The 6-2, 172-pound Tripucka was a three-time letter-winner at Notre Dame. His first two seasons, he played backup quarterback to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack on unbeaten Notre Dame squads in 1946 and 1947. As a freshman backup in 1945, he completed his only pass for 19 yards, and carried twice for eight yards. In 1946 as a sophomore he hit one of his five throws for 19 yards in relief on the national championship squad. Despite playing behind an All-American He took approximately 1/4 of Frank Leahy's 1947 squad's pass attempts, connecting on 25 of 44 throws for 422 yards, three TDs, and one interception and a remarkable passer rating of 155.3, and helping the Irish to a second consecutive national championship. With Lujack's graduation, Tripucka became the undisputed starter his senior year. He completed 53 of 91 for 660 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns, en route to a 9-0-1 record and the Irish's 3rd consecutive season without a loss. A tie against USC in the final game bumped them down to #2 behind undefeated Michigan. He played in the college All-Star Game that year.
Tripucka went on to become a first-round selection (ninth overall pick) by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1949 NFL Draft, but was immediately traded to the Detroit Lions. He had four starts his rookie season, compiling a mediocre 9 touchdowns to 14 interceptions; he was also used as a punter 28 times. In 1950, he played for the Chicago Cardinals, where he in had four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in relief of Jim Hardy, including a 65 and an 81-yard touchdown pass in game 5 against Washington. In 1951, he had just 29 attempts in 1 start for the Cardinals, and only 12 attempts in six games in 1952 before being traded to the Dallas Texans mid-season. There, he started all six games, but had just 3 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, and a 1-5 record.
Tripucka then took an eight-year hiatus in the Canadian Football League. He joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their new coach Frank Filchock as the starting quarterback in 1953. He played there through 1958, when he was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders, but he was back in Saskatchewan before the end of the 1959 season as a coach. Non-Canadians playing Canadian professional football were known as imports, and each team was limited to 12. These spots were filled, so Coach Tripucka was ineligible to play. However, in the fourteenth game of the season, all three Roughrider quarterbacks were sidelined by injuries. For the last two games, management decided to play Tripucka anyway, and forfeit in advance. The Roughriders lost the first of them on the scoreboard as well, 20-19 versus the Edmonton Eskimos. But in the last game of the season against Bud Grant's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Tripucka had 17 completions in 29 passes and Ferdy Burket ran for five touchdowns. Officially, the final score was Saskatchewan 37, Winnipeg 30 for a Winnipeg "victory".
Tripucka returned to the AFL as the starting quarterback for the new Denver Broncos franchise. The Broncos had hired Filchock as their coach, and he initially brought Tripucka along as an assistant. He started all 14 games in Denver's inaugural 1960 season, and though he led the league in interceptions in 1960 with 34 (still a Broncos franchise record), he also led the league with 248 of 478 passes for 3,038 yards (the first 3000+ yard season by either an NFL or AFL quarterback), to go with 24 touchdowns, including the first TD pass in AFL history. He started 11 games in 1961, throwing for 1,690 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. In 1962, he again led the league with 240 completions, 440 attempts, and 2,917 yards. This included a week 2 victory over Buffalo, in which Tripucka threw for a remarkable 447 yards, a franchise record that stood for 38 years. On the season, he totaled 17 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, and was selected for the AFL's All Star game for the only time in his career. In his last season, Tripucka had just 7 completions for 31 yards in two games.
Tripucka retired in 1963 after 15 professional seasons. The Broncos subsequently retired his #18 jersey. In 1986, Tripucka was one of three players to be inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame. On March 9, 2012, Tripucka stated that he would allow #18 to be worn again by Peyton Manning if the Broncos were to sign him. On March 20, 2012, at a press conference announcing his signing by the Broncos, John Elway thanked Tripucka "for allowing the franchise to unretire the number for Manning." On March 7, 2016, the #18 jersey returned to retirement when Manning announced that he was retiring after 18 professional seasons (4 seasons with the Broncos).
↑ 1.01.1ProfileScript error, polishsportshof.com; accessed December 28, 2015.
↑ 2.02.1Frankel, Jeff. "Funeral set for Broncos quarterback Tripucka, formerly of Bloomfield"Script error, Bloomfield Life, September 13, 2013; accessed September 15, 2013. "Funeral plans are set for Frank Tripucka, the Denver Broncos' first quarterback. He was a Bloomfield native.... Tripucka, 85, a 1945 Bloomfield High School graduate, died Thursday at his Woodland Park home. His son, Kelly Tripucka, a former Notre Dame basketball standout, said his father died of congestive heart failure."