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April 20, 2009

The Next-to-Last No. 1

As we are all fully aware, Matt Stafford is the odds-on favorite to be selected the first pick of this Saturday's NFL Draft. If chosen number one, the quarterback would be only the fourth Bulldog ever selected first. The first two Georgia players taken as the top pick are two of the greatest in Bulldog lore--Frank Sinkwich (1943) and Charley Trippi (1945). The third and last UGA player selected first, on the other hand, is not nearly as renowned.

Harry Babcock (photo), a blocking back in high school, was switched to end soon after arriving at the University of Georgia in 1949. A season after catching no passes on Georgia's freshman squad, the native New Yorker was third in receiving with eight catches for 77 yards on a Bulldogs varsity team that completed only 61 passes in 1950. In 1951, Babcock benefited with the arrival of quarterback Zeke Bratkowski as Georgia established one of the most potent passing attacks in football. The junior end broke school records with 41 catches and 666 receiving yards. He caught two touchdowns--both coming in a 35-28 win over Boston College, covering 76 and 54 yards. 

In mid-October of that season against Maryland, Babcock's parents traveled from Pearl River, NY, to Athens to see their son play for the first time as a Bulldog. Although Georgia was drubbed 43-7 by a Terrapin team that would eventually finish 10-0 and No. 3 in the nation, Babcock did not disappoint, catching nine passes for 114 yards. For the season, he finished first in the SEC and seventh in the country in receiving.

Two weeks prior to his senior campaign of 1952, Babcock suffered injuries in an auto accident that would hamper him all year. Nevertheless, he did catch eight passes against Alabama for 106 yards in early November and was on the receiving end of two touchdowns (44 and 32 yards) a week later in a win over Pennsylvania. Against Georgia Tech, he endured a broken cheekbone early in the second quarter which kept him out of the remainder of the game and also at Miami in the season finale. Despite limping through most of the season, Babcock caught 31 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns. He was second in the SEC in receiving, finishing just one catch behind the conference leader and teammate, Johnny Carson. For the second consecutive season, Babcock was named first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press and, in addition, was selected first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) featured in Collier's magazine.

On January 22, 1953, at the NFL Draft, most everyone was surprised when Harry Babcock was chosen the first overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers. It was reported San Francisco selected the 6-2, 196-pound end because it simply needed a receiver who could catch long passes. Even the first selection himself was shocked: "...it sure floored me to be picked [so high]," Babcock said from Athens the day of the draft.

Similarly to his senior season, Babcock suffered a series of injuries that cut short a disappointing professional football career. He tallied only 16 catches in three seasons with the 49ers and was later lost to another injury during his one-year stint in the Canadian Football League. Babcock died in 1996 at the age of just 66.

Babcock was often recognized by Wally Butts as not only the best receiver he had ever coached but also the best blocker (at any position) he had ever seen. That's saying a lot considering the caliber of receivers Butts coached and the fact that the end position is not regularly identified with blocking.

Babcock finished his collegiate career as Georgia's leading receiver of all time. Even today, through the 2008 season, his 1,199 career receiving yards rank 16th at the school and 80 catches are tied for 15th. Above all, despite Babcock's injuries that inhibited both his college and professional playing careers, the one-time gifted receiver shares the same, rare notoriety with only two, and after Saturday, probably just three, other Bulldogs.

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