A four-year letterman guard for the University of Illinois from 1943 through 1947 who helped lead Illini to victory at the 1947 Rose Bowl over UCLA.
Ralph “Babe” Serpico was born on February 14, 1925 in a home located at 917 N. 23rd Ave. in Melrose Park, Illinois to Domenico and Rachel (Romano) Serpico who migrated to the United States from Scisciano, Italy (Region in Naples). He was the youngest of four boys and later a younger sister. His family provided the backbone for who Serpico would later become.
He attended Melrose Park Grammar School and later Proviso High School where he was named to the All Star Team. Ralph “Babe” Serpico was a solid defensive player. When Babe was in high school, he may never have gotten the chance to play football if not for his 3 older brothers; Sam, Mark and Andrew. Babe’s father wouldn’t sign his permission slip, so his brothers took the liberty of forging his father’s name allowing him to play. Imagine the surprise when his father saw his son as the star of the team! Babe was named by the Chicago Tribune to the All-Star 1940s Football team (for high school athletes) with players like George Connor, Ziggy Czarobski and Johnny Lattner.
He went on to University of Illinois on a football scholarship where he lettered all four years. He was offered 38 scholarships, everyone wanted him! Except Notre Dame- he was too small. Notre Dame’s loss was U of I’s gain as Babe was a lineman for the football team from 1943-1946. Babe was named First-Team All-Big Ten in 1944 with Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 1945. He earned All-American honors in 1944 by Sporting News- 1st, Associated Press- 3rd, Football Writers- 2nd, Boston Record- 1st, Chicago Sun- 1st. Babe was the team captain of the 1945 Illinois football team and defensive captain of the 1946 Big Ten Championship Squad. He helped lead Illini to the 1946 Big Ten Championship.
Babe helped Illini to victory at the 1947 Rose Bowl over UCLA and a final ranking of 5th in the nation. The 1947 Rose Bowl was a top ten event of all sporting events in one hundred years in Big Ten history. Babe was offered a chance to play in the North-South All-Star game but had to turn it down because it conflicted with the Rose Bowl. Babe also played in the East-West All-Star game. He was even able to play a few games with the Chicago Rockets in the All-American Football Conference before injuries ended his career.
One of the biggest awards, especially for the Italians, is the Rizzuto Award. This is an award given to the most outstanding athlete in the Country of Italian descent. Ralph “Babe” was presented with this award for the 1944-1945 season in Kansas City, Missouri. As impressive as this award was for Babe, no achievement could compare with being a dedicated husband and father. He married Josephine (Luzzi) on April 17, 1946 and had four boys, Joe, Ron, Ralph Jr. and Terry. His sons were the true highlight of his life.
Once injuries took Babe away from his love of football, he focused his energy on a political career. He was a member of the Democratic Party and was quoted saying “Loyalty is the greatest thing that gives me pleasure.” As dedicated as Babe was to his football team, that is how devoted he became to the people of Melrose Park.
Ralph “Babe” Serpico was a prestigious football player, a dedicated family man and an all-around leader.
He was inducted posthumously into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.