I’ve mentioned before that I attended the 1969 Michigan victory over OSU. Being in the stands that day, getting to rush the field and take down the goal posts, is my personal Wolverine football landmark. I know. Who cares? You are absolutely right. However, in the stands for that game, in the stands for the first time ever, was a high school senior who did matter. He was sitting next to his sister. He’s five foot, nine inches—maybe—and 170 pounds. Michigan boy. Decided at that very game he wanted to be a Michigan Wolverine. Offensive lineman. Walk on.
“….don’t let anyone talk you out of it.”
Donnie Warner, who didn’t even know how to pronounce Bo’s last name, had just sprung a trap on Old Blood & Guts. Quoted a speech Bo gave at his high school about never giving up. Told him about attending “The Game” last fall. “He had me, and he knew it.” Bo was in full retreat.
Donnie sacrificed for the team and switched from offensive guard to defensive tackle. He was not afraid of Reggie McKenzie and Tom Coyle. Bo played on the demo team that year and watched him get knocked around like a “volleyball”. Donnie endeavored to persevere.
By his junior year Donnie was quickly becoming quite a pest for Bo’s offense and was not shy about celebrating his victories on the field. Bo fretted over his offensive line. “For cryin’ out loud, if we can’t stop little Donnie Warner from breaking up our plays, how in the hell are we going to stop Purdue?”
By his senior year Donnie was on full scholarship and starting. Try as he might, Bo simply couldn’t find anyone to beat him out. Donnie started calling him “Bo” and advised him how to beat OSU that year—and was right. The 1973 team is the one that got ganked, so Donnie Warner smelled no Roses in his final year at Michigan, which is a shame. Bo described him as the greatest player he ever coached. Wow. Just think of all the names on THAT list and Donnie Warner is on TOP!
And just think, it all started with the last game of the season in 1969 versus OSU. Just sayin’. There’s magic in that game. And, uh, thank you Donnie Warner’s sister.
If you haven’t already read “Bo’s Lasting Lessons”, by John U. Bacon (pg. 142-150), do so now. That is where this entire story comes from. Turn off your computer, run to the book store, don’t walk, and get this book. Why are you still sitting there! Go!
Have you ever heard of Donnie Warner? I hadn't until reading Bo's last book "Bo's Lasting Lessons" (http://www.amazon.com/Bos-Lasting-Lessons-Fundamentals-Leadership/dp/044...). Which, by the by, is a great book and I highly recommend it to any Michigan fan. Basically it's all about Bo's philosophy on leadership, with many great stories to boot.
The story that has most intrigued me is that of little Donnie Warner. He came to Bo in the summer before his freshmen year at Michigan, weighing slightly more than our own Roy Roundtree, at a tiny 170 lbs. Now, sure you can play at that weight at one of the skill positions, you certainly could back in the '70's, but this kid wanted to be an Offensive Guard! Bo was blown away, seeing as how both of his Guards at the time went 250 and 255. So then the kid says, fine, I'll try out as a "Middle Guard" which I've never heard of but I guess means Defensive Tackle.
Bo gave him a shot. Much to Bo's surprise, Donnie survived his first year. And the next year, and the next. Coming to the beginning of his Senior Year Donnie was #1 on the depth chart! Bo couldn't believe it. He begged his assistants to find someone, anyone who was bigger and faster than Donnie. But Donnie proved his worth and kept that starting job!
This was 1973, one of Bo's best teams. Their defense was dominant, and with little Donnie on the line! Michigan went through its first 10 games undefeated, largely because of that outstanding defense only giving up 58 points, just under 6 a game. They headed for a crash course with Woody's #1 ranked Bucknuts. Michigan sat at #4. Think 2006, except way more option plays, and instead of planet sized Alan Branch anchoring the middle of the Defensive Line you have little Donnie Warner.
Before that OSU game in 1973, Donnie told Bo that OSU's center (All-American Steve Myers) was not going to be able to block him, and he was right! Woody was forced to double team Donnie, allowing Michigan's linebackers to tee off on Archie Griffin. OSU was shut out in the second half, but unfortunately Michigan couldn't break a 10-10 tie. You know the rest, the athletic directors in the Big Ten voted those hated Bucknuts to the Rose Bowl. Bo was pissed, as he was wont to be.
So how did Donnie become so great? Here's Bo:
"He'd watch the offensive huddle, notice who the quarterback was talking to, and try to listen in on the plays. Then he would get down in his crouch, and start looking around to see which way their backs were leaning, even if it was just a little bit left or right, the same way a pitcher tries to figure out if the runner on first is going to try to steal second by watching his feet. Finally, you'd see him read their splits-the gaps between the offensive guards-and watch how their center lined up over the ball. And solely on that basis, he'd know what they were going to do before they did it!"
That's quite a feat. A walk on rises to the starting spot, despite his lack of physical skills and goes on to be part of a dominant defense. Just the kind of thing Bo would have loved.
I'm a little bummed that I haven't heard of Donnie until this book. With so much media hype surrounding Rudy, why can't little Donnie get some love? I mean, it's pretty obvious to me that his story is much more inspiring than stupid Rudy and his one play. Whoopdee freakin doo. Let's give it up for Donnie!
Update! Ahhhh Google......you are the best. Just a little Googlestalking turned up an article in the Detroit News that had a picture of Donnie in his playing days. I guess he wore #54. Wow, the Detroit News sure got to this faster than I did! It's from November of last year, and wonder of wonder's, they pulled it from Bo's book: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071115/SPORTS0201/71...