Shining Moments: Bulldog Larry Rakestraw owned the 1963 Orange Bowl
For a college football career, you can talk about your Charley Trippi, your Frank Sinkwich and your Herschel Walker, but for one single game the name that stands out is Larry Clyde Rakestraw.
Not that he didn’t have a brilliant career – twice All-Southeastern Conference; passed for more than 3,000 yards; led his Georgia Bulldogs in total offense as a sophomore, junior and senior; led the SEC in pass completions and passing yardage as a senior; played in the Senior Bowl and was named most valuable player in the Blue-Gray All-Star game.
But make no mistake about it; Rakestraw’s shining hours came in the 1963 Georgia vs. Miami Orange Bowl. Hurricane fans had come to see their brilliant George Mira, bound for the San Francisco 49ers. But they came away talking about the even more brilliant Rakestraw, the Dogs’ 6′ 1″, 190 pound quarterback.
It was a steamy night in Miami but not nearly as hot as Rakestraw’s right arm. He smashed one NCAA record, two Orange Bowl records and three SEC records. His 407 yards passing broke the NCAA mark of Stanford’s Dick Norman’s 401 yards set in 1959, the old SEC mark of 338 yards set by All-American Vito (Babe) Parilli in 1950 and the old UGA mark of 323 set by Trippi against Georgia Tech in 1945.
Rakestraw’s 414 total offense yardage snapped Trippi’s old SEC mark against Tech in 1944 and his one-game pass completion of 25 erased the mark shared by All-Americans Chuck Conerly of Ole Miss (1947) and Zeke Bratkowski of Georgia (1951).
Rakestraw also broke two all-time Orange Bowl stadium records: total offensive yardage of 382 by Georgia All-American and Heisman trophy winner Sinkwich in 1942 and passing yardage of 292 by Bratkowski in 1952.
In leading the Dogs to a stunning 31-14 victory over Miami, Rakestraw commanded scoring drives of 80, 80, 76, 80 and 83 yards. Any questions?
After the game, Mira, who had a career night himself with 341 yards, walked across the field, shook Rakestraw’s hand and said, “That was not only the greatest performance I have ever seen, but you are the greatest player I have ever seen.”
When Rakestraw was asked, “Who was the best coach you ever had?” he replied, “Lefty Thompson, Jack Fligg, Dave Redford and Jack Bush.” All were Rakestraw’s coaches in high school.
After he graduated from the University of Georgia, Rakestraw played five seasons with the Chicago Bears of the National Football League, mostly in a backup role.
But he had one of those “Orange Bowl nights” against the New York Giants one Sunday when he ran for two touchdowns and passed for three more. After the game, Jim Morris, who played, coached and officiated college and professional football for 60 years said, “Rakestraw is one of the finest I have ever seen.”
Rakestraw was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He and his brother Jimmy, a fine if diminutive guard at Presbyterian College, and a successful high school coach at Druid Hills, grew up in the Bankhead Highway section of Atlanta.
The Brothers Rakestraw attended West Fulton High School, which wasn’t a hangout for the college recruiter crowd. But Larry attracted them for football, basketball and baseball, making All-America in football and All-Southern in baseball and basketball. The only other West Fulton notable to make it big was Marvin Tibbetts, who quarterbacked Georgia Tech.
Today Larry is 64 years old, works out three times a week and is the same 190 pounds he was when he destroyed the Miami Hurricanes. He and Jimmy have a thriving insurance and corporate benefits business in greater Atlanta. Larry, who lives in Suwanee, is divorced, with five children and 10 grandchildren.
If they ever start retiring jerseys at Georgia for single game performances, first on the list should be jersey number 10, worn in the Orange Bowl by Larry Rakestraw.
Gene Asher is a veteran sportswriter and businessman