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Former UF All-American Fergie Ferguson makes a catch in 1941 against Furman.

Monday May 26, 2014A Memorial Day Salute: Forrest "Fergie" Ferguson

Former UF All-American Fergie Ferguson makes a catch in 1941 against Furman.

Editor's note: In honor of Memorial Day we revisit a story that UF historian Norm Carlson wrote about former UF All-American Forrest "Fergie" Ferguson for the 2012 Homecoming game program.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Seldom does the recipient of the Fergie Ferguson Award given out at the annual University of Florida football banquet understand why it carries that name.

Fergie Ferguson

There have been many splendid athletes at the University of Florida, some of whom went on to become stars on bigger stages in life. None have shined brighter than Forrest "Fergie" Ferguson, the first Gator All-American in 1941.

Ferguson was a tall, fast, powerful athlete from Stuart, Fla., who started every game for the Gators from 1939-41, playing all 60 minutes in many of them, and being named All-SEC and All-America as a senior.

Although he caught 26 passes in l941, leading the SEC and the third-best total in the nation, he was better known as a defensive end. His career pass reception total of 43 was the highest in UF history until the days of the pro-style Gator offense under Ray Graves in the l960s.

Ferguson was a phenomenal athlete. Newspaper tales from that era relate the story of him wandering out to the track one day, picking up a 16-pound shot and throwing it over 50 feet, without having any idea of how to do it. While he became outstanding in that field event, he was even better with a javelin in his hand. In l942 he won the National AAU javelin championship with a record throw of 203 feet, 7 inches.

He took up boxing at Florida and within one year he was the undefeated state collegiate heavyweight champion.

His finest hour at Florida came in the eighth game of the season in l941 against undefeated Miami in front of a record crowd of 31,731 at the Orange Bowl Stadium. He played all 60 minutes that night in a 14-0 Florida upset victory. The next morning the Miami Herald headline read:

Florida Whips Miami 14 to 0; Ferguson Does It Single-Handed

Fergie Ferguson

Ferguson caught what was then the longest touchdown pass in UF history, a 74-yarder from Tommy Harrison, which was also the longest ever thrown against the Hurricanes at the time. He came back to catch a 47-yard touchdown pass from Harrison, accounting for both scores in the game.

Miami twice drove inside the Gators' l0-yard line, only to have Ferguson kill the threats with tackles in the backfield. With the Hurricanes at the 5-yard line, first-and-goal, he tackled the ball carrier for a 1-yard loss on first down, then threw the quarterback for losses of 11 and 17 yards. A fourth-down attempt was incomplete.

Ferguson was credited with 12 tackles for losses of 67 yards for the evening. He also intercepted a lateral in the backfield, and a pass downfield.

Ferguson, U.S. Army 1st Lt., was wounded during the initial landings on Normandy Beach on D-Day, June 6, l944, and never fully recovered. His platoon was trapped on the beach under heavy fire and he went up the side of a cliff with a machine gun and wiped out the German nest. He was shot in the assault and died from his war wounds in a VA hospital in Coral Gables 10 years later. He won the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action.

UF athletic director Jeremy Foley saw those cliffs early this year on a trip to France. He was amazed that anyone could scale them, much less under fire and carrying a machine gun. Ferguson did, and became a national hero in the process.

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