The Penn State football family was in mourning on Thursday with news of former running back Wally Triplett passed away at the age of 92. Triplett was the first African-American to start for Penn State in 1945 and play in the Cotton Bowl in 1948.
“This is a tremendous loss for not only our football program, but the Penn State community as a whole,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said in a released statement. “Wally was a trailblazer as the first African-American to be drafted and play in the NFL and his influence continues to live on. He had a profound effect on me and the team when he visited in 2015 and shared valuable lessons from his life story and ability to overcome. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Wally’s family.”
Triplett and former Nittany Lion Dennie Hoggard made history on January 1, 1948 by becoming the first African-Americans to play in the Cotton Bowl against SMU. It was this game that legend says inspired the signature “We are” chant used by Penn State football fans to this day. Penn State was asked to leave the two players home instead of bringing them to play in the Cotton Bowl, but Penn State captain Steve Suhey declared “We are Penn State, there will be no meetings,” to make it clear Penn State would bring and play Triplett and Hoggard to the game or the team would not come at all. Triplett caught a touchdown pass in the game, which ended in a 13-13 tie.
Triplett later went on to become the first African-American football player to be drafted by an NFL team, the Detroit Lions, in the 1948 NFL Draft. Triplett remains in the Penn State record book with the second best career punt return yard average and the fourth-longest punt return in school history, an 85-yard return against West Virginia in 1948.