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Ex-Bulldog soaking in Cardinals' return to glory

ATHENS - With the Arizona Cardinals preparing for the Super Bowl, 86-year-old Charley Trippi is as giddy as a 21-year-old rookie, practically bouncing down the steps to his basement.

The star of the 1947 Chicago Cardinals 'Dream Backfield' has the room dressed in Cardinals red and white, Georgia red and black and decorated throughout with memorabilia of his Hall of Fame career.

But Trippi's focus this week is squarely on Sunday's game.

He has waited six decades for his beloved Cardinals to play for their first NFL championship since his 1947 rookie season.

'Well, I never lost hope,' he says, 'but I was a little apprehensive there for a long time.'

Through his nine-year career as a Cardinals player, five years as an assistant coach and lifetime as a long-suffering fan, Trippi said he remained loyal.

'I spent 14 years with them, he said. 'I have to be loyal to them. To me, that was like being at home with the Cardinals and I've always had a good relationship with them.'

He said he would have seized the chance to see the Super Bowl in person, but no ticket or invitation surfaced.

Trippi plans to watch the game at home with a few friends. He's not complaining. Trippi, the Heisman runner-up to Glenn Davis during his career at Georgia, says he usually watches Bulldogs games on TV instead of making use of his box at Sanford Stadium only a few miles away.

He is certainly able to travel; he recently attended an autograph show in Dallas and is scheduled for a Feb. 20 appearance in Phoenix with Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.

As for who will win Sunday, Trippi says when he closes his eyes he visualizes the underdog Arizona Cardinals beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He says the key to Arizona's success will be the Cardinals' ability to keep Pittsburgh's pass rushers away from Warner.

'My thinking is if Kurt Warner gets adequate protection on his passing game he will have an excellent chance of winning the game,' he said.

'He's been there before. He has a pretty good feel for the game. If he sticks to his high-percentage passing game, it will be a great asset for them, rather than try to get wild with throwing 50-yard passes. I like him. He plays a nice controlled type game.'

In Trippi's dream, Warner wouldn't have to shoulder the load; Trippi is wearing his No. 62 and helping the Cardinals win.

'Oh, I score when I dream,' he said. 'There's no doubt about it. I score! It's amazing the way you feel when you're dreaming all the time. Man, you're a great football player when you dream.'

The dreams are filled with more than just fiction. He says his dreams also include replays of his career highlights, including his starring role in the 1947 championship game.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Trippi scored on a 44-yard run and a 75-yard punt return in the Cardinals' 28-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on a frozen Comiskey Park field in Chicago.

'He was a fresh rookie, but we all gathered around him because of his talents,' said Vince Banonis, who was a lineman on the team, in a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in Southfield, Mich.

'Charley came in and he was the backbone of our team.'