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Wally Triplett, Lions legend and NFL pioneer, passes away at 92

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  • By NFL.com
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Wally Triplett, an NFL pioneer and Detroit Lions legend who was the first African-American player to be drafted and play in the league, passed away Thursday morning. He was 92.

"Wally is one of the true trailblazers in American sports history," the Lions said in a statement. "He resides among the great men who helped reshape the game as they faced the challenges of segregation and discrimination.

"Wally's legacy also reaches beyond breaking color barriers, having served in the United States Army during the Korean War. We fondly reflect on his great achievements and send our heartfelt condolences to the Triplett family."

Triplett was a running back and return specialist for the Lions from 1949-50 after being selected by Detroit in the 19th round of the 1949 NFL Draft. His 80-yard TD run in his rookie season set the team record for the longest run from scrimmage. A year later, he tallied an NFL record 294 kickoff return yards, a mark that stood for 44 years and still ranks third all-time. His 73.5-yard average per return for the game is still a record.

His NFL career was interrupted two weeks later as he began service in the Korean War. He would play two more seasons afterward with the Chicago Cardinals from 1952-53.

Triplett was a three-year letterman at Penn State, where he was the first African-American to ever start for the Nittany Lions.

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