Penn State Football to Honor Wally Triplett, 1948 Cotton Bowl Team with Helmet Decals
Penn State football will honor Wally Triplett and its 1948 team with a commemorative sticker on the team’s helmets for Saturday’s Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 17 Memphis.
Head coach James Franklin teased some sort of uniform modification during his and Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield’s joint press conference on Friday morning, and the Nittany Lions’ social media channels made the announcement later on Friday.
The decals feature Wally Triplett’s initials in between the team’s signature blue stripe. The top part of the stripe says “WE ARE,” and the bottom reads “1948” in honor of the year that the Penn State legend broke the Cotton Bowl’s color barrier.
Wally Triplett and Dennie Hoggard were the first two African-American players to ever participate in the Cotton Bowl. They both played for Penn State in its 13-13 tie against Southern Methodist University, and Triplett caught the game-tying touchdown in the third quarter of the game. Triplett, who passed away in November 2018 at the age of 92, is the subject of the legend surrounding the Nittany Lions’ iconic “We Are” chant.
Rumors arose that Penn State and SMU met to discuss removing the Nittany Lions’ African-American players from the game. As the legend goes, Steve Suhey — Penn State’s captain at the time — was against those meetings, and he said one of the most historically significant lines in the university’s history:
“We are Penn State. There will be no meetings.”
In 1948, the only bowl game that allowed African-American players to participate was the Rose Bowl, which was one of just four postseason games that existed at the time. Triplett was elected into the Cotton Bowl’s Hall of Fame in January 2018.
In addition to breaking the Cotton Bowl’s color barrier, Triplett became the first African-American player to be drafted by an NFL team. The Detroit Lions picked him in 1949, and he spent two seasons with the organization before he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in the Korean War. Triplett returned to Detroit in 1952 before the Lions traded him to the Cardinals, which is where he finished pro football career.
The true origin of “We Are Penn State” has been disputed over the years. But at the end of the day, Wally Triplett is one of the most important, significant football players to ever step foot on Penn State’s campus — and the fact that this year’s Nittany Lions will honor Triplett’s legacy is a much deserved recognition.