The Family of Frank Tripucka has Announced his Passing

Frank Tripucka was the first to throw a touchdown pass in the history of the American Football League (AFL) and was the first quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in the history of both the AFL and the National Football League (NFL).  Credits: Denver Broncos

WEST ESSEX, NJ - After a prolonged illness, Francis Joseph (Frank, “The Trip”) Tripucka, 85, passed away at his home in Woodland Park on Thursday, Sept. 12. Tripucka, formerly of Essex Fells, was the first quarterback and the original No. 18 for the Denver Broncos and was well known to the sporting community. The son of a Polish carpenter who settled in New Jersey, Tripucka was born in Bloomfield in 1927, graduated from Bloomfield High School in 1945 and became a triple letterman of the Class of 1949 at the University of Notre Dame.

At the completion of his athletic career, Tripucka owned a Miller Beer distributorship for 23 years and later managed a plastics manufacturing company. He was an active member of the community and served as past president of the Lions Club, Boys Club, Essex Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Bloomfield Basketball Boosters. He was also a loyal member of the National Football League (NFL) and Notre Dame Alumni clubs.

Tripucka's son, Kelly, enjoyed a long basketball career in the NBA, starring for the Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets.

The Tripucka Family released a statement saying, “We will miss you Pop, but you brought all you had to the game of life and built a legacy that makes us proud. From the Bengal gridiron to fighting for the Irish of Notre Dame and beyond, you left everything on the field, especially your love of family and friends.“

The Fighting Irish Quarterback
The 6’2”, 192-pound Tripucka perfected his football craft as the Notre Dame backup quarterback in 1946 and 1947 and then became the starting quarterback for the undefeated 1948 season under the legendary Notre Dame Coach, Frank Leahy. That year, The Irish were undefeated for 21-games until they ended with a tie to the University of Southern California. The team finished number two in the nation and Tripucka was voted the honor of All-American. His collegiant career totals included 14 touchdowns with only one interception, and 1,122 passing yards. Tripucka graduated as a three-time letter-winner.

Frank Tripucka Notre Dame football card

15-year Pro-Athletic Career
Tripucka was the first to throw a touchdown pass in the history of the American Football League (AFL) and was the first quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in the history of both the AFL and the National Football League (NFL). His interesting pro-football career includes the following highlights:

  • 1949
  • 1950 - 1952
    • Played three seasons with the Chicago Cardinals
  • 1952
    • Played for the Dallas Texans
  • 1953 to 1958
  • 1959
    • Played with the Ottawa Rough Riders in the CFL
  • 1960 -1963
    • After the formation of the AFL, Tripucka was asked by Bronco’s head coach Filchock to be an assistant coach to the new Denver team; instead he became the starting quarterback for the new team
    • Named to the 1962 AFL All Star team.
  • 1963
    • Played for and coached the CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders
  • 1983
  • 1984
  • 1986
    • Tripucka’s number 18 was retired by the Broncos

      Tripucka displays his retired No. 18 jersey   Credit: Tripucka Family
  • 1997
  • 1999
    • Inducted into the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame 

In 2006, a series of articles was published by Kyle Sonneman for the Bronco’s franchise in which he interviewed the original 1960s players. During a conversation for the inaugural article, Spanning the Decades: Frank Tripucka, the quarterback related to the author that he was originally asked to be the assistant coach for the new Bronco’s team, not the player.

“I had come home and Filchock called me up and said, 'How about you come up to our training camp and help out with our quarterbacks?' So I told him that I would be happy to. I wasn't doing a lot at the time so I went out there,” expressed Tripucka.

“Next thing you know they are playing an inter-squad game and we couldn't complete a pass. They had charged five bucks a head to get into the game. So Filchock says to me at halftime, 'You better get dressed and get in there. Give these people their five dollars worth.' So I went in and played the rest of the half and then I played the rest of the four seasons. I wasn't supposed to be a player; I was just supposed to be there for training camp."

Denver Broncos Ring-of-Fame
Tripucka, in 1960, became the first US pro-quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards. That year, he completed 51.9 percent of his passes for 3,038 yards and 24 touchdowns. He will be remembered for throwing the first touchdown pass in AFL history: the Broncos played the Boston Patriots on Sep. 9, 1960, at Boston, and Tripucka threw a 59-yard pass to Al Carmichael. The Broncos went on to beat Boston, 13-10.

Credit: Denver Broncos

"It is exciting, simple as that," Tripucka commented in the 2006 article. "It was nice to be the first guy, but that was a matter of chance. I think it is very exciting to be part of Broncos Country. To me, I am just thrilled to death to be a part of it."

According to the team, the Ring-of-Fame honors Broncos players and administrators “who played significant roles in the franchise's history.” There are 27 Broncos in the Ring-of-Fame, and Tripucka is one of them.

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Tripucka’s Bronco accomplishments still hold; he is currently ranked:
  • 1st place
    • Single season pass interceptions
      34 in 1960
  • 2nd place
    • Single season pass interceptions
      25 in 1962
    • Career pass interceptions

  • 5th place
    • Single season pass interceptions
      21 in 1961
    • Career pass attempts 
  • 6th place
    • Career pass completions
    • Career passing
      7,676 yards

  • 7th place
    • Single season pass touchdowns
      24 in 1960
      Career pass touchdowns

Denver Broncos Quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert honor the original Broncos QB, Frank Tripucka, whose photo hangs in the QB meeting room   Credit: Denver Broncos

In 2010, the Bronco’s Tim Tebow, was only the second quarterback in the team’s history to bring the team to a final win after a 17-point halftime deficit; the first was Frank Tripucka in 1960 and 1962.

A full list of Tripucka’s statistical history can be found online here.

Bronco’s Teammate, Wide-Receiver Lionel Taylor
In 2006, Tripucka pointed to wide-receiver Lionel Taylor as his closest teammate and said the “connection” with Taylor existed from the first time they played together. "He and I understood each other,” Tripucka said. “I could almost tell what he was going to do. Even though you call the play in the huddle, like a down-and-out or a down-and-in, I could sense that he couldn't do that and was going to do something else. I would pick him up and hit him with it."

That same year in a Bronco's article, Taylor commented that he still kept in touch with his quarterback, “Trip - we always tease each other. I tell him I made him and he tells me that he made me.”

Frank Tripucka and Lionel Taylor football card

The Original No. 18
In the history of the team, the Broncos have only retired three numbers: John Elway's No. 7,  Floyd Little's No. 44 and Frank Tripucka's No. 18. Number 18 came out of retirement, however, last year, when Peyton Manning came to be quarterback for the Denver team. Manning had worn the number 18 for all of his 14 pro-football years and would have had to wear a different number in Denver.

As recounted by Bronco’s journalist Gray Caldwell, Tripucka talked with Manning shortly after the quarterback was signed by the Denver team. “I had the privilege of speaking with Peyton Manning this morning, and I let him know that I would be honored if he wore number eighteen for the Denver Broncos,” Tripucka stated to Caldwell. “I have admired Peyton for a long time. He is one of the all-time greats, and having him wear the same jersey that I did brings me a lot of joy. I can’t wait to see him in number eighteen.”

For his part, Manning responded to a reporter, "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."

On Saturday, Manning met with three sons of Tripucka and offered his condolence.

From left: T.K. Tripucka, Peyton Manning, Kelly Tripucka and Mark Tripucka  
Credit: Denver Broncos 

CBS is expected to reference Tripucka's death during Sunday’s Sept. 15 Broncos-Giants Game.

Upon Tripucka’s death, the Denver Broncos released a statement:

Frank Tripucka was an original Denver Bronco and Ring of Famer who was the first to quarterback the team. He laid the foundation for the Broncos’ future success as an American Football League All-Star, twice leading the league in passing yards and setting numerous single-game and career records. He is proudly remembered as one of professional football’s first great drop-back quarterbacks.

Frank will always hold a very special place in Broncos history for what he meant to this organization and community. We are all deeply saddened by his passing this morning. Our hearts and prayers go out to Frank’s wife, Randy, his seven children and the rest of the Tripucka family.

Denver Broncos football card

Memorial Arrangements
The arrangements for the Wake, Funeral Mass and Burial are as follows: 

Family Members 
The Surviving members of Frank Tripucka's family are as follows:

  • Frank’s Wife
    • Randy Jewkes Tripucka
  • Frank’s Children
    • Dr. Heather Carr and her husband, Bill 
    • Tracy and his wife, Karen
    • Mark and his wife, Mary Jane
    • Todd and wife, Michele
    • T.K.
    • Kelly and his wife, Janice
    • Christopher and his wife, Nancy
  • Frank’s Grandchildren
    • Liam, Merritt, Ashley, Bryn, Tyler, Taylor, Tanner, Travis, Jake, Reagan, Shane and Nicholas
  • Frank’s Great-grandchild
    • Brieda Marie 
In lieu of flowers, donations in Tripucka’s memory are being welcomed at:
  • William Foley Football Scholarship Fund
    c/o Steve Jenkins, Athletic Director 
    Bloomfield High School 
    160 Broad Street
    Bloomfield, NJ  07003

Notes of sympathy may be written to the family online here.

Denver Broncos football card

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