Francis Joseph Tripucka
, polishsportshof.com; accessed December 28, 2015.
(December 8, 1927 – September 12, 2013) was an American collegiate
and professional football quarterback
, at Notre Dame
, in the National Football League
, in the Canadian Football League
, and in the early American Football League
Originally from Bloomfield, New Jersey
, Tripucka (truh-PEW-kuh) graduated from Bloomfield High School
"Funeral set for Broncos quarterback Tripucka, formerly of Bloomfield"
, ''Bloomfield Life'', September 13, 2013; accessed September 15, 2013. "Funeral plans are set for Frank Tripucka, the Denver Broncos' first quarterback. He was a Bloomfield native.... Tripucka, 85, a 1945 Bloomfield High School graduate, died Thursday at his Woodland Park home. His son, Kelly Tripucka, a former Notre Dame basketball standout, said his father died of congestive heart failure."
The 6–2, 172-pound Tripucka was a three-time letter-winner at Notre Dame. His first two seasons, he played backup quarterback to Heisman Trophy
winner Johnny Lujack
on unbeaten Notre Dame squads in 1946 and 1947. As a freshman backup in 1945, he completed his only pass for 19 yards, and carried twice for eight yards. In 1946 as a sophomore he hit one of his five throws for 19 yards in relief on the national championship squad. Despite playing behind an All-American
He took approximately 1/4 of Frank Leahy
's 1947 squad's
pass attempts, connecting on 25 of 44 throws for 422 yards, three TDs, and one interception and a remarkable passer rating
of 155.3, and helping the Irish to a second consecutive national championship. With Lujack's graduation, Tripucka became the undisputed starter
his senior year
. He completed 53 of 91 for 660 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns, ''en route'' to a 9-0-1 record and the Irish's 3rd consecutive season without a loss. A tie against USC
in the final game bumped them down to #2 behind undefeated Michigan
. He played in the college All-Star Game that year.
Tripucka went on to become a first-round selection (ninth overall pick) by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1949 NFL Draft, but was traded during the preseason to the Detroit Lions. He had four starts his rookie season, compiling a mediocre 9 touchdowns to 14 interceptions; he was also used as a punter 28 times. In 1950, he played for the Chicago Cardinals
, where he had four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in relief of Jim Hardy
, including a 65 and an 81-yard touchdown pass in game 5 against Washington
. In 1951, he had just 29 attempts in 1 start for the Cardinals, and only 12 attempts in six games in 1952 before being traded to the Dallas Texans
mid-season. There, he started all six games, but had just 3 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, and a 1–5 record. The Dallas Texans folded after one season, so Tripucka accepted a large contract for the time with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
Tripucka then took an eight-year run in the Canadian Football League
. He joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders
and their new coach Frank Filchock
as the starting quarterback in 1953. He played there through 1958, when he was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders
but struggled and was released. He was back in Saskatchewan before the end of the 1959 season as a coach. Non-Canadians playing Canadian professional football were known as ''imports'', and each team was limited to 12. These spots were filled, so Coach Tripucka was ineligible to play. However, in the fourteenth game of the season, all three Roughrider quarterbacks were sidelined by injuries. For the last two games, management decided to play Tripucka anyway, and forfeit in advance. The Roughriders lost the first of them on the scoreboard as well, 20-19 versus the Edmonton Eskimos
. But in the last game of the season against Bud Grant
's Winnipeg Blue Bombers
, Tripucka had 17 completions in 29 passes and Ferdy Burket
ran for five touchdowns. Officially, the final score was Saskatchewan 37, Winnipeg 30 for a Winnipeg "victory".
After getting fired by Saskatchewan, Tripucka came out of retirement with the AFL
as the starting quarterback for the new Denver Broncos franchise. The Broncos had hired Filchock as their coach, and he initially brought Tripucka along as an assistant. He started all 14 games in Denver's inaugural 1960 season
, and though he led the league in interceptions in 1960 with 34 (still a Broncos franchise record), he also led the league with 248 of 478 passes for 3,038 yards (the first 3000+ yard season by either an NFL or AFL quarterback), to go with 24 touchdowns, including the first TD pass in AFL history.
He started 11 games in 1961
, throwing for 1,690 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. In 1962
, he again led the league with 240 completions, 440 attempts, and 2,917 yards. This included a week 2 victory over Buffalo, in which Tripucka threw for a remarkable 447 yards, a franchise record that stood for 38 years. On the season, he totaled 17 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, and was selected for the AFL's All Star game for the only time in his career. In his last season
, Tripucka had just 7 completions for 31 yards in two games. He returned to Saskatchewan in his final season to be the back up to Ron Lancaster and finished the season with 38 completions for 435 yards.
Tripucka retired in 1963 after 15 professional seasons. The Broncos subsequently retired his #18 jersey. In 1986, Tripucka was one of three players to be inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame
. On March 9, 2012, Tripucka stated that he would allow #18 to be worn again by Peyton Manning
if the Broncos were to sign him. On March 20, 2012, at a press conference announcing his signing by the Broncos, John Elway
thanked Tripucka "for allowing the franchise to "borrow" the number for Manning." On March 7, 2016, the #18 jersey returned to retirement when Manning announced that he was retiring after 18 professional seasons (4 seasons with the Broncos).
He is the father of former Notre Dame
and Detroit Pistons
basketball star Kelly Tripucka
who also played for the Utah Jazz and the Charlotte Hornets.
All six sons played Division 1 sports (there is also a daughter, Heather, who was a very good athlete). The oldest boy, Tracy, played Basketball at Lafayette College and then Professionally in Switzerland. Mark was a QB at The University of Massachusetts. Todd, also played Basketball at Lafayette College and broke many of his older brother Tracy's records. T.K., the biggest of the Tripucka boys at 6'9," played Basketball at Fordham University. He also played one season under his brother Tracy, who took over as the Fordham Head Coach. On one unique night, Fordham played Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden, so T.K. played against his Notre Dame Freshman brother Kelly, with oldest brother Tracy Coaching Fordham. Kelly was an All American at Notre Dame and then had an excellent 10-year career in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons, Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets. Kelly was a Two-Time NBA All-Star. Chris, the youngest of this famous Sports family, Played QB,WR and K at Boston College, all with Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. Besides Frank's kids, he is also the grandfather of current NFL Free Agent Punter Shane Tripucka (Chris' son) and former NFL Free Agent long snapper Travis Tripucka
as well as former professional lacrosse player Jake Tripucka. (both Kelly's son) Shane played for the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL preseason of 2018, averaging 45.5 yards per punt. He signed and played for the XFL LA Wildcats in 2020. Shane was also a First Team All American and All SEC Punter at Texas A&M where he set several punting records.
Tripucka died of congestive heart failure
on September 12, 2013, at his home in Woodland Park, New Jersey
, aged 85.
[Frank Tripucka dies at age 85]
espn.go.com; accessed December 28, 2015.
In 1997, Tripucka was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame
* List of American Football League players
The number remains retired for Tripucka only.
Category:American Football League All-Star players
Category:American football quarterbacks
Category:Disease-related deaths in New Jersey
Category:American people of Polish descent
Category:Bloomfield High School (New Jersey) alumni
Category:Canadian football quarterbacks
Category:American players of Canadian football
Category:Chicago Cardinals players
Category:Dallas Texans (NFL) players
Category:Denver Broncos (AFL) players
Category:Detroit Lions players
Category:National Football League players with retired numbers
Category:Notre Dame Fighting Irish football players
Category:People from Bloomfield, New Jersey
Category:People from Woodland Park, New Jersey
Category:Philadelphia Eagles players
Category:Players of American football from New Jersey
Category:Saskatchewan Roughriders players
Category:Sportspeople from Essex County, New Jersey