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Penn State Legend Wally Triplett Passes Away

Penn State football legend Wally Triplett passed away Thursday at age 92 after a long illness, according to the Detroit Lions. He was Penn State football’s first African-American starter, the first African American to earn a varsity letter at Penn State, and the first African American Penn Stater to be drafted into the NFL.

Triplett is the subject of the legend surrounding Penn State’s “We Are” chant.

The Nittany Lions were bowl eligible in 1948, in no small part thanks to Triplett’s efforts. With only four bowl games in existence at the time, only the Rose Bowl allowed African-American players. Penn State was selected to compete in the Cotton Bowl.

If Penn State were to play in the game, no African-American players would be allowed to participate. Penn State was rumored to be meeting with its opponent, Southern Methodist University, to discuss removing these players from the bowl game team. This idea didn’t sit well with Triplett and his teammates.

Team captain Steve Suhey was against those meetings, as the legend goes, and uttered the words no Penn Stater will soon forget:

“We are Penn State. There will be no meetings.”

Triplett became the first African American to play in the Cotton Bowl, when he caught the game-tying touchdown in Penn State’s 13-13 draw with Southern Methodist. He was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Just those few words,” Triplett said in the ESPN 30 for 30 created about the story. “It’s always that case where it’s just a couple of words and you say to somebody with pride, ‘We Are Penn State.’”

Triplett was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1949 and spent two seasons with the Lions. He set an NFL record with 294 return yards in a single game, which stood for 44 years and remains a record for the franchise. Triplett left the team in 1950 when he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He served two years in the military before returning in 1952, when he was traded to the Cardinals to finish out his NFL career.

Triplett’s family started a GoFundMe campaign in 2016 to rally financial support for his long-term healthcare. He last visited Happy Valley in 2015, sharing his famed story with coach James Franklin and the football team after a practice.

“We have a lot of things that make Penn State really unique, and his story is one of the more special stories in our history,” Franklin said.

Though the true origin of the “We Are” chant has been disputed, it doesn’t really matter in the end. Triplett will be forever cemented in Penn State history as a pioneer for the game of football and African-American athletes everywhere.

There will be no meetings.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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