Notre Dame, Ind. Frank Tripucka, starting quarterback on the 1948 University of Notre Dame football squad that finished 9-0-1, died this morning of congestive heart issues at his home in Woodland Park, N.J. He was 85.
Tripucka's son Kelly played basketball at Notre Dame, helping the Irish to the 1978 NCAA Final Four under Digger Phelps.
"I think when you look at one of the great losses at Notre Dame this is one of those silent giants behind the scenes," says Phelps, who knew Frank Tripucka for more than 40 years. "He represented back in the Leahy years. That whole era in the 40s of Leahy--to me was one of the great eras of Notre Dame Football and Frank Tripucka is one of the legends of that time."
Originally from Bloomfield, N.J., Tripucka worked his first three seasons with the Irish behind 1947 Heisman Trophy winner John Lujack--then took over as the starter in his senior campaign in `48.
A three-time letter-winner at Notre Dame, the 6-2, 172-pound Tripucka completed 53 of 91 throws as a senior for 660 yards and 11 touchdowns. He played in the College All-Star Game following that season. His 11 TD throws that year set a Notre Dame single-season record.
As a junior in '47 he connected on 25 of 44 throws for 422 yards (three TDs, one interception) on the Irish national championship squad. In 1946 as a sophomore he hit one of his five throws for 19 yards and as a freshman in 1945 completed his only pass for 19 yards (and carried twice for eight yards).
His career totals featured 80-of-141 passing for 1,122 yards and 14 TDs.
Tripucka's final three Notre Dame teams featured a combined 26-0-2 mark and consensus national titles in 1946 and 1947. His senior season in 1948 saw the Irish move into the number-one slot in the Associated Press poll two games into the season, as Notre Dame posted a 12-7 win over eighth-rated Northwestern and finished the season tying USC 14-14. The Irish finished second in the final AP poll that year behind unbeaten Michigan.
Tripucka went on to become a first-round selection (ninth overall pick) by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1949 NFL Draft. He played for the Eagles and Detroit Lions in 1949, the Chicago Cardinals in 1950-52, the Dallas Texans in 1952 and the Denver Broncos from 1960-63. He also played in the Canadian Football League for Saskatchewan (1953-58, 1963) and Ottawa (1959)
Tripucka ranked as the first quarterback in Denver history and the Broncos retired his number 18 jersey (until it was offered to Peyton Manning). He was one of the four original selections to the Bronco Ring of Honor in 1984. His top year in Denver came in 1960 when he completed 248 of 478 passes for 3,038 yards and 24 TDs. He threw for 477 yards in one 1962 game against Buffalo. He completed the first TD throw in American Football League history in 1960 and became a 1962 AFL All-Star pick.
Funeral arrangements are pending.