The Bentley Historical Library recently began to provide individuals with limited access to several new additions to its collection of football lore. The very first documents examined substantiated the century-old rumors about Ole' Blue. Now is the time to unite and resurrect his spirit. [Notes and citations have been omitted to improve readability.]
In the summer of 1901, Fielding H. Yost walked onto Depot Street, took his first deep breath of Ann Arbor air, grasped the handle of his valise a little tighter, and ran up the hill to coach football, build an athletic campus, and remain forever. On the south side of the street a rather nondescript dog of undeterminable heritage and insignificant parents, new to town but already known as Ole' Blue to the regulars at the depot, roused himself from the shade of a small elm tree and trotted along behind Yost. Unaware that he was leading a small parade, Yost quickly reached Ola Svenson's boarding house where he had previously engaged rooms to serve him until he could make permanent living arrangements.
Ole' Blue continued on, cutting through backyards and under a fence to State Street and then down the hill to Ferry Field where he began to search for a bed. Close to the railroad tracks, near where Revelli Hall is now, he found an old, small outbuilding that was too good to demolish, but too ramshackle to use. Inside were two tackling dummies unused for several years with their stuffing hemorrhaging over the floor and mouse droppings in the corners. Ole' Blue settled in.
Yost hurried up and put the final polish on his new "Spread Wedge" offense, rounded up his players, and began football practice. Ole' Blue never missed a minute. The players said that he was the best manager a team ever had. He ran all the wind sprints, retrieved errant drop kicks, and faithfully returned practice punts. He provided a comforting presence to injured players. His animal instincts were unerring in his applications of various combinations of tough love and sympathy to those whose spirits were in need of bolstering. He could remove a hangdog look from a quarterback's face in an instant through the simple demonstration of his love for the game of football. The players considered him one of them.
The 1901 Michigan team was undefeated, outscoring its opponents 550-0, the beginning of a remarkable 55-1-1 record for the first five years of the new century. Yost was the toast of the town. Even the Detroit newspapers praised him. The players, however, began to feel that their achievements outran their abilities. They sensed that extraordinary help was coming from someplace and that Ole' Blue was the source. They reached the conclusion that Ole' Blue possessed special powers, and he was using them to help the Michigan football team, a conclusion they kept among themselves.
Ole' Blue soldiered on, living on half-eaten hot dogs and opened cans of condiments, until November of 1914. Finally, cataracts causing every day to look cloudy, arthritis making every step painful, and the ache of a three loss season undiminished in his heart, Ole' Blue quietly passed away in his tackling dummy bed during an early season snow. Jim Raynsford, the team captain, discovered his chilled body the next day. He gathered as many of the players as he could find and, in the early dark of late November, they wrapped Ole' Blue in a maize and blue "M" blanket and quietly buried him in the east end of Ferry Field. John McNamara, a reserve quarterback from St. Ignace and a fine tenor, sang "Auld Lang Syne."
Early the next morning, Billy Van Orden, a young newspaper boy, was cutting the corner of Division and Hoover when he saw a shack on the south side of Hoover suddenly burst into flames. "I was just walking across Wines Field. There was nothing, then poof, the whole shebang was burning," Van Orden said. The Detroit Times was delivered a little late that morning. The Ann Arbor Fire Department didn't even uncoil the hoses, for there was nothing but embers left by the time it arrived. The two old tackling dummies, however, smoldered for several days, creating a pall of smoke over Ferry Field.
Michigan was 4-3-1 the next season. Perhaps the team spent more time looking at a slightly uneven patch of grass near the east end zone than they did listening to Coach Yost. However, as time passed, the players began to understand it was the spirit of Ole' Blue that had helped them, not the dog himself, and the ship righted itself. In 1916 they were 7-2.
In 1919 a small group of former football players, led by Willie Heston and Adolph Schultz, paid to have a monument erected in the east end of the field near the patch of slightly uneven sod. Ole' Blue's name was not publicly connected with the project for understandable reasons. The slightly modified monument, now embellished with several veiling brass plaques, remains to this day. The Athletic Department still plants more flowers around it than anywhere else.
Now is the time for Michigan fans to do their part to help the football team. This winter before spring practice begins, Ole' Blue's spirit must be resurrected and refocused along the stadium-Schembechler Hall axis. There is no need to disturb the present monument or the corporal remains. Only the spirit needs an additional place to center itself. A bronze statue, one that ages to a fine patina but shines where rubbed, set upon a concrete base outside the tunnel entrance will serve the purpose well.
The cost will be minimal. The base can be made with concrete "spillage" from the stadium construction. The statue will cost real money, but a bronze casting of a "non-descript dog of undeterminable heritage" will not be prohibitively expensive. If it looks like a dog big enough to carry a football, it will represent Ole' Blue. An appeal to letter winners and blog posters should easily provide the necessary funds.
The Athletic Department cannot be expected to initially embrace this project. A statue of a dog outside the tunnel entance, no matter how vital, is going to require a little snake oil to gain approval. The place to attack is, as always, the weakest link, the Bureau of Game Day Experience, the people who bring us Key Plays on the scoreboards and Rawk Music on the speakers.
Now, in our team's time of immeidate need, it not the time to promote critical thinking or require a precise vocabulary. The pitch should be: this is a statue of a dog that inspired Fielding Yost's "Point-A-Minute" teams of a century ago; it is much like the honorary captains who brought history and tradition to this year's games; this statue will fit into the stadium area just like the "American Eagle" at the southwest entrance does; it will enhance the game day experience of all patrons, especially the older, wealthier ones. Period. There is no need to confuse anyone with talk about a statue with juju.
Renderings will need to be made showing three-year-olds in their fathers' arms, petting the puppy, seven-year-olds sitting on the back of the statue with big smiles on their faces, young lovers with arms entwined having their pictures taken while leaning against the statue, and old blue hairs sitting on the base to gather their energy before climbing the steps.
Additionally, it can be proposed that real dogs, as living symbols of Ole' Blue, become part of the team's Victors Walk from the busses to the stadium. For one game, a dog can come from the animal shelter ready to be adopted; for another, a winner from the Ann Arbor Kennel Club can show its stuff; and another from an elementary school essay contest on "Why my dog should . . . ." Naturally, Regents, Presidents, Athletics Directors, and Football Coaches would always be welcome with their dogs.
A project endorsed by PETA, the SPCA, the AKC, and Ann Arbor Schools that also demonstrates diversity among dogs, appeals to all ages, sucks up to administrators, and costs the Athletic Department nothing while enhancing the Game Day Experience for all should be a slam dunk.
Finally, it is fair to ask if this will really do any good. It will. As evidence, consider football players who also lettered in track. Ron Kramer, Butch Woolfolk, and Braylon Edwards are random examples from different eras of what can happen when football players spend time on Ferry Field and are heavily exposed to the spirit of Ole' Blue. No one can prove that their springtime proximity to the final resting spot of Ole' Blue enhanced their football prowess, but after a team goes 3-9, no straw should be left ungrasped.