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May 10, 2014

One Tough Hombre/Draftee

Basketball standout-turned-NFL draftee
Jeffords was someone you wouldn't
want to fool with.
There's been the notion for some time that the Atlanta Falcons don't draft Georgia Bulldogs, although if you check out one of the most recent posts on my UGA Football Facebook page, I somewhat dispel the idea.  Nevertheless, whether the state of Georgia's lone NFL organization has avoided picking players from the state's flagship university or not, one of the league's most unusual draft selections of all time happened to be when the Falcons did indeed draft a BulldogMr. Bulldog, to be exact. 
 
In the eighth round of the 1968 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons chose Georgia's Ray Jeffords.  Jeffords, the 194th overall selection in late January of that year, was taken nearly 100 spots earlier than Bulldog Jimmy Orr, an eventual two-time Pro Bowler, in the 1957 draft, and even higher than UGA's Terrell Davis, a Hall of Fame semi-finalist the last eight years, would be picked in 1995.  Notwithstanding, where Jeffords was picked wasn't the most unusual aspect of his selection, but the fact that he was picked in the first place, considering he didn't play a down of football at UGA.
 
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Jeffords had played basketball at Georgia, and basketball only.  Still, the Falcons selected him as a tight end and because of his "good hands," which he possessed on the gridiron, but more than six years earlier, or the last time he had played organized football as a first-team all-state end for Ware County High School.
 
After lettering in four sports at Ware County, Jeffords earned a basketball scholarship to UGA, where he would go on to become one of the Bulldogs' greatest roundball players of the 1960s.  In three seasons on Georgia's varsity, Jeffords averaged 10.6 career points per game and 8.4 rebounds, which remains the sixth-best career average in school history.  Known for his defensive and competitive play, Jeffords was recognized as an honorable mention All-SEC player as a junior in 1965-66.  The following year, he was chosen captain of the 1966-67 squad, but suffered a knee injury, forcing him to sit out the entire season. 
 
Believing Georgia's basketball squad was finally on the verge of a winning year after 16 consecutive losing campaigns, Jeffords decided to return for the 1967-68 season back when it was routine for players to not come back for a fifth year.  Good thing for Jeffords' return.  Elected team captain for a second time, he was an integral part of a remarkable 17-8 season, which included an improbable victory over 5th-ranked Tennessee, snapping the Bulldogs' 11-game losing streak to ranked opponents.  Averaging 12.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, "Mr. Bulldog," as he was known by some on campus, was a consensus second-team All-SEC forward.
 
On January 29th of his final season, or the day before the NFL's annual draft, Jeffords broke his nose in a blowout win over Alabama.  Two days later, or the day he was chosen by the Falcons, Jeffords not only played at Auburn with a broken nose, but led the Bulldogs with 14 points.
 
Jeffords, who was apparently just as rugged off
the court as on, hits the deck during a victory
over Auburn in 1966.
"Ray Jeffords was one tough hombre," a UGA football player of that time informed me in an interview a couple of years ago.  "He was someone you wouldn't want to fool with."
 
Maintaining to have no first-hand knowledge, the former football player continued to describe Jefford's ruggedness.  The player claimed that dorm life at UGA back then could involve literally paying off certain athletes not to "fool with" you, or paying certain athletes for protection from those who did the foolin'.  "He was one of those," stated the former player while not indicating which specific group Jeffords was a part of.  "He was an enforcer on the basketball court and in the dormitory."
 
The Falcons and their rough and tough Bulldog enforcer, who would fail to survive the first week of training camp, will forever be linked for one of the most bizarre transactions in the history of sports.  But, for the selector, was it really all that unusual at the time to pick a basketball player?
 
In the 1967 draft, or the year prior to Jeffords being chosen, the Falcons picked Texas A&M's Randy Matson in the 5th round with the 120th overall selection.  Matson, who had been on the track and field team at A&M, and the track and field team only, had not played football since the 11th grade.  Matson had won a silver metal in the shot put at the 1964 Olympics, and would capture gold in 1968, but as for football, he wouldn't even report to camp for the Falcons.
 
As for Jeffords, was it really all that bizarre for Mr. Bulldog to be considered a football player?  Evidently not, as for the very next season in 1969, the tough hombre earned another NFL tryout with the old St. Louis Cardinals.

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