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Wally Triplett (1926 - 2018), pioneering NFL running back

Getty Images / Leon Halip

First black player drafted in the NFL to play a regular season game

Wally Triplett was the first black player drafted by an NFL team to play in a regular season game. There were 3 black players drafted in 1949, the year that Triplett was drafted out of Penn State by the Detroit Lions. But Triplett was the first to get to play.

One of the first black players on the varsity football team at Penn State, Triplett caught the game-tying touchdown pass for the Nittany Lions against SMU in the 1948 Cotton Bowl Classic. During the 1946 season, Miami told Penn State that they would only play the Nittany Lions if Triplett and the other black players on the team did not play. The Penn State football team took a vote and decided to not play Miami.

With the Detroit Lions from 1949 to 1950, Triplett was a running back and kick returner, and had an 80-yard TD run against the Packers his rookie season. He was drafted by the Army after the 1950 season and served in the Korean War. After his service, he played two years with the Chicago Cardinals and then retired.

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Died: Thursday, November 8, 2018 (Who else died November 8?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 92, according to a statement from the Detroit Lions


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Legendary Game: In a 1950 game against the Rams, Triplett returned four kickoffs for a total of 294 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown. It is still the third best kickoff return performance in NFL history.

Notable Quote: "I ended up with Doak Walker covering me on that play, since they played both sides of the ball back then and I used to joke with him about how I faked him out. He was a great sport about it. He told me, 'Wally, it's a good thing that [game] ended in a tie.'" Triplett talking about his catch in the Cotton Bowl game against future Lions teammate and Football Hall of Fame running back Doak Walker

What people said about him: “As the first African-American to be drafted and to play in the National Football League, Wally is one of the true trailblazers in American sports history. He resides among the great men who helped reshape the game as they faced the challenges of segregation and discrimination." —Statement from the Detroit Lions

Did You Know? Wally Triplett was part of the reason for the creation of the famous "We are Penn State" cheer. He tells the story in the video below:

Full obituary: Detroit Free Press

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George Taliaferro (1927 – 2018), first African-American player to be drafted by an NFL team

Walter Payton’s Sweet NFL Career

Mel Farr (1944 – 2015), Detroit Lions star running back

NFL Memorial Site