University Park, Pa. – Former Nittany Lion Wally Triplett died.
Triplett died Thursday morning at the age of 92 in Detroit. He was one of the inspirations for Penn State’s “We Are” montra and was the first African-American to be drafted and play in the NFL.
“This is a tremendous loss for not only our football program, but the Penn State community as a whole,” said Head Coach James Franklin. “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, a tailback and linebacker for the Nittany Lions, was the first African-American to start for Penn State November 17, 1945. Later, Triplett and end Dennie Hoggard became the first African-Americans to play in the Cotton Bowl game on January 1, 1948.
A native of La Mott, Pennsylvania, Triplett grabbed the game-tying touchdown on a 6-yard reception in the third quarter as the Nittany Lions tied Doak Walker-led and third-ranked SMU, 13-13, in the 1948 Cotton Bowl. Triplett also played an outstanding defensive game. The 1947 Nittany Lions finished 9-0-1 and ranked No. 4 in the final AP poll, pitching six shutouts and allowing an average of just 2.8 points per game. Triplett was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2018.
After his Penn State career, Triplett became the first African-American player to be drafted by and play in the NFL when he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL Draft. He played four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Cardinals, taking a two-year break to serve in the Korean War. Two weeks after his record-setting performance, Triplett was drafted into the Army and fought for the 594th Field Artillery Battalion for two years in the Korean War.
Triplett is survived by his children, Nancy, Wallace, Alison and David. He is preceded in death by his wife, Leonore.