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Former Detroit Lions running back Wally Triplett, the first black player to appear in a game for an NFL team after getting drafted, died Thursday. He was 92.
The Lions announced the news and released a statement:
“As the first African American to be drafted and to play in the National Football League, Wally is one of the true trailblazers in American sports history. He resides among the great men who helped reshape the game as they faced the challenges of segregation and discrimination.
“His contributions date back to his days at Penn State as the Nittany Lions’ first African American starter and varsity letter-winner, highlighted by his appearance in the first integrated Cotton Bowl.
“Wally’s legacy also reaches beyond breaking color barriers, having served in the United States Army during the Korean War. We fondly reflect on his great achievements and send our heartfelt condolences to the Triplett family.”
Triplett was selected by the Lions in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL draft after a career at Penn State that included becoming one of the first black players to play for the Nittany Lions’ varsity team. He caught the game-tying touchdown in the 1948 Cotton Bowl Classic against SMU.
The Pennsylvania native reminisced about that score during a 2013 interview with Ben Jones of StateCollege.com.
“I ended up with Doak Walker covering me on that play, since they played both sides of the ball back then and I used to joke with him about how I faked him out,” Triplett said. “He was a great sport about it. He told me, ‘Wally, it’s a good thing that [game] ended in a tie.'”
Triplett played in 24 games across four NFL seasons, two with the Lions and two with the Chicago Cardinals. He tallied 321 rushing yards and a touchdown on 70 attempts and added 17 catches for 175 yards. He also scored one TD apiece on a kick return and a punt return.
The halfback missed the 1951 season while serving in the Korean War.
He retired from the NFL following the 1953 campaign.