It is Veteran’s Day, so first, heartfelt thanks and appreciation to each of you who served in our military. There is no amount of money that could repay you for your personal dedication and sacrifice.
Second, because it’s Veteran’s Day, there is nothing I could write that could come close to the heartfelt words of one of the greatest Gators ever, Coach Gene Ellenson. In 1962, with a season teetering on the brink and following consecutive losses to Georgia Tech and Duke, the Gators were about to play a very tough Texas A&M team. Sensing the despair on his team and the need to inspire, Coach Ellenson wrote a now famous letter to the Florida players in which he recalled a night during the Battle of the Bulge in which the remnants of a small platoon he commanded fought and won against impossible odds. For his heroism, General Patton pinned Bronze and Silver stars on Coach Ellenson’s chest. He would go on to win another Silver Star while fighting in the European theater.
So, here is Coach Ellenson’s letter, appropriate for this Veteran’s Day:
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 need now more than anything else is 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 us have adversity – different kinds maybe – but adversity. Just how we meet these troubles determines how solid a foundation we are building our life on; and just how many of you stand together to face our team adversity will determine how solid a foundation our team has built for the rest of the season.
No one cruises along without problems. It isn't easy to earn your way through college on football scholarship. It isn't easy to do what is expected of you by the academic and the athletic. It isn't easy to remain fighting when others are curling around you or when your opponent seems to be getting stronger while you seem to be getting weaker. It isn't easy to continue good work when others don't appreciate what you're doing. It isn't easy to go hard when bedeviled by aches, pains and muscle sprains. It isn't easy to rise up when you are down. The pure facts of life are that nothing is easy. You only get what you earn and there isn't such a thing as "something for nothing." When you truly realize this – then and only then will you begin to whip your adversities.
If you'll bear with a little story, I'll try to prove my point. One midnight, January 14, 1945, six pitiful American soldiers were hanging onto a small piece of high ground in a forest somewhere near Bastogne, Belgium. This high ground had been the objective of an attack launched by 1,000 men that morning. Only these six made it. The others had been turned back, wounded, lost or killed in action. These grimy, cruddy six men were all that were left of a magnificent thrust of 1,000 men. They hadn't had any sleep other than catnaps for over 72 hours. The weather was cold enough to freeze the water in their canteens. They had no entrenching tools, no radio, no food – only ammunition and adversity. Twice a good-sized counter attack had been launched by the enemy, only to be beaten back because of the dark and some pretty fair grenade heaving.
The rest of the time there were incessant mortars falling in the general area and the trees made for dreaded tree bursts, which scatter shrapnel like buckshot. The attackers were beginning to sense the location of the six defenders. Then things began to happen. First, a sergeant had a chunk of shrapnel tear into his hip. Then a corporal went into shock and started sobbing.
After more than six hours of the constant mortar barrage and two close counter attacks, and no food since maybe the day before yesterday, this was some first-class adversity. Then another counter attack, this one making it to the small position. Hand-to-hand fighting is a routine military expression. I have not the imagination to tell you what this is really like. A man standing up to fight with a shattered hip bone, saliva frothing at his mouth, gouging, lashing with a bayonet, even strangling with his bare hands. The lonesome five fought (the corporal was out of his mind) until the attackers quit.
Then the mortars began again. All this time the route to the rear lay open, but never did this little group take the road back. As early dawn a full company of airborne troopers relieved this tiny force. It still wasn't quite light yet. One of the group, a lieutenant, picked up the sergeant with the broken hip and carried him like a baby. The other led the incoherent corporal like a dog on a leash. The other two of the gallant six lay dead in the snow. It took hours for this strange little group to get back to where they had started from 24 hours earlier. They were like ghosts returning. The lieutenant and one remaining healthy sergeant, after 10 hours of sleep and a hot meal, were sent on a mission 12 miles behind the German lines and helped make the link that closed the Bulge.
Today, two of the faithful six lay in Belgium graves, one is a career army man, and one is a permanent resident of the army hospital for the insane in Texas, one is a stiff-legged repairman in Ohio, and one is an assistant football coach at the University of Florida.
This story is no documentary or self-indulgence. It was told to you only to show you that whatever you find adverse now, others before you have had as bad or worse and still hung on to do the job. Many of you are made of exactly the same stuff as the six men in the story, yet you haven't pooled your collective guts to present a united fight for a full 60 minutes. Your egos are a little shook-so what? Nothing good can come from moping about it. Cheer up and stand up. Fight an honest fight, square off in front of your particular adversity and whip it. You'll be a better man for it, and the next adversity won't be so tough. Breaking training now is complete failure to meet your problems. Quitting the first time is the hardest-it gets easier the second time and so forth.
I'd like to see a glint in your eye Saturday about 2 p.m. with some real depth to it-not just a little lip service-not just a couple of weak hurrahs and down the drain again, but some real steel-some real backbone and 60 full fighting minutes. Then and only then will you be on the road to becoming a real man. The kind you like to see when you shave every morning.
As in most letters, I'd like to close by wishing you well and leave you with this one thought. "Self-pity is a roommate with cowardice." Stay away from feeling sorry for yourself. The wins and losses aren't nearly as important as what kind of man you become. I hope I've given you something to think about-and remember, somebody up there still loves you.
WEEK 2: COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RANKINGS
1. Clemson (9-0)
Remaining games: at Syracuse, Wake Forest, at South Carolina
2. Alabama (8-1)
Remaining games: at Mississippi State, Charleston Southern, at Auburn
3. Ohio State (9-0)
Remaining games: at Illinois, Michigan State, at Michigan
4. Notre Dame (8-1)
Remaining games: Wake Forest, at Boston College, at Stanford
5. Iowa (9-0)
Remaining games: Minnesota, Purdue, at Nebraska
6. Baylor (8-0)
Remaining games: Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, at TCU, Texas
7. Stanford (8-1)
Remaining games: Oregon, California, Notre Dame
8. Oklahoma State (9-0)
Remaining games: at Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma
9. LSU (7-1)
Remaining games: Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M
10. Utah (8-1)
Remaining games: at Arizona, UCLA, Colorado
The rest of the top 25: (11) FLORIDA (8-1); (12) Oklahoma (8-1); (13) Michigan State (8-1); (14) Michigan (7-2); (15) TCU (8-1); (16) Florida State (7-2); (17) Mississippi State (7-2); (18) Northwestern (7-2); (19) UCLA (7-2); (20) Navy (7-1); (21) Memphis (8-1); (22) Temple (8-1); (23) North Carolina (8-1); (24) Houston (9-0); (25) Wisconsin (8-2)
COMMENTARY: Clemson’s path to the final four is the easiest of any top ten team … It’s surprising that Notre Dame is ranked fourth … Baylor is hurt by a weak schedule so far, but with games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU the Bears will have a chance to rise … How did Iowa jump to #5? How can a win over Indiana move a team up four places and past a Baylor team that is unbeaten and playing in the Big 12? … How can Stanford move up four places after beating a rotten Colorado team and Florida wins and drops one place? Of course, the Gators can solve their issues by winning.
#3 ALABAMA (8-1, 5-1 SEC): Aaron Torres of FoxSports.com wrote “Alabama’s dynasty is over” after the Crimson Tide lost to Ole Miss in September, adding “they also aren’t an 11-1 juggernaut.” Torres penned an apology letter to Nick Saban Monday.
ARKANSAS (5-4, 3-2 SEC): The Razorbacks have scored 50 or more points in their last three games, all wins. They’ve also given up 126 points in the same three games, prompting defensive coordinator Robb Smith to say, “We have to work smart to improve our tackling” … With one more win, the Razorbacks will be bowl eligible. CBSSports.com projects Arkansas to face West Virginia in the Texas Bowl in Houston.
AUBURN (5-4, 2-5 SEC): After guiding Auburn to its most efficient offensive game of the season, hitting 13-17 of his passes for 132 yards and a TD against Texas A&M, QB Jeremy Johnson is playing with confidence once again. “He does have his edge back,” HBC Gus Malzahn said … With one win in their last three games, Auburn will be bowl eligible. CBSSports.com projects the Tigers to face Temple in the Birmingham Bowl.
#11 FLORIDA (8-1, 6-1 SEC): The game plan for Saturday should be a no-brainer – run right, run left, run up the middle and if there is any doubt, repeat the process. South Carolina gives up an average of 208 yards per game. The Gamecocks have given up more than 300 rushing yards twice and more than 200 three times … CBSSports.com projects the Gators to face Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.
GEORGIA (6-3, 4-3 SEC): The questions at QB continue for the Bulldogs. Mark Richt hasn’t named a starter for Georgia’s game with Auburn but he has said that both Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey will play … CBSSports.com projects the Bulldogs to face Northwestern in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
KENTUCKY (4-5, 2-5 SEC): Asked if the Wildcats thought they would beat Georgia last week, HBC Mark Stoops answered Monday, “I think that’s a fair question and I don’t think that was the case last Saturday, that we did go into the game believing we could win. No, I don’t think we did” … Kentucky must win two of the last three to become bowl eligible. CBSSports.com projects the Wildcats to face Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport.
#9 LSU (7-0, 4-1 SEC): Les Miles says Leonard Fournette is not to blame for his 19-carry, 31-yard performance against Alabama. Miles said, “For Leonard Fournette it certainly wasn’t his fault in any way. We didn’t get him loose. Safeties were making tackles and they were making them very close to the line of scrimmage” … CBSSports.com projects the Tigers will face TCU in the Sugar Bowl.
#20 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-2, 3-2 SEC): Although he’s having a fine season (2,351 passing yards, 18 TDs, 1 INT; 418 rushing yards, 7 TDs), Dak Prescott is barely a blip on the Heisman Trophy radar. He could go from barely a blip to a serious Heisman contender if he can lead Mississippi State to an upset of Alabama Saturday in Starkville … CBSSports.com projects the Bulldogs to face North Carolina in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
MISSOURI (4-5, 1-5 SEC): At the heart of the Missouri protests that ousted school prez Tim Wolfe was former Georgia linebacker Reuben Faloughi, who was one of the organizers of the boycott. Now a Mizzou grad student, Faloughi said there was racism on the Georgia campus when he was in Athens, but “Racism felt different here (Missouri). In the South, people have dealt with racism so long, so they kind of know how to work between each other.”
OLE MISS (7-3, 4-2 SEC): The Rebels are using the bye week to try regaining their focus after the Arkansas loss, which pretty much ended their hopes of winning the SEC championship. “We just have to regroup and stay hungry,” QB Chad Kelly said. … CBSSports.com projects Ole Miss to face Penn State in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-6, 1-6 SEC): Of the Gamecocks’ three remaining games, two are against ranked teams (#11 Florida and #1 Clemson). Interim coach Shawn Elliott says the Gamecocks won’t be inspired by those high rankings. “Our goal is to win football games,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what they’re ranked or how successful they are. Anyone with a competitive spirit wants to go out and win. The word spoiler hasn’t come up and it shouldn’t come up.”
TENNESSEE (5-4, 3-3 SEC): The Vols might be the healthiest they’ve been since August with tackles Brett Kendrick (elbow, knee) and Jashon Robertson (ankle) and wide receivers Preston Williams (hamstring) and Marquez North (leg) returning to practice on Tuesday … CBSSports.com projects the Vols to face Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl.
TEXAS A&M (6-3, 3-3 SEC): Dari Nowkah of the SEC Network says there are big problems at Texas A&M. “I would be stunned if both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray are both at A&M nest season,” Nowkah told radio host Bo Mattingly. It’s ugly. It’s a locker room divided”… CBSSports.com projects the Aggies to face North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
VANDERBILT (3-6, 1-4 SEC): Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason believes the Commodores are just as good as the Florida Gators (I’m not making this up). Mason said, “Call it what it is, but I believe our football team is just as good as the University of Florida.” So explain why Florida is 8-1 and Vandy is 3-6 … The Commodores are -2.5 favorites against Kentucky this weekend.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you agree with the top four in todays College Football Playoff rankings and if not, who are your top four?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Although they really don’t do any relevant music these days, the music of Hall and Oates sticks with me. They will be touring in Florida later this month in Hollywood, Fort Meyers, Sarasota and Orlando. I’ll catch them in Orlando on December 3. Today’s music is a 2003 Hall and Oates concert.