Born: December 8, 1927
Died: September 12, 2013
Francis Joseph Tripucka was born December 8, 1927 in Bloomfield. Everyone in Bloomfield called Frank “The Trip.” He was a versatile athlete. His mother encouraged him to play baseball and basketball,
but forbid him to wear a football uniform. The Bloomfield High coach, William Foley, had to talk her into allowing Frank to play.
Frank was a gangly quarterback with quick feet, good throwing mechanics and a strong, accurate arm. He would become a superb drop-back passer playing behind George Ratterman and Johnny
Lujack after accepting a scholarship to Notre Dame in 1944.
Frank served as a back-up to Lujack as a sophomore and junior in 1946 and 1947. Both years the Fighting Irish were unbeaten. He finally got his chance to start and responded by leading Notre Dame to a 9–0–1 record. The offense was built around the run, so Frank only threw 91 passes. His favorite target was Leon Hart. A tie with USC in the last game cost the school a national championship. The Irish finished second to Michigan by a mere two votes.
Frank was the top pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1949 NFL Draft. They were set at quarterback with Tommy Thompson, so they dealt him to the Lions. Frank split the quarterback job with two other passers that season, but played enough to finish in the Top 10 in yards and touchdowns as a rookie. He spent the next three years backing up Charley Trippi on the Cardinals before taking his game north of the border, to the Canadian Football League.
Frank’s mobility, strong arm and skill at reading the field made him one of the top CFL quarterbacks. He spent six seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before being traded to Ottawa in 1959. He returned to Saskatchewan as head coach later that year.
The wide-open style of the CFL made Frank a coaching candidate for one of the teams in the new American Football League in 1960. He signed with the Denver as an assistant to Frank Filchock, his coach for many years in Canada. Unhappy with the quarterbacks in camp, Filchock asked Frank to suit up. He ended up making the team as the starting QB and leading the league in passing yards and completions! In fact, he became the first pro quarterback ever to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.
Frank also is the answer to a great trivia question: Who threw the first scoring pass in AFL history? The following year, Frank’s favorite target, Lionel Taylor, became the first player to catch 100 passes in a season. The Broncos didn’t win often, but they were interesting to watch.
Frank led the AFL in passing yards and completions again in 1962. At 35 he was named to the AFL All-Star team. Frank gave way to the team’s younger talent in 1963. The starter for the Broncos that year, Mickey Slaughter, was eight years old when Frank began his pro career. He served as Slaughter’s backup and then retired from the game.
After football, Frank owned a beer distributorship and a plastics company. He watched as his son, Kelly, became a college All-American at his alma mater and later as NBA All-Star. Frank passed away in the autumn of 2013.