appearance in that game is part of Penn State lore.

According to the school, the team was asked to consider the possibility of leaving Triplett and Hoggard at home for the game because Dallas, where the Cotton Bowl was played, was segregated at the time. Their teammates were said to have responded by saying, “We are Penn State, there will be no meetings” — a reference to a previous Penn State team that had voted to cancel a game in another segregated city, Miami.

Triplett was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame this year.

He was drafted by the Lions in the 19th round in 1949. In his rookie year, he set a team record for the longest run from scrimmage with an 80-yard touchdown at Green Bay. On Oct. 29, 1950, against the Los Angeles Rams, he had 294 yards on four kickoff returns, including a 97-yard touchdown. That total was an N.F.L. record that stood until 1994.

Wallace Triplett was born on April 18, 1926, in La Mott, Pa., near Philadelphia, the fifth of Mahlon and Estelle Triplett’s six sons. He was a football, basketball and baseball star at Cheltenham High School.

He is survived by two daughters, Nancy and Alison; a son, David; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His wife, Leonore (Bivins) Triplett, and a son, Wallace, died before him.


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