Michigan football history
My first visit to Michigan Stadium was against Michigan State in 1988 with my grandfather. I was ten years old. It was one of the best experiences of my young life. I marveled at the 106,000 fans, the band marching in perfect step across the field as I pumped my fist to “The Victors”, at cheerleaders doing backflips off the wall, at Leroy Hoard, Greg McMurtry, and Mark Messner.
I saw it all, from the 50 yard line, one row above the tunnel.
I ran down to the rail as the team took the field, holding my hand out for whatever high-fives I could get. I was a budding offensive lineman at the time, so getting up close to the massive man-mountain that was Greg Skrepenak was a thrill.
Earlier that day, that ten year old kid - obsessed with all Wolverine sports - got to eat a pre-game lunch on the floor of Crisler Arena. I met Forrest Evashevski. I shook hands with Tom Harmon!
I did all of this at the hip of my grandfather, who was showing off his grandson to his old buddies as much as he was showing me U of M. He only left my side for a short while at halftime of that game, when he walked to the middle of the field with his teammates.
This was the 50th reunion of the 1938-1940 University of Michigan football teams, and my grandfather got a standing ovation from 106,000 people.
It’s been so much fun, this week, to see the 1939 University of Chicago game mentioned over and over. Everyone loves an opportunity to share the pride they have in their loved ones, and the man who introduced me to Michigan Football started at guard that day in Chicago. He was part of the 85 points scored the last time a Wolverine team dominated an opponent as thoroughly as this year’s team did Rutgers.
This is from the 1938 team picture. My grandfather, Fred Olds (#56), is on the right, the other starting guard from the Chicago game, Milo Sukup, is in the top left, and Tom Harmon is in the bottom left.
After graduating Michigan, my grandfather went on to serve in the Pacific Theater during WWII. He married a U of M alumna. They had three children, but lost one at a very young age. He worked as an engineer. He traveled the world speaking to scientists and policy makers as an expert on Nuclear Power. He became editor of Power Engineering Magazine. He was part of a group that founded the city of Prospect Heights, IL. He was brilliant. He was quick to smile and make others smile in turn.
Years later, he watched his son enroll at Michigan, get married, and then go off to Vietnam –to fight another war across the Pacific. That son gave him a grandson, one of 4 grandchildren. In 1988 he took that grandson to meet the men who had been so large a part of his story 50 years prior.
I don’t know all of their stories, or even most. We all know about “Harmon of Michigan.” I know that at least 3 other members of that team are also in the College Football Hall of Fame. I know that Evashevski coached Iowa to a National Championship. David Nelson invented the winged-T formation and brought the winged helmets to the University of Delaware.
I also know that most of these men went straight from the gridiron to the war. Most then went on to have families of their own. There were other children at that reunion: likely grandkids who forged their fandom that day, and will someday pass it on.
12 years after my first game, my grandfather’s friends met up again. They expanded the reunion to include teams from 1938-1942, but still there were fewer of them that time around. I came across this picture from that day, which inspired me to write this (now incredibly long) post. My grandfather is kneeling in the front, viewer’s right.
The perfect frame for all of this eludes me, but the team we’re seeing now looks more and more like the teams he introduced me to. My fandom started at his house, watching games in which Jim Harbaugh played quarterback. Now Harbaugh’s back, and so is the winning. It’s a team and a coach in the image of Harbaugh’s hero, Bo Schembechler. Bo passed just before the last epic showdown between Michigan and Ohio State, and now his protégé is poised to lead us into the next.
There’s something here about the passage of time, about emulating our heroes, about loss and reclamation and salvation. Maybe it’s just being reminded more clearly of the things and people that we loved and that brought us so much happiness.
I don’t know if that group met again in 2010, because my grandfather had since passed. 77 years after the game against Chicago, I’m sure most members of that team have joined him. One of the great things about College Football – and Michigan Football specifically – though, is the celebration of history. Each historic event recalls the achievements of the past… tying these events together across generations of fans.
As we celebrate 78-0, I thank everyone who has helped to remember 85-0. I especially remember one of the great men who made it happen. I’d love to hear from anyone else connected to that team.
Michigan has combined for 114 total points in its first two games of the 2016 season -- the fourth most in program history. Overall, it is the 11th time the Wolverines have surpassed 100-or-more points in the first two games of the season.
1. 1892 (142)
2. 1902 (136)
3. 1914 (127)
4. 2016 (114)
5. 1921 (109)
6. 1905 (109)
7. 1903 (107)
8. 1901 (107)
9. 1947 (104)
10. 1925 (102)
11. 2013 (100)
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.