INDIANAPOLIS – When Texas A&M receiver Edward Pope finished up his senior season in 2016, the No. 18 became available.
Aggies punter Shane Tripucka, knowing the special value his family has with that number, traded in his No. 46 and snatched up No. 18 for his senior season.
Perhaps, Tripucka will wear the number as a pro after he became one of the few punters to be invited to the NFL Combine here this week.
“If I get the chance to play (in the NFL) I’d love to wear that No.18,’’ Shane Tripucka said at the NFL Combine this week. “I know my grandpa would love to see that if he was still here. That number means a lot to us and getting to wear that number this year really meant a lot to me and my family.
“My grandma (Randy) was crying when I told her I got to wear 18 this year. So, if I got that opportunity to wear that number, it would mean a lot to us.’’
He wouldn’t wear No. 18 if he ever punted for the Broncos. No. 18 was the first number ever retired by the franchise. It was the number of the Broncos’ first starting quarterback, Frank Tripucka, Shane’s grandfather. Frank became the first quarterback in NFL history to record a 3,000-yard passing season when he did so in the Broncos’ inaugural, 14-game season of 1960.
The number 18 was protected with a few more layers of rigidity when quarterback Peyton Manning wore it for four seasons from 2012-15 – the winningest regular-season stretch in Broncos’ history.
To this day, the Broncos have only retired three numbers: No. 18 for Frank Tripucka with a postscript for Manning, No. 44 for running back Floyd Little and No. 7 for John Elway the quarterback.
Frank Tripucka died in September 2013 at the age of 85. Shane grew up in the Dallas area and his family would visit his paternal grandpa and grandma every year in New Jersey. It was quite the annual reunion as Frank and Randy had seven children.
“It was a cool thing hearing what everybody thought of him and the impact he had for the Broncos,’’ Shane said.
He told his favorite story about his grandfather. It goes back to the post-World War II days when Frank was playing for Notre Dame.
“They were playing at USC,’’ Shane Tripucka said in what had to be either the final game of the 1947 or 48 season. Frank Tripucka would have been the Irish’s heir apparent to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack. “And he broke his back during the game. They stuck him on a wooden plank, strapped him down and put him on a train and he rode the train all the way back to South Bend. That’s mindboggling to me how he could sit there with a broken back on a train that was probably bumping up and down all the way back there. Tough man.’’