Michigan Quarterback goes crazy: 1910

Michigan Quarterback goes crazy: 1910

Submitted by Alaska Hokie on April 2nd, 2010 at 1:14 AM
As part of my job, I explore the depths of newspaper archives on microfilm. The following interesting tidbit was published on the top of the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on March 19, 1910, and I've tried to keep the formatting and headlines as they were displayed:

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.