Richard Nixon Points at Things
Since the stroll through 1986 came off pretty well, and since it’s the off-season, and since Seth asked for it, we step into the Quantum Leap accelerator, once again, and journey back into the glorious past to observe Michigan athletics as part of overall history. We emerge in a time that will be unfamiliar to most of us, including yours truly as this is the year of my birth; a time without PCs, and cell phones, and ESPN, and internets, and blogs. Journey back to the bizarre and colorful times that were….1971!
We are in the midst of Richard Nixon’s first term as president, where he shows a penchant for pointing at things. Vietnam is still going on and still unpopular. It gets even more unpopular when the New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers, and all the dirty secrets of the war that past administrations have kept from the public are brought to light. On the international scene, the United Nations formally recognizes the Peoples Republic of China and also declares the first Earth Day, Idi Amin leads a coup and seizes control in Uganda, and IRA-led rioting in Northern Ireland grows worse against British rule.
Human exploration of the Moon continues with the Apollo 14 and 15 missions, with Apollo 15 featuring a crew of Michigan alumni (Space, Bitches….Space) and a sweet ride in the Lunar Rover. The Soviet Union also achieves a technological milestone with the launch of Salyat 1, the world’s first orbiting space station. Other milestones in technology include the release of the Intel 4004, the first commercial microprocessor. Texas Instruments introduces the first pocket calculator sounding the death knell of the slide rule. And, the first e-mails and chat rooms appear on the ARPAnet, the precursor of the modern Internet.
1971 is the year that many sporting legacies are born. Joe Frazier defeats Muhammad Ali in the “Fight of the Century” to set off one of the great boxing rivalries in history. The great Roberto Clemente leads the Pirates to the World Series title. In the NBA, future legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the Milwaukee Bucks to their only world title. In other areas of sport, legacies are being solidified. UCLA continues its era of dominance under John Wooden, defeating Villanova to earn their 7thtitle in 8 years. The Montreal Canadiens win the 17thof what will be 24 Stanley Cups. In the world of golf, Jack Nicklaus wins the PGA, rounding out the first half of his record 18 major championships.
In our spare time we watched television on just three stations. We were offered edgy broadcasting like “All In The Family” and “The Odd Couple” and tamer fare like “The Partridge Family”. On the big screen we were following the exploits of Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection”, Alex and his droogs in “A Clockwork Orange”, and we meet Dirty Harry for the first time. On the music front, Led Zepplin IV is released, the Allman Brothers record At Fillmore East, Queen is formed, and Jim Morrison is found dead in Paris.
The music of Michigan was different during this time too. The Michigan Marching Band is an all-men arrangement under the direction of the legendary William T. Revelli and are introduced with the less politically correct “Men, take the field!” during football pre-games. Women would not be seen amongst their ranks for another year. Women are not seen amongst the ranks of any of Michigan’s varsity sports in 1971, as Title XI is still a year away from passage into law.
Bo Schembechler is in his 3rdseason as head coach of the Wolverines and fields one of his greatest teams and points at things while doing so. Lead by All-Americans Reggie McKenzie, Billy Taylor, Thom Darden, and Mike Taylor, Michigan went 11-0 during the regular season and won Bo’s 2ndBig 10 championship. Billy Taylor would finish his career as Michigan’s all-time rushing leader with 3,072 yards, a record that would stand for 6 years until broken by Rob Lytle. Mike Taylor would go on to play 2 seasons for the New York Jets. Reggie McKenzie would go on to a 13 year NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, blocking for the likes of OJ Simpson. Thom Darden would be a 3 time All-Pro in his 10 seasons with the Cleveland Browns and is still the career-leader in interceptions for the franchise.
The season was highlighted by a thrilling 10-7 victory over Ohio in Ann Arbor. The game’s memorable moment came late in the game when Darden came up with a win-preserving interception that Woody Hayes insisted to the referees should have been called pass interference. Hayes proceeded on a minutes-long tirade, ripping up yard markers, drawing 2 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and making an embarrassing spectacle that aired on news programs nationally…quite an accomplishment in the days before 24 hour media coverage.
Michigan’s season would end with another disappointing showing in Pasadena with a 13-12 loss to the Stanford Indians (Stanford would not become the “Cardinals” until 1972 and not the “Cardinal” until 1981). Michigan came into the game ranked 3rdin the country and a 10.5 point favorite against the 8-3 Indians, but Stanford managed to edge out the Wolverines with a 31 yard field goal with 16 seconds to play. The 1971 Michigan team would finish ranked 6thin the AP and 4thin the UPI and is commonly regarded as the team that came closest to earning Schembechler a National Championship, although it is debatable that even a 12-0 Michigan team would’ve passed up eventual champion Nebraska.
Well, that concludes our nostalgic step through 1971. A time where clothes were bold and loud, phones were rotary dialed, and Michigan still didn’t sell out every home football game. It’s hard to imagine a time without video games, personal computers, and 24 hour news coverage, but those times existed. Here’s hoping that Michigan’s upcoming season sees Michigan back in the Rose Bowl undefeated against Stanford. I got a feeling Hoke would serve up epic payback topped off with a pointed finger.