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October 4, 2012

Although the sight of it wasn't quite Paris at night...


A Bulldog braces to tackle a 'Cock in the first
Georgia-USC night game in Columbia in '62.
...Columbia, South Carolina was once a certainty to be a city of light for the Georgia football team.  For a span of nearly three entire decades, the only guarantees for the Bulldog faithful every two years were taxes and nighttime affairs at Kentucky and, as is this case in two days, at South Carolina.    
 
Fifty years ago in 1962, Georgia played in Columbia at night for the first time, marking the start of what would become a customary trip to the supposed Capital of Southern Hospitality.  In 11 visits to Columbia from 1962 through 1986, all but one (1964) was played under the lights.
 
Like most of the Carolina teams since, the 1962 Gamecocks were sub-par, at best, but rather optimistic, sporting an 0-2 record entering the Georgia contest but featuring two outstanding backs the Bulldog Nation is rather familiar with.
 
Billy Gambrell is still considered by some as the greatest athlete the city of Athens has ever produced.  Originally signing with Georgia, Gambrell spurned the Bulldogs for neighboring USC, where he would become a star.  In front of 28,000 on "Dad's Night" at Carolina Stadium, the senior halfback tallied the first points of the '62 Georgia-USC game on a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
 
Prior to becoming a renowned NFL coach, an 18-year-old Dan Reeves in 1962 was said to be the youngest starting quarterback in major college football.  The week before the Georgia game, the Americus, Georgia native completed 14 of 25 passes and was responsible for nearly 200 yards of total offense in just his second varsity contest despite a 21-8 loss to Duke.
 
For more than 58 minutes against Georgia, it was said the Gamecock twosome were "tormentors" to the Bulldogs, but yet the score stood at just 7-0 in favor of the hosts with just under two minutes to play.
 
Georgia forced a punt, which was downed at the Bulldog 10-yard line; however, a "pushing" penalty on the play brought the football all the way out to the 32 with 1:26 remaining.  What happened next is far from "Belue-to-Scott" but nearly as defying.  Georgia's immobile offense, which had generated just four first downs and 135 total yards to that point, stood 68 yards and in need of a miracle to reach the Carolina goal line.
 
The miracle would result as quarterback Larry Rakestraw fired a pass downfield to Mickey Babb, who grabbed it on the run at the Carolina 40-yard line.  From there, the junior end streaked into the end zone, pulling the visiting Bulldogs to within one point of the Gamecocks.
 
Whether 50 years ago in college football, or Georgia's Marshall Morgan during the first five games this year, a successful point-after kick was far from a guarantee.  Nevertheless, Bulldog placekicker Bill McCullough nailed the PAT, handing South Carolina a 7-7 upset tie.
 
The draw would be the first of three for Georgia in what would result in a mediocre 3-4-3 season.  The Gamecocks wouldn't finish any better at 4-5-1, but their dynamic duo from the state of Georgia had banner years.  In leading the team in rushing, receiving, scoring, KO returns, and even interceptions on defense, Gambrell was recognized as an All-American and the ACC's Player of the Year.  Quarterback Reeves rushed for nearly 500 yards for the season, passed for just under 1,000, completed more than half his passes, and was responsible for 13 touchdowns remarkable statistics for a run-oriented, first-year quarterback from a half-century ago.   
 
However, Reeves is distinguished in Georgia-USC lore not necessarily because he was a tormentor to the Bulldogs, but how he aided Georgia to its 7-7 tie in '62.  On the Rakestraw-Babb scoring pass, Reeves, who was covering the receiver, lunged at the ball, missing it just before being completed.  Lying on the ground, the quarterback/defensive back could only watch Babb race untouched for the score as he was in no position to make a tackle after the reception.
 
Just prior to the miraculous touchdown, it seems the young Reeves made a rookie, but critical mistake as Babb ran his pass route to the inside of the field, rather than the anticipated outside.  As the pass was thrown, Reeves was instantly caught out of position a mistake he could perhaps blame on the unfamiliar lights (at least, that would make a better story).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Larry, "the Rake," was a great QB at UGA and highly underrated. If he had played under Dooley instead of Griffith, he'd be considered one of the school's top QBs in history.
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Larry R.