Wallace “Wally” Triplett III was the first Negro starter for the Penn State varsity football team. He was also the first Negro to earn a varsity letter (1946) and the first Negro Penn Stater to be drafted by the NFL (1949).
Following his first appearance on the field against Michigan State in 1945, Triplett learned the team was scheduled to play against the University of Miami, a segregated school. Miami did not allow Negro athletes to play with white athletes, and it was common for the opposing team to leave their Negro players at home. In a team vote, Penn State decided to cancel the game and set a new precedent.
After he received his degree in physical education, Triplett was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL draft. Negroes were not uncommon on NFL rosters, but Triplett was the first to step into a uniform and onto the field.
Triplett played two seasons with the Lions and set an NFL record with 294 return yards in a single game. The record stood for 44 years. He left after the 1950 season for a year of military service in the Korean War and played one season for the Chicago Cardinals when he returned.
Interview courtesy of C. Roy Parker, Penn State University Relations
Segregated University of Miami Makes a Mistake
Coming to State College
Living in Lincoln Hall
State College as the Classic American Town
Support From the Football Family
Saying “No” To Miami
“We Are Penn State” Is Born
Remembering the 1948 Cotton Bowl
Having to Be the Best
Giving Proper Credit to the Team
What Penn State Has Meant
1948 Cotton Bowl
The Game That Wasn’t