Published Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A legend on and off the field

Football stars Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, owing to their status at Army in the 1940s, got more recognition, but anybody who saw Frank Sinkwich and Charlie Trippi in the same backfield at the University of Georgia in 1942 would never be convinced that any team ever had two better players in the lineup at the same time.

The eastern press couldn't trumpet the exploits of the two West Point backs enough, but with Sinkwich's explosiveness inside and Trippi's multiple threats outside, they were unstoppable when Georgia Coach Wallace Butts moved Sinkwich to fullback during a Heisman senior season. Bill Hartman, the backfield coach, was the one who recommended the lineup to Butts, who had started the season with Sinkwich, and Trippi, a sophomore, lined up one and two at tailback.

"You almost couldn't believe your eyes when you saw Sinkwich explode through the line of scrimmage," Hartman would rave when I would question him about the Rose Bowl season. "Sinkwich would go through the defense spittin' out tacklers like a lawnmower spittin' out grass."

The legend of Sinkwich and Trippi will never fade in Athens. Anybody who appreciates Georgia's past, as we all should, should offer Coach Mark Richt an enthusiastic high-five for naming annual awards for these two men. There have been many times when I have been fortunate to sit and talk to these Bulldog heroes. You never tire of that experience. Sinkwich was, perhaps, the most modest superstar athlete there ever was.

Several years ago, I went by an apartment he rented. A friend lived there, and as I walked by a room, empty of all furniture, there, on the floor, sat his Heisman Trophy.

Later on, I remarked to Frank, "If I had won the Heisman Trophy, I would have it on a pedestal at the entrance to my house."

His response will remain indelible in my memory: "It really doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the University of Georgia. I am thinking of giving the trophy to the school."

I immediately went to Joel Eaves, athletic director, and told him of Sinkwich's plans. When arrangements were made for a pre-game ceremony with Sinkwich handing over the trophy, Sinkwich asked, with all sincerity, "Do I have to be there?"

The Downtown Athletic Club in New York took note of Sinkwich's magnanimity, which spawned the tradition of the club giving two trophies annually -- one to the player and one to his school.

Sinkwich's modesty and selfless style are what I remember most. How can you not be intrigued and overwhelmed with the fact that he played three quarters of a season with a broken jaw? The giving of his trophy to his alma mater? Only a Frank Sinkwich, born of immigrant parents who settled in Youngstown, Ohio, would think in those terms.

Another story, worthy of recycling, has to do with a conversation about a trip I would be making to old Yugoslavia with plans for a brief stop in Zagreb, Croatia. I asked if he knew about his relatives who lived there, and if he had any interest in ever returning.

He bluntly said, "No."

When I pressed him further, the ex-Marine said.

"Those folks are Communist, aren't they? Well, we would have nothing in common."

Frank Sinkwich was not only a great football player. He was a Great American.

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