Lions Legend Wally Triplett passes away at age 92

Penn State Athletics

Penn State Athletics

Triplett was a 5-11, 173-pound running back and return specialist for the Lions from 1949-50 after being drafted by the club in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL Draft. The record stood for 44 years and is still third all-time.

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.

If Penn State were to play in the game, no African-American players would be allowed to participate.

"Wally is one of the true trailblazers in American sports history", the Lions said in a statement released Thursday. He was drafted out of Penn State by the Detroit Lions in 1949.

On Oct. 29, 1950, Triplett set a then-NFL record with 294 yards on four kick returns, including a 97-yard touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. Triplett's astounding kickoff return average of 73.5 yards in that game is still an National Football League single-game record.

Triplett was a trailblazer even before he entered the NFL. He still resides in the Penn State record books for the fourth-longest punt return (85 yards) in school history and is listed second on the career list for punt return average at 16.5 yards.

While at Penn State, he was part of the team that helped bring the "WE ARE!" chant to the university as part of how they overcame racial discrimination.

In a 2009 story in the Centre Daily Times, Triplett recalled SMU wanting to meet with Penn State about not playing Triplett and African-American teammate Dennie Hoggard. Penn State was selected to compete in the Cotton Bowl. "There will be no meetings".

Triplett was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame earlier this year.

"This is a tremendous loss for not only our football program, but the Penn State community as a whole", Penn State coach James Franklin said in a statement.

Triplett's two years with the Lions and two years with the Cardinals bracketed two years of service in the Korean War with the 594th Field Artillery Battalion.

Triplett is survived by his three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. 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.