New Jersey Sports Legend Frank Tripucka, An Avid Golfer, Passes Away

New Jersey Sports Legend Frank Tripucka, An Avid Golfer, Passes Away

New Jersey sports legend Frank Tripucka, known for his exploits on the football field, and an avid golfer at area clubs, passed away on September 13 at the age of 85.

He captained the football, basketball and baseball teams at Bloomfield High in the 1940s before moving on to college football glory at Notre Dame and a 15-year career in professional football.

He quarterbacked an unbeaten Notre Dame team in 1948 team and set passing records in the pros. He did it all with humility and grace, his friends and family said.

Tripucka was a golfer all his life, starting out at two now defunct courses near his home in Bloomfield, Yantecaw and Broadacres.

He became at member at Forest Hill Field Club in Bloomfield in the 1950s and joined Essex Fells Country Club in Roseland in 1978.

His famous threesome included Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra and Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli. The trio rotated courses between Berra at Montclair Golf Club, Bertelli at Upper Montclair and Tripucka at Essex Fells.

He was also the patriarch of a sports family that included six sons, who all played collegiate sports, and one daughter, Heather. Sons Tracy and Todd played basketball at Lafayette, Mark played football at Massachusetts, T.K. played basketball at Fordham, Kelly played basketball at Notre Dame and in the NBA, and Chris played football at Boston College.

Tripuckas grandson are also competing on the collegiate level in lacrosse and football. Todd and Kelly were also members at Essex Fells and are now members at Rockaway River Country Club in Denville.

“Frank was a very active golfer. He was very passionate about his family and about Notre Dame,” remembered Ed Batta of Essex Fells, chairman of the NJSGA Caddie Scholarship Foundation. “He was also a contributor to the Caddie Scholarship. He, Yogi and Angelo Bertelliwould golf all the time in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“He was a very decent guy. When I had my first heart attack in 1991, he sent me a card every week, imploring to get off my back,” Batta said. “He was a very charming guy for someone with all his fame. He would never walk by without saying hello. “

Son T.K. also reminisced about the role golf played in his father’s life.

“Whenever he could he would golf. He golfed all the time. At one time he got down to an eight handicap. It was typical of him. Like his football, he was so darned competitive,” T.K. said.

For years, Frank Tripucka and Angelo Bertelli conducted an annual Notre Dame Golf Outing, most of the time at Upper montclair. Eventually, they handed it off to local football alumni, Tommy Longo and Phil Sheridan, but at the time, T.K. remembered it was full of celebrity golfers.

“They would bring in Notre Dame coaches and players. And also, guys in the NFL. Ara Parseghian was there. Ken McAfee. Guys like that.

“My dad was an intense guy. He loved sports. He loved Bloomfield and Notre Dame and his family. Those were his main things.

“We played the Notre Dame victory march at the end of his funeral Mass. That’s what he wanted. Something you’d still be talking about it 30 years from now,” T.K. said.

The 6-3 quarterback was the first true passer of his era, earning All-State honors as a junior and a senior. In 1944, he led Bloomfield to a state championship by throwing 15 touchdown passes and running for 14 more.

Tripucka also excelled in baseball, earning All-State honors as a first baseman his junior year while twice helping Bloomfield reach the final of the Greater Newark Tournament, then the mythical state championship game, winning once.

After starring at Bloomfield, where he met his future wife, Randy, Tripucka moved on to Notre Dame. His first two seasons he sat behind Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Lujack before getting his chance to start for the Fighting Irish. In 1948, his only season at the helm, Notre Dame went 9-0-1 and he set the then-single-season record for touchdown passes (11).

After breaking his back in college, he recovered and returned to football with the same grit and toughness that he carried through his life. He was picked ninth overall in the 1949 NFL Draft by Philadelphia and embarked on a career that spanned three leagues and cemented his status as a pioneer of the sport.

Tripucka wore No. 18 and it was retired by the Denver Broncos in his honor but when Peyton Manning came to Denver, Tripucka gave him his blessing to wear No. 18.

"It really goes against everything I believe in being a guy who appreciates the history of football and I believe when a number is retired it should stay retired; but in talking to Frank Tripucka, I feel he really wants me to wear his number," Manning said at his introductory press conference. "It was a very humbling conversation and I am honored to wear his number, being another quarterback for the Denver Broncos as Mr. Tripucka was back years ago as the first quarterback to play here. It truly is an honor for me and I’m really following his wishes to wear it because that’s what he wants me to do and I’m honored to do that."

Sons T.K., Mark and Kelly met with Manning when the Broncos were in New Jersey to play the Giants the weekend of Sept. 14-15. Originally, Manning was to meet with their father that weekend.

"Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos could not have been nicer," Mark Tripucka said.

Tripucka originally came to Denver to coach alongside Frank Filchock, but as the season neared it was clear that he was the team’s best option at quarterback. In 1960, Tripucka tossed the first touchdown pass in AFL history – a 59-yard pass to Al Carmichael in Boston.

He went on to finish that season with 3,038 yards, making him the first U.S. professional quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. Tripucka guided the Broncos to their first .500 season in 1962 and set the record for passing yards in a game – 447 – that stood until 2000.

In four seasons as a Bronco he threw for 7,676 yards a mark that stands as seventh best in franchise history.

Some information courtesy of and

--Mike Moretti, Director of Communications

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