Michigan football history
I do not live in Michigan anymore so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to catch a local screening of Black and Blue. However, the producers of the film, Stunt3 Multimedia, already have the documentary available on DVD, and I took advantage of a special offer through MVictors.com to buy the DVD with free shipping. I watched the film today and was enthralled.
For those of you who do not know, Black and Blue is the story of the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game, where Michigan and Georgia Tech forced black Michigan player Willis Ward to sit out due to racial prejudice, and the stand that his teammate and future Speaker of the House and US President Gerald R. Ford took in support of his friend.
Black and Blue is done in Ken Burns style, with narration and music over slowly-panning still photographs, a few film clips, and interviews with experts, including Greg Dooley of MVictors, John U. Bacon, Civil Rights historian Tyran Steward, Richard Norton Smith, a prominent biographer of US Presidents who has worked at several presidential libraries and got to know Ford on a personal level, one of Ward’s grandsons Samuel Thomas, and For’d son Steve Ford. The film also includes audio and video of interviews with Willis Ward done in the 1970s. The music is all recordings of the Men’s Glee Club singing traditional Michigan songs, and Black and Blue includes many great photos of the Michigan campus of the day.
If Three and Out paints an unflattering portrait of Lloyd Carr, Black and Blue does the same for Fielding Yost, who is set up as the primary antagonist--and for good reason. Bacon talks about Yost’s racial attitudes, both known and assumed, and relates a story where Yost and football coach Harry Kipke had an intense argument over Kipke’s desire to recruit Willis Ward out of Detroit Northwestern High School. Bacon says account vary, but some say that the two men actually came to blows.
One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is that it shows some of the correspondence from Georgia Tech to Michigan, begging Yost to sit Ward out (in accordance to the practices of the time, Georgia Tech would sit out a player of “equal ability”) or cancel the game before either school received bad press over the incident. Yost made his decision over the summer, but his attempts to keep the story quiet backfired and blew up into a national story.
Black and Blue then covers the controversy, including several letters and telegrams sent to Yost and Kipke by alumni who objected to Michigan bowing to southern racism. It even includes the transcript of a meeting of the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics where the members tried to manage the scandal. Yost even hired Pinkerton Detectives to provide security to the Athletics administrators and to spy on the student groups that supported Willis Ward.
As the protests raged, doubt began to creep in that the game would be played. Even so, Gerald Ford told Harry Kipke and his father that he was quitting the team. He only decided to play when Willis Ward asked him to play the game. Though the whole team was bitter about Ward’s benching, at the 11th hour it was announced that the game would go on. In a final indignity, Yost banned Ward from the entire stadium, not just the sideline. He had to listen to the game on the radio at his frat house.
As the game started, a Georgia Tech sophomore, Charlie Prescott, started mouthing off an hurling racial remarks at the Michigan team. According to Ward, Prescott called Ford a “nigger-lover.” Ford, who was slow to anger his whole life, lost his temper. The next play, Ford and one of the guards hit Prescott so hard that they knocked him out of the game. They told Ward on Monday that they dedicated that block to him (Ward gave a big smile in the interview at the end of that story). In an excellent bit of film editing, the film ends this emotional moment with the Glee Club singing “The Victors” while panning a photo of Ford in his pre-snap position.
Unfortunately, Ford said later that the Georgia Tech game ruined the 1934 Michigan team, despite the ugly 9-2 victory against the Yellow Jackets (Michigan scored a punt return touchdown, and the lack of offense and two safeties, combined with terrible weather and the Ward scandal made for a really terrible day). Interestingly, as Michigan lost its last five games to end the year 1-7, they only scored 12 points. All 12 were scored by Willis Ward.
Black and Blue asserts that not only did the incident wreck the Michigan football program until the arrival of Fritz Crisler in 1938, it also had an obviously negative impact on Willis Ward to the point that he lost his love of athletics. Ward was the star of the football team but was a much better track athlete. He was one of the only athletes to ever beat Ohio State’s Jesse Owens on the track, and Ward was widely considered to be a favorite to win gold medals for the US Olympic team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But the Georgia Tech game scarred him so badly that he did not want to suffer similar humiliation at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, so he refused to join the US Olympic team.
Black and Blue also covers the friendship between Ford and Ward after graduation, when Ford helped Ward campaign for office and encouraged his appointment to a judgeship. Their friendship also informed Ford’s support of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and his public support for the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies that may have played a role in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote in favor of its legality. Also to the film’s credit, it covers Yost’s softened racial stand after the Georgia Tech game when he forced the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago (where the Big Ten was founded and where all Big Ten teams stayed when they played Northwestern or Chicago) to accept Ward as their second-ever black customer.
In the end, Black and Blue is a wonderful and interesting story about the friendship of two men, one white from Grand Rapids and one black from Detroit, who were involved in an ugly incident of racial prejudice, and how Ford used the incident to champion Civil Rights for African-Americans for the rest of his life. I knew about the Willis Ward incident before I saw Black and Blue, but I learned quite a lot. I would like to have seen some more coverage of Harry Kipke’s role and the role of University administrators in the incident, and they discuss an unpublished Michigan Daily editorial covering the incident by Arthur Miller, but do not show it (I am not sure it exists, but if it does it would have been really interesting to see). If you have the time, I highly recommend going to see it, it is very well done and it is an important but not widely-known part of Michigan football history and ultimately American history.
Some friends and I were curious about the last time the Lions and Michigan had gone this far into their respective seasons undefeated. The Lions haven't gone 4-0 since 1980. I emailed Greg Dooley (MVictors) this morning and asked what he thought. His response was that he doesn't think it's ever happened, and the closest he could think of was in 1970 when the Lions went 3-0 and Michigan was 9-0.
Just thought this was an interesting bit of information to share. Here's to a couple excellent seasons for both teams, and Go Blue!
With the way the Western game finished and the discussion that has commenced, I figured I would share this with the Mgocommunity:
I was recently watching the HBO documentary on the UM-OSU rivalry and heard an interesting piece of information that I had (somehow) missed when I had watched it previously. When I first heard it, I had just moved to Ohio and thought to myself "Hey, this is a nice little piece of history to bring up to locals talking smack."
This history happens to be the result of the UM-OSU game in 1902, played in Ann Arbor, in which the Wolverines defeated the Buckeyes by a whopping score of 86-0. However, the most interesting part of this game was how it ended. A quick Googling of the game brought up "The Ohio State Football Encyclopedia," stating the following about the game:
Ohio State was thoroughly humiliated at Michigan, 86-0, in the fifth game on October 25 . The score could have been far worse had the officials not stopped the contest midway through the second half "simply because the game was getting out of hand."
Interestingly enough, this game is also the highest combined score in any UM-OSU game as well, without the Buckeyes scoring a single point.
Now, I am unsure as to if this was officially the first ever home game to be called off early, but it is defintely one to remember.
Link to GoogleBook (information on page 30): http://books.google.com/books?id=-tYKqYHibB0C&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=ohio+s...
I ask because literally 10 of the 11 Notre Dame defenders were blocked - everyone but the backside DE. I looked back at Brown's 90 yarder against Eastern from last year and, besides being against Eastern, a lot of Eagles took themselves out of the play. Against Notre Dame, Denard found a hole before it existed, and then had GREAT downfield blocking, including the double pancake by Omameh.
Any lessons in Michigan football history are encouraged.
I just saw that Michigan is likely to score the 30,000th point in its history during the UConn opener. According to the comments section from the "Rodriguez waters the turf" article linked on MGoLicious, we stand at 29,998. With any luck, we'll start the game with a safety and get to 30,000 evenly.
I did a quick Google search and could not independently verify the total points number, and with over a thousand games played, it is probably not exactly accurate, but I'm gonna go with it anyway.
QUARTER BACK LOSES HIS MIND
Famous Football Player on the Wolverine Team is Located at Walla Walla Working as Laborer.
HIS MIND IS TOTAL BLANK
Disappeared Months Ago From His Home and All Trace of Him Has Up to the Present Been Lost.WALLA WALLA, March 19.—James Miller, the famous quarterback of the Michigan team last year, who has been missing from his home for several months, was located in this city yesterday working as a laborer. His mind is a total blank and he is quite unable to recognize his friends. He was elected to the captaincy of the Wolverine team for next season.
I'm not WolverineHistorian, but the story gets even more interesting than this. Miller started for the 1909 team in all seven games. He played six at right end, and one at quarterback. The team went 6-1 under Fielding Yost, losing only to Notre Dame while beating Case, Ohio State, Penn, Syracuse, Minnesota, and Marquette. After the season, Miller was voted by his fellow players to be the captain of the 1910 team.
Things didn't work out that way. In December 1909, grades were released. Miller didn't have any. It wasn't that he failed or missed a few classes — he hadn't enrolled in any. He was supposed to be enrolled in a senior civil engineering class, but never showed up. Even in the days when Purdue got its nickname for reportedly recruiting boiler makers to play for its football team, folks frowned on out-and-out manipulation of the system.
There might be more to the story than simple cheating. The Michigan Alumnus reported that Miller simply didn't pay his tuition after registering for classes. Because he hadn't paid, he wasn't able to take classes. The ruse wasn't discovered until late November, by which time football season was over. Miller didn't respond to the dean's office until early December, repeatedly ignoring or missing calls of inquiry. On December 13, 1909, he finally showed up to a meeting but offered no explanation. His father had paid the outstanding debt on December 8, but by then it was too late.
Miller's classmates in the Student Council took a poll on what his punishment should be: 13 voted to expel him, 9 voted for suspension, and other options received fewer votes. The university faculty, taking the vote into account, duly expelled him from Michigan after the new year. He was denied his varsity sweater and cap, prohibited from becoming captain the following season, and Michigan formally apologized to the schools it defeated during the season Miller played. It didn't, however, give up the wins.
Needless to say, Miller was in shock. He had gone home to Detroit for the semester break, and his father heard from friends that he was wandering around in a daze, struck by his abrupt plunge from the height of Michigan sporting society to being an utter outcast. Shortly after he received the news of his expulsion, he disappeared.
His subsequent discovery in Washington (other accounts have him discovered in Canada first), brought a storm of attention. Whether he was faking his "illness" as a convenient way to explain away his actions, or whether it was an actual mental defect caused by the shock of his expulsion, I haven't been able to find out. I also unfortunately haven't been able to find out what happened to him after the fact. I did uncover a death notice for what might be his son, and if Henry Leonard Miller (born 1914) indeed was James Miller's son, his work for the University of Michigan shows the incident didn't create a family of Michigan State fans.