Friday, February 28, 2014


A Forgotten Football Hero?

Now that the seemingly - endless, overly - hyped hoopla of the Super Bowl is finally over, sit right back in your Lazy Boy chair and read the story of Otis Troupe, one of the best college football players you probably never heard of.  In the days before Jackie Robinson forever broke the color barrier in major sports, Troupe was denied the opportunity to play football in the National Football League.  No one will ever know the impact that this bruising runner and all around athlete would have made on the professional gridirons of the nation, but in his day and in his league he was generally regarded as one of the best black collegiate athletes in the nation and for a brief time was a star player of the fledgling Negro Professional Football League.

Otis Emanuel Troupe was born on August 29,  1911 in Laurens County.  His parents, Emanuel and Annie Hester Troupe, lived on the road leading from Dudley to Rebie, Georgia in 1920.  Otis was the grandson of Wallace and Charlotte Troupe, of the Hampton Mill District.    His family, including Quincy Trouppe, a legendary catcher and manager of the Negro Leagues,  descended from former slaves belonging to Governor George M. Troup, who maintained a plantation at Vallambrosa and at Thomas Crossroads north east of Dudley.    During the 1920s, the Troupe family moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where they  lived at 425 South Park Street in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.   Otis lettered in football, baseball, basketball and track and became somewhat of a legend in high school circles in New Jersey.

A talented singer, Otis received a music scholarship to attend Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland  which was at the time considered one of the finest black colleges in the nation. His athletic physique and strong bearing caught the eye of coaches Talmadge "Mars" Hill and Eddie Hurt.   Morgan State dominated black college football in the 1930s,  winning seven CIAA championships between 1930 and 1941.

Otis tried out for football as well as basketball and track.  He lettered in all three sports in his four years at Morgan State.  The Morgan State Bears captured the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association title during Otis' entire career.  In 1935, team captain Troupe led his three-year unbeaten team to the Black College National Championship, earning All-American honors at full back in the process.  That same year, Otis was lead tenor of the famous Morgan State Choir, one of the country's premier collegiate choruses.  Under the leadership of Coach Hurt, Troupe's 1933 basketball team won the C.I.A.A. championship.  His track team won numerous championships.

Though he played in the shadows of Brutus Wilson and Tank Conrad, Richard Sorrell, a former teammate said of Otis, "he was one of the greatest all around running back  the game of football has ever had and I have seen them all."  He added, "Otis could not only run the football, but he could catch like a wide receiver, and he could be a devastating blocker for a team.  He also averaged 60 yards per punt."  Troupe also was the team's extremely accurate place kicker.

In 1936, Fritz Pollard of the Negro Football League's New York Brown Bombers selected the triple-threat Troupe to play in the backfield with Joe Lillard and Tank Conrad, two of the league's best backs.  The Bombers were named after the country's great boxer Joe Louis.  In the second year of the NFL's existence in 1921, Pollard became the league's first African-American head coach.  In 1933, the league banned the use of black players, denying Troupe, Lillard and Conrad the opportunity to play.  The ban lasted until 1946.

Troupe played for the Bombers, the most successful professional Negro League team,  for two years.  In 1938, while a coach at Howard University, Otis played part time for the Bombers, who changed their name to the New York Black Yankees to avoid confusion with the Chicago Brown Bombers.  He was selected to play for an all star team in a preseason game against the Chicago Bears in 1938, but couldn't obtain a leave from his coaching duties at Howard.

After his football days were over, Otis Troupe joined the District of Columbia Police Department.  He spent 18 years on the force before taking a job as an officer and counselor with the Federal government.    But Otis couldn't shake sports from his blood. He was a member of the Eastern Board of Officials and served as a referee for high school and college games in Washington and around the country.

Otis married Carolyn Holloman, a daughter of Rev. John L.S. Holloman, a North Carolina circuit rider and pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. for 53 years, and his wife Rosa.  Carolyn Troupe was a well-known Washington, D.C. high school principal.  

Their only child Otis Holloman Troupe, a former football player at Yale, held an impressive resume' with a bachelor's degree in English from Yale University, a master's degree in Business Administration from Columbia University, and a law degree from Boston College.  The younger Troupe was appointed Auditor of the District of Columbia for two terms, after serving as a market analyst with Exxon Corporation.   His zeal for exposing fraud in city government prevented the completion of his third term in office.  In 1994, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Mayor of Washington, D.C..  He died in 2001 and was considered a lonely voice for honesty in a hive of corrupt D.C. government officials.

Otis Troupe died on August 31, 1994 in Washington, D.C. just two days before his 83rd birthday.   For his outstanding exploits as a star and team player, Troupe was inducted into the Black All-American Hall of Fame, the Morgan State Varsity M Club Hall of Fame, Eastern Seaboard Officials Hall of Fame and the Inside Sports Hall of Fame.  And now you know the story of Otis Troupe.  Try not to forget him. 

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