there would have to be some to wash away
I was trying to find an answer for Brodie to the question posed in this forum, and came across the article linked above.
It doesn't say how he met Millie (though she and her consensus-poor Pecan Pie are in there), but it's a fantastic read from the past on Michigan's ol' coach.
this is classic Bo Schembechler. He talks straight ahead; no matter what the circumstances, he says exactly what's on his mind; he makes judgments on everything; he is secure in every way; he dominates everywhere and everybody. All of which makes him, remarkable as it sounds, a good guy up close. A really good guy.
It doesn't really give insight into RR, since this was written over a decade into Bo's Michigan career. It doesn't tell you what Mildred's profession was before she married Glen.
It's only a look into the personality of
a our great football coach.
If not for my dad, I wouldn't be here. Well, yeah, there's a certain self-evident truth in that statement, but by "here" I really mean this blog and this corner of the college football universe. How I got here, and how Michigan Football came to be the one thing I actually care about in all of sports, is the subject of this Part Two essay. Part One attempted to review the ill-fated 2008 season with some historical flavor, and Part Three will discuss how that season changed my (UM football) life.
How It Began: My story probably is not unfamiliar to those of you who grew up with Michigan Football in the 1970's. Long before there were cable TV rights or a Big Ten Network or eleven teams in the conference or even a "Big House" nickname for Michigan Stadium, there was Bob Ufer calling the games on the radio. And it's a good thing, too, because in those days it was a rare treat to be able to watch a Michigan game on TV, via over-the-air broadcast on a local channel. The OSU game would always be shown every year, but apart from that, in the era of the "Big Two and Little Eight," about the best you could hope for was one other game per season to make the network TV schedule.
Living on a "gentleman's farm" in rural west Michigan, there was never a shortage of chores and repairs that had to be done on autumn Saturdays. Some of these activities (such as putting up hay bales or washing cars) were suitable for me as a kid to actually help with, while others (winterizing a tractor or the sprinkler system) I could only watch, but almost all of them were compatible with a few hours of Ufer's play-by-play on the radio. And that's how my dad turned me into a Michigan Football fan. I don't know exactly when this ritual of Saturday-chores-plus-football began, but I know I was pretty well hooked (at least on the football part) in 1974, when Bo entered his sixth season and I entered the second grade. I have no memory of the controversial end of the 1973 season, when unbeaten Michigan was screwed out of a bowl appearance by conference vote, but I do remember players from the 1974 team, and I know that my first really strong emotional reaction to a Michigan game was after watching Mike Lantry's kick at the end of the '74 OSU battle, live on TV. I believed that day, as I do today, the kick was good.
That result notwithstanding, on a more typical Saturday, following a great big Meeeechigan victory, and chores/daylight permitting, my dad and I would throw the Nerf football around in the back yard. Being out in the country, we had a big yard that wasn't level, but had a "playable area" that was about 60 yards long and 20 yards wide. This was plenty big enough for me to "run routes" and try for diving catches on the long bombs -- great fun for a kid wanting to re-enact the big plays he had heard Ufer describe earlier in the day. Lots of grass stains.
I've mentioned washing cars, which was a commonplace job in September while the weather was still nice. It was also a bad-luck job, at least in 1980, because that's what we were doing on successive Saturdays when Michigan lost to Notre Dame (Harry Oliver's miracle kick) and then to George Rogers and South Carolina (who?!). But that memory serves as evidence that my dad and I continued the Saturday routine for a good number of years, and there can be little doubt that it was the foundation for my love of Michigan Football.
First Heroes: Dennis Franklin, Gordie Bell, and Rob Lytle were the first athletes I really admired. In fact, since I was a second-grader at the time, it's probably safe to say these were the first people I admired outside of my own family, my teachers, and President Ford (who was also from west Michigan and a UM alum, of course). In my mind's eye, Franklin is running the option, Bell is running some kind of toss sweep, and Lytle is bouncing off defenders or just running them over -- that's what those guys always seemed to do.
Rick Leach soon became my next hero. All of the subsequent quarterbacks have erased his records, but I don't think any of them could so consistently keep an opposing defense off balance. Leach is still in the all-time top 5 at Michigan for both passing TDs and rushing TDs, which is remarkable considering the players we've had and the way the game has changed since the mid-70s. (And believe it or not, Steve Smith is right behind Leach in each category!) Another funny childhood story: in fourth or fifth grade, during the Leach years, all of us in the class were required to design and complete a "needlepoint" craft project that involved stitching yarn onto a scrap of burlap. Being a boy who wasn't the least bit interested in any form of sewing, I decided to make my design as "manly" as possible. And so, in maize and blue text, I stitched a quote from Bob Ufer: "#7 In Your Programs, #1 In Your Hearts." I probably included Leach's name and a crude block M -- I don't remember for sure. I do recall that my teacher rolled her eyes a little and made a comment to the effect that the project was supposed to be about art, not football, but I got full credit!
Then came Anthony Carter. He was simply the most exciting and explosive player in the nation during most of his four years, and it's a shame he never won the Heisman. My memory of the 1979 Homecoming game against Indiana is a bit like the stories I've heard from older folks about the JFK assassination: I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. In this case my dad and I were indoors, in our family room, listening to the end of the game on the radio. My dad was pacing. This was a game we should have won easily, and instead we were tied with one play left and the ball barely in Indiana territory. We heard Ufer say "Wangler under center, he goes back, he's looking for a receiver, throws downfield to Carter..." and then it was pandemonium in the stadium and in the broadcast booth for several seconds. My dad and I stared silently at each other, then at the radio, trying to hear and understand what had happened. And then through the din, we heard the General Bo George Patton Schembechler scoring horn honking out a touchdown (and then some) -- the sound of victory. Confusion turned to disbelief, then pure joy. "'Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter' will be heard until another hundred years of Michigan Football is played." There haven't been many times in my life when I've literally jumped up and down after hearing something on the radio, but that day was one of them.
While Carter was still playing, we entered the 1980s, and it was around that time, as my adolescent mind developed and changed, that I started paying a little less attention to the star players and more attention to the people like Bob Ufer and Bo Schembechler. I began to understand and appreciate the uniqueness and timelessness of what they were doing. They delivered excellence year in and year out, with each new batch of players. Ufer passed away just after I started high school, and I realized, sadly, there would never be another like him. We can't relive the past, but we can encourage excellence where we find it today -- and that, too, is part of the reason I frequent Brian's blog.
The Big House: At some point in those early high school years, my dad took the plunge and got season football tickets. And he continued to do so for at least 5 years, but I don't think there was ever a season where he used as many tickets himself as he sold or gave away to friends and relatives. For us on the west side of the state, attending a game meant a full-day excursion in which no chores got done! It was just hard for us to pull that off more than a couple times each fall. I can't tell you the first game or the last game I attended, or even the total number of games. I have souvenir programs from most of them, buried in a box somewhere. Offhand I would say it was more than 5 games and fewer than 10, in the 1982-87 timeframe. Our seats were behind the north endzone, in what is now (and was also then?) section 34 I believe. The only Michigan head coach I ever saw at a game I attended was Bo.
I remember my amazement upon climbing the steps and getting my first view of the stadium. This place is big! The crowd outside often seemed harder to contend with than the crowd inside. I remember the unfamiliar smells around our seats -- cigar smoke and booze -- strange at first, and unwelcome, but then expected and accepted later. And yes, there were the killjoys yelling "Sit down!" back then, too.
Best Game(s) I attended:
- 1983 vs Iowa -- a miserable rainy day, in which the weather was forgotten when Bob Bergeron kicked a fairly long FG (to our endzone!) in the last minute to win it.
- 1984 vs Miami (FL) -- the interception-fest in which we beat Bernie Kosar and the defending national champs on opening day. Who cares if both teams ended up with at least 5 losses that year?!
Worst Game I attended:
- 1987 vs Notre Dame -- yuck.
Biggest Personal Thrill at a Game:
- 1983 vs Washington State -- This is a bit silly, but still unusual. We had arrived early, and were sitting in our seats during pregame warm-ups. They hadn't fully hoisted the net behind the goalposts, and a practice FG attempt sent the ball flying over the net and directly to me. I stood up and caught it on the fly without having to take a step, and then was immediately swarmed by two or three student assistants, so I had to give the ball back. My dad was probably more excited than I was, or at least he was happy that I caught it cleanly! It was blazing hot that day, and we won the game.
Since Then: It's somewhat overwhelming to think about all the life changes in the past 20+ years. In terms of college choices, UM was always an interesting possibility, but for financial and family reasons I knew it was never really "viable" for me. I ended up going to college fairly near home, in Grand Rapids, working 20-hour-per-week jobs the whole time to pay my own way. I finished on schedule in four years, and there was never much time for goofing off. These were Bo's twilight years in terms of coaching, and they were all pretty good teams. I remember the novelty of Bo's winning two New Year's Day bowl games in a row (after the '87 and '88 seasons), including one against hated USC in the Rose Bowl. And then of course the disappointment of losing his very last game to the Trojans in Pasadena. It was oddly... fitting.
When it came time to look at grad schools (my field was engineering), I applied to four places in three different states, including UM. I got an admission letter from Ann Arbor, and for a short time I thought that's where I would be going. But then a few days later, I found out that my "dream opportunity" had opened up at a school in California, with both a favorable admission decision and full funding. So after a college graduation that I really don't remember, everything I owned went into the trunk and back seat of my Ford Tempo, and I set off for the west coast.
Six years of purgatory later, I emerged with a couple of advanced degrees, a wife, and a "high tech" job. In attempting to follow Michigan Football during that time, surprisingly, I was actually worse off than in the 70's on the family farm. Although I was living in a major metropolitan area throughout grad school, I quickly discovered that for the navel-gazing local media, college football didn't really warrant any coverage apart from the top-10 national scores and a couple of regional Pac-10 schools. The internet and satellite radio didn't exist yet. On-campus housing had cable TV, but no ESPN. Off-campus housing had roommates who wouldn't pay for cable. And so I was right back into the situation of watching the Michigan-OSU game annually on national network TV, and not much else. At some point I bought a VCR and managed to tape the 1991 OSU contest (Desmond Howard with "the pose" and Keith Jackson's call: "Hello Heisman!").
I didn't know much of anything about those teams in the early and mid 1990s. I was spared the whole Moeller resignation/firing fiasco, since it was a mere footnote to the national sports news at the time. In 1997, the national championship season, I know that I was taping every nationally televised game and listening to local "news radio" on Saturdays in hopes of getting score updates. I watched the Rose Bowl on pins and needles, and could hardly believe it when we won.
In the 10 years since then, I have simply made gradual transitions according to what the available technology allows, from basic cable to internet audio broadcasts to satellite dish TV to ESPN Game Plan. Today's situation is the best ever, from a fan's perspective. Since 2005 I've been able to watch and record every Michigan game that isn't on ESPN-U, and now Game Plan isn't even needed any more. With the blossoming of blogs and online news outlets, I can research and chat about the team ad nauseum. Things had peaked just in time for us to run the table in 2006... but it didn't quite happen. Still, for a guy who has gone through extended periods of deprivation, it's hard to imagine how coverage of my favorite team can really get much better. Like all of you, I'll enjoy that coverage and access even more when we get back to our tradition of winning.
And so with 2008 drawing to a close, yours truly remains a Michigan Football fan, largely ignoring the local California sports scene and instead scavenging online for news stories and blogs about the Maize and Blue (which, fortunately, these internet tube thingies make trivially easy to do now). This despite having lived outside the state of Michigan for almost 20 years, despite not having attended a game in person for longer than that, and despite never having enrolled in the university. I think that says something about the tradition and strength and attraction of Michigan Football during my lifetime. And yes, I really should go back for a game sometime. Maybe when my toddler is old enough to understand....
A Michigan football historical parallel I found interesting:
Fielding H. Yost died in 1946. The 1947 Michigan team won a New Year's Day bowl. After 1947, Fritz Crisler handed the reigns to 42-year-old Benny Oosterbaan, who Crisler described as "the best offensive mind in college football." Oosterbaan proceeded to thumb his nose at Michigan tradition by retiring Ron Kramer's #87 while he was still on the team. While Crisler had never had a season worse than 7-3 or finished worse than tied for 4th in the Big Ten, Oosterbaan had two losing seasons in his 11 years at the helm, as well as 6th and 8th place finishes to cap his tenure before handing off to Bump Elliott.
Glenn E. Schembechler died in 2006. The 2007 Michigan team won a New Year's Day bowl. After 2007, Lloyd Carr handed the reigns to 44-year-old Rich Rodriguez, who many described as "the best offensive mind in college football." Rodriguez proceeded to thumb his nose at Michigan tradition by ending the tradition of having season-long captains. While Carr had never had a season worse than 7-5 or finished worse than tied for 5th in the Big Ten, Rodriguez set the Michigan record for losses in his first season and then ...
Obviously the comparison is ridiculous (Oosterbaan did win a national title and 3 Big Ten titles; Crisler was the outside hire and Oosterbaan was a Michigan guy, whereas Lloyd was inside and RichRod was not), but here's hoping we're not heading for the 1950s and 1960s of Michigan Football (which included a span of 17 years with one Big Ten title from 1952-1968). I guess the bright side is that even if we are, history would indicate that this won't last forever, and that the next Bo is coming around...in 2028 or so?
First "Game" vs. Buckeyes:
Fielding H. Yost, 1901: W, 21-0
George Little, 1924: W, 16-6
Tad Wieman, 1927: W, 21-0
Harry Kipke, 1929: L, 0-7
Fritz Crisler, 1938: W, 18-0
Bennie Oosterbaan, 1948: W, 13-3
Bump Elliott, 1959: W, 23-14
Bo Schembechler, 1969: W, 24-12
Gary Moeller, 1990: W, 16-13
Lloyd Carr, 1995: W, 31-23
Rich Rodriguez, 2008: ________
Go Blue, Beat OSU!
I was able to talk with Michael Rosenberg, the Detroit Free Press columnist and author of War As They Knew It, at an event here in Columbus back in September. And after our chat Michael was gracious enough to agree to answer some questions via email. I figured Ohio State Michigan week would be a good time to take him up on that offer. I posted Ten Questions to him regarding his book (see above) over at Collected Miscellany, but wanted to focus more on football in this set of ten.
So here they are:
1. How did the rivalry between Bo and Woody change Michigan football?
Michigan is the all-time wins leader, all-time win percentage leader and plays in the greatest rivalry in college football. So naturally, Michigan fans like to think the program has been one of the best in college football since its inception. That is largely true, but in the 1960s, Michigan State surpassed Michigan on the field and in fan interest. If Bo had not succeeded and MSU had hired a fabulous coach to replace Duffy Daugherty, who knows what would have happened?
Bo put Michigan football back at the forefront of college football, where it has remained ever since. He also gave the rivalry incredible life - even if you didn't care about Michigan or Ohio State, you knew Bo and Woody. It created a momentum for Michigan football and the UM-OSU rivalry that has never really abated.
2. Is it fair to say that Michigan has underachieved in the years following the 1997 National Championship?
No, I don't think that's fair. Michigan never had a losing season, won an Orange Bowl, played in three Rose Bowls and won several other January bowl games in that period. Were other programs better? You might be able to find five or six. You won't find 10. So I don't think "underachieved" is a fair term.
3. What do you think is behind the apparent weakness of the Big Ten when compared with SEC or Big XII? Is this just a cyclical thing with recruiting, etc. or has the Big Ten lost its edge in fundamental ways?
I think it is cyclical. Contrary to popular opinion, the SEC is not far ahead of every other league every year. The Big Ten held its own in bowl games against the SEC. That's just a fact. People concentrate on the national-title games and ignore all other evidence.
Having said that, I do believe the Big Ten is down this season. Almost every program is in transition in some way. Let's see where the league is in three years.
4. Was hiring Rich Rodriguez a mistake in your opinion?
I don't know yet. I think it's a strange fit and Rich should have won more games with the talent he had this year. I think he has given himself a thin margin for error with some of his actions. But I also think he is a bright coach who has a great track record, and of course he deserves time to turn this around.
5. What was his biggest mistake and what has been his best decision so far?
His biggest mistake was not settling that lawsuit against West Virginia. He got very little out of fighting it, except some embarrassing depositions involving him and his agent and bad publicity (some deserved, some not). It just wasn't worth it. He dug his heels in, and Bill Martin encouraged him to do so, instead of finding a way to end the ugly mess. I don't see how anybody can look back and say it was worth it for him.
As for his best decision, that's hard to say right now. Rich is sticking by his gut, though: recruiting who he wants, implementing his system, doing everything exactly as he wants to do it. I would say (and I think he'd agree, actually) that his best decision probably won't be clear until two or three years down the road. Maybe it's the decision to recruit somebody or a hire he has made that will pay off later.
6. How long do you think it will take for him to build a competitive program?
It was a competitive program when he showed up. It should have been more competitive this year, though obviously there are talent issues. I think it's reasonable to expect a winning season next year and contention for a Big Ten title in year three or four. I don't see how this team contends for the league championship next year with a freshman quarterback and so many losses on defense.
7. Has the Ohio State dominance of late reduced the luster of the Ohio State rivalry?
The rivalry has always seen stretches like this. Bo once went four years without beating Ohio State. It happens. I don't think the rivalry is in any danger of going away or losing importance. It has always been incredibly important in Columbus, and if anything, OSU's dominance has made it more important in Ann Arbor.
8. When was the last time Michigan was this big of an underdog going into The Game?
As far as I can tell, the answer is 1934. Michigan was 1-5 entering the game and had scored 15 points all season. Ohio State won 34-0. This shouldn't surprise anybody - it's rare to see Michigan this bad, Ohio State this good and the game in Columbus.
9. If you had to pick one early indicator of a possible Michigan upset, what would it be?
Um ... an extra week of eligibility for Tom Brady? I really don't know. Michigan's best chance to win a battle is with its defensive front. If that happens, and U-M forces Terrelle Pryor into some freshman mistakes and the Wolverines make a play or two on special teams ... stranger things have happened. But not many.
10. If they were to pull off the upset, where would it rank in terms of the rivalry?
I checked the history, and couldn't find one instance when a team as down as Michigan faced a team as good as Ohio State, especially on the road - and won. This would be the biggest upset in the history of the rivalry.
I have never been a big believer in sports "curses," but I can't help but notice a particular trend that has occurred in the last couple of years. Let me lay out the scenario first:
It was Novemeber 17th, 2006, about thirty hours prior to Michigan facing The Nameless Terror in arguably the biggest game in the rivalry's history: both teams undefeated, ranked #1 and #2. Michigan had defeated all odds by coming off an extremely disappointing 2005 season to get to this point, and while pressure was building on Lloyd Carr as he had only one win against The Demon of the Ancient World, there was still a feeling of confidence for the Maize & Blue faithful.
And it was at this time that our beloved leader passed.
And somewhere in a different dimension, all the Angry michigan-football-hating-gods had a wild party to celebrate. The party got out of hand, the police were called, and this manifested itself in the form of a giant black hole eating up an entire galaxy, trillions of extra-terrestrial lives were lost...
...and This happened:
yet another loss to DOTAW and Nameless Terror, another loss in the Rose Bowl. Then, in a chance for redemption, one of the most hyped Michigan teams in recent memory with a bonified Heisman candidate RB, a future first overall pick at LT, a 4th year starter at QB, and a couple of future NFL receivers, Michigan lost to arguably the lowest rated team they have ever faced.
Then Oregon finished off a four game losing streak for the first time in... how long?
Then BAM! Wisconsin and Nameless Terror again.
And my point is, Michigan is now 12-13 since Bo's passing, so I ask: when was the last time Michigan had this bad a record over a 25-game stretch? Maybe I'm crazy, but I just want to throw it out there.
Few sports fans would argue that we needed yet another book about
the "Ten Year War" - the intense rivalry between the University of
Michigan and Ohio State football teams and their iconic coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. The subject has been covered voluminously in books, magazines, newspapers, and videos (I have reviewed a few myself).
So I have to credit Michael Rosenberg for coming up with a new angle to approach this classic subject. His book, War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest,
uses the backdrop of the protest movement in the era of Vietnam and
Watergate to situate this sports rivalry within the culture and history
of the time.
This allows him to portray the players and coaches as human beings
with opinions and emotions beyond the football field while reminding
the reader that the university, and the surrounding community,
obviously had to deal with a lot more than just the success of the
But while this background is interesting - the different levels of
political agitation on the Ohio State versus Michigan campus for
example - what really makes the book shine is Rosenberg's portrait of
By placing Hayes in this historical context and by connecting his
work as a coach with his unique personality and background - his
inspirations, dreams and deep seated beliefs - Rosenberg captures Hayes
as a multidimensional person rather than simply as an icon or
Rosenberg highlights two figures, among others, who made an impact on Hayes life: General George S. Patton and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And at key moments in the story we see how these influences made Hayes
the man he was. Military history and tactics were never far from
Woody's mind and he regularly used the language of war to describe
football. This is interesting but not shocking or hard to understand.
But Rosenberg's use of Emerson quotes to flush out why Hayes might
have acted the way he did or had the attitude he did jump out at the
reader. It is hard to believe that a Transcendentalist poet/essayist
would best capture the mindset of the famous coach but Rosenberg makes
a strong case that this is one of the most effective windows into
understanding Hayes' life.
Rosenberg also helps show how Hayes was a traditionalist in an age
of upheaval and conflict. He frequently visited the troops in Vietnam
and supported the war until the bitter end. He became friends with
Richard Nixon and was upset when the president resigned; l seeing that
act as cowardice in the face of your enemies.
Of course Hayes is most known for his temper on and off the football
field. Rosenberg discusses the theatrical nature of his temper when
trying to reach his team - and how this seemed to decrease in
usefulness over time. He also makes note of the role diabetes may have
played in his temper; including the actions that led to his being fired.
Hayes, however, always saw himself as a teacher. He was deeply read
in history (particularly military history) and was engaged with
politics and current events. Even in the era of student protests and
anti-war demonstrations he continued to reach out to young people and
he was always ready to decry what he saw as an assault on the
traditional values that made America great. Hayes may have been
increasingly at odds with the spirit of his age but he never stopped
wrestling with it and attempting to make an impact. His competitive
drive and energy drove him to never quit trying.
Hayes was clearly an incredibly unique individual who burst onto the
college football scene and left an indelible imprint. But he was also
a product of his time and time eventually passed him by; or caught up
with him depending on your perspective. There seem to be some
parallels with his friend Richard Nixon in this. Both men built
impressive careers before being brought down by poor judgment. And
both men attempted to live out the remainder of their lives so as to
not be defined by those infamous acts; with mixed success.
Rosenberg covers the other side of the field as well, but Bo
Schembechler doesn't stand out quite like Hayes. The iconic Bo really
develops after this "Ten Year War" period. Sure, the personality is
there but it doesn't quite blossom until after Hayes recedes. But this
history is a neccesary foundation for understanding the events that
were to come.
The other character who stands out in the book is Michigan athletic
director Dan Canham. Canham was a critical figure in the development
of modern college sports and in many ways made Michigan football the
marketing giant that it is. It seems off that this influential figure
is not better known outside of sports historians.
War As They Knew It is much more than a sports book. Sure,
it is a fascinating story about one of college football's greatest
rivalries and the coaches who put it on the map. But it is also a
valuable look into the time period through the lens of college
athletics. You don't have to be a fan of Michigan or Ohio state
football to enjoy the story because the characters and events involved
Of course, if you are a fan of either program and their legendary
coaches this is a must read. And really anyone interested in the
history and development of college football would do well to check it
out. You will come away with a better understanding of how the schools
became the dominant programs in the conference and even the nation at
times. And you will understand better the men behind these programs as
they faced each other in intense competition on the field and dealt
with the tumultuous times outside the stadium and practice field