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October 28, 2013

A Bulldog-Turned-Gator Tale

As the story goes, Georgia's rout in the rain of the
Gators in '68 would be the root of Spurrier's evil.
While at a wedding reception on Saturday, I had conversation with a group of family members regarding, what else, the looming World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  Georgia's dominance of the series during the 1970s and 1980s was mentioned, followed by Florida's during the 1990s and 2000s, which brought up the primary reason why control of the series suddenly flipped—Stephen Orr Spurrier.
My family then discussed the logic behind Spurrier's tremendous hate for Georgia—the Bulldogs' 27-10 trampling of the Gators during the quarterback's senior and Heisman-winning campaign of 1966, or so that's the long-time, assumed reason.
Oh, contraire, I politely interjected.  I then provided for my family the true reasoning behind Spurrier's trick plays when a number of games were well in hand and the public jabs at our head coaches from the former Gators' Ol' Ball Coach—rationale fully presented in my Georgia-Florida book (and copied below).  And, in the process of my family learning something new about the storied Georgia-Florida rivalry, I learned that although family members are eager and generous enough to buy my books, some of them might not actually read them.
Perhaps the only thing stronger than the hate many Georgia followers have for Steve Spurrier is the Evil Genius’ despise for the Bulldogs. But where did Spurrier’s presumed hatred for our team stem from? Why all the snide and ridiculing comments about Georgia and its coaches over the years? What is the reason for the called flea-flickers and end-arounds when a number of Bulldogs-Gators games were already well decided?

Most of us have always assumed Spurrier’s beef with the Bulldogs was simply because of the defeats he endured as Florida’s quarterback in 1964 and particularly in 1966 to Georgia. However, the supposed truth goes much further than that.

Gene Ellenson was an All-SEC tackle as a Bulldog, a member of Georgia’s 1942 national championship team, and a Battle of the Bulge hero from World War II. After an assistant coaching stint at Miami (Fla.), he became Georgia’s top candidate to fill the head coaching position left by Wally Butts in 1961. In fact, UGA President Dr. O.C. Aderhold reportedly went so far as telling Ellenson the job was his to lose…but lose it he would.

Before his hiring became official, Ellenson, who was known for his motivational speeches, spoke a little too much to a Jacksonville newspaper, indicating several changes he would make if he became the Bulldogs’ head coach. With that, according to author Jesse Outlar, "Ellenson had talked himself out of one of the most sought after jobs in football."

So, it was off to the University of Florida for Ellenson, where he would serve as a defensive assistant for the entire—well, most of it—Coach Ray Graves era of 1960 to 1969. Against Georgia in 1968, in an attempt to shake things up with a struggling team, Graves had the ingenious idea of swapping coordinators—defensive coordinator Ellenson suddenly was the offensive coordinator. Graves’ move more than backfired as the Gators were trounced by the Bulldogs 51–0.

In that game, the Bulldogs comfortably led 48–0 with more than five minutes to play. Georgia had reached Florida’s 5-yard line, where it faced fourth down. Coach Vince Dooley decided to call upon reserve Peter Rajecki—a German-born, barefooted kicker, and the school’s first soccer-style place-kicker—to attempt his first-ever field goal as a Bulldog. Rajecki made the 22-yard attempt.

As the story goes, the successful field goal meant much more to the Gators, Ellenson, and eventually Steve Spurrier, than simply another three points for the Bulldogs. Spurrier, who was then playing in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers, was told of Georgia’s "running-up-the-score" maneuver by Ellenson in a phone conversation. Spurrier was furious and vowed then, if he ever got the chance, he’d run the score up on the Bulldogs just like they had done to his Gators.

In his first year as Florida’s head coach in 1990, Spurrier brought in Ellenson to deliver a motivational message at the team meeting the Friday night before the Georgia game. The Bulldog-turned-Gator speaker stressed taking charge of one’s own fate and not letting outsiders control it. The motivated Gators responded with an easy victory over Georgia, where Spurrier got his chance to run up the score, and sure enough he did in a 31-point victory.
Gene Ellenson: foremost Bulldog-turned-Gator
A year later, it was the same as the season before—Ellenson spoke to the team on Friday, urging them to go to "another level." The Gators would hold a late, comfortable lead over the Bulldogs the next day. Yet, it was not quite comfortable enough for Spurrier, who didn’t let up for a second straight blowout win for Florida over Georgia.

So, more or less, that is supposedly the reasoning behind Spurrier’s hate for Georgia while at Florida. However, there is a bit of information the Gators tend to leave out when recalling the story. Let’s just say that for many attending the Georgia-Florida game on that rainy day in 1968, it was rather obvious that the Gators collectively did not put forth their best toward the end of the game.

Dooley was not one to run up the score during his 25 seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach. Further, he certainly hardly questioned an opponent’s effort, if ever, besides this one example. Dooley said after the game, "I really believe Florida’s effort was not at its maximum.… I believe you had a [Georgia] football team after the third quarter that was really keyed, against a team that was giving less than maximum effort."

Therefore, it appears that an assistant’s hard feelings for his alma mater and a head coach’s vengeance against the same rival results from not necessarily Georgia trying to run up a score, but perhaps something else, namely the Gators simply not playing to "another level" in the 1968 game.

Besides, what would Spurrier and the Gators faithful have preferred Dooley execute on fourth down from the 5-yard line and with more than five minutes remaining in the game?

Run a Spurrier-like end-around with a wide receiver?


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Anonymous said...

ATDB, this morning I heard on that joke 960 the Ref calls a radio show that today is the 18th anniversary of Spurrier running up the score on the Dogs in Sanford Stadium. That was an awful afternoon but the Braves brought it home that night with a championship.