Gene Ellenson was an assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator at the University of Florida from 1960-69. He died at 74 in 1995. In Florida football lore, it is simply known as The Letter. It is 55 years old now, but just as relevant today as it was when Gene Ellenson wrote it on Oct. 11, 1962.
The Florida coaches need to read it this week. The Florida players should do the same. It should be required reading for all those in and around the program, especially all those disgruntled fans who seem ready to quit on this team, this season.
Fifty-five years ago, Florida football was in a place similar to where it is today.
Heading into a crucial home game against Texas A&M, those 1962 Gators were dealing with lots of adversity — angry fans, a critical media and plenty of self-doubt coming off a 28-21 loss to Duke in which UF had blown a 21-0 halftime lead.
The 1-2 Gators were clearly down. Ellenson, the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, could sense it, and wanted to try and change it. So, the Thursday night before the A&M game he sat down and wrote The Letter.
“Our team was struggling, much like the Gators are struggling now,” said Fred Pearson, 75, a starting junior offensive and defensive tackle on the 1962 team who lives in Gainesville. “Coach Ellenson wrote a letter to the players. The point was to keep fighting, never give up, you can overcome.”
Ellenson knew a great deal about fighting and overcoming. He was a decorated World War II hero who fought in many battles in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge. He won the Bronze and Silver Star, Purple Hearts and 10 other battlefield decorations while rising to the rank of Captain.
Head coach Ray Graves approved of Ellenson’s letter. Before the Gators boarded a bus to the team hotel Friday afternoon, Ellenson read the letter to the players in the team meeting room.
“When we got finished with the letter, every guy in the room was in tears,” Pearson said. “It was just very, very powerful. We went to bed that night thinking about that letter. Then we went out and played with a lot of emotion the next day.”
Here is The Letter:
“Dear _____ :
“It’s late at night. The offices are all quiet and everyone has finally gone home. Once again my thoughts turn to you all.
“The reason I feel I have something to say to you is because what you need now more than anything else are a little guidance and maybe a little starch for your backbone. You are still youngsters and unknowingly, you have not steeled yourselves for the demanding task of 60 full minutes of exertion required to master a determined opponent. This sort of exertion takes two kinds of hardness. Physical, which is why you are pushed hard in practice, and mental, which comes only from having to meet adversity and whipping it. “Now all of […]
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