eBay Watch: Michigan Football Turns 100

Submitted by MVictors on February 8th, 2009 at 8:19 PM

An mgoguest post by Greg Dooley of MVictors.com.

For those who haven't read an eBay Watch post, it started in late 2006 when I wrote about the auction of a 1901 season pass.   The idea is to take a piece of memorabilia and then delve into the season or player to which it's tied.   For this special mgo-edition, I'll look at a recent auction featuring two items from an event held thirty years ago celebrating Michigan football's first century.

Chairman Schembechler
On September 8, 1979 folks gathered inside Crisler Arena to hear speeches from Michigan legends and see the unveiling of special display cases, designed by local artists, featuring memorabilia spanning the 100 year history of the football program.  The eBay auction included a ticket and the program from this ceremony.

The cornerstone of the centennial celebration was the memorabilia exhibit and to ensure it was done right, a Schembechler was asked to run the show.   Bo was plenty busy with his team so his wife, Millie, took the reins as chairman of the Display Committee.

I stopped by the Bentley Library to view the archives preserved from the event.  Bo's better half scoured the university and wrote to fans, alumni and former players to collect unique Michigan football artifacts from over the years.   Over 500 players who lettered prior to 1950 were contacted for help, and Millie visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame for guidance.   In the end, the exhibition included 18 display cases and 160 slides covering the first century.   According to the Michigan Daily, the collection was open to the public before and after each home game of the 1979 season.

The Ann Arbor club’s debut
Another objective of the event organizers was to clarify what happened a century prior when a Michigan football team took the field for the first time.   Thanks again to the Bentley Library we have some records on the 1879 team, including a team photo that reveals some righteous mustaches which almost draw attention away from the hats:

It was clear that the first game was played against Racine College, but there was some question as to when it was actually held.   There was talk of having the teams meet in 1878 but ultimately the game was rescheduled for the following spring.

Data on the May 30, 1879 match, held at White Stockings Park in Chicago, is limited.   A review of the Bentley records revealed an article (reproduced from microfilm) originally published in the Racine Advocate on June 7, 1879 that described the 1-0 Michigan victory.   From the recap titled "RUGBY FOOT BALL - RACINE COLLEGE VS MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY":

Our Club [Racine] won the first "kick-off" and Mr. Parker sent the leather covered oval high in air and far over the field.  There was a burst of applause from the grand stand which stilled as Campbell of the Michigan caught the ball, and at high speed rushed with it toward Racine's goal.  From this time on our boys had the worst of it...

Through the first portion of play Racine had one gent with a "nose bleed" and another with a sprained ankle.   Despite Michigan's dominance the game was scoreless.   After a 15 minute break they resumed until the Victors prevailed:

In the second struggle the goals were reversed, and the same tactics were employed as before, the Ann Arbor Club on the offensive and our boys simply endeavored to defend their goal.  Mr. Chase made an excellent catch from a Racine kick, placed the ball directly in front of the Purple's goal and Mr. D Tarr kicked the oval ball high and clean over our goal just as time was called.   This ended the game in favor of Michigan...

No Offense, Fritz
Fast forward 130 years to last week's eBay auction.   One of the items up for sale was a ticket to the centennial event which featured a couple major blunders, including one that must have caused a few attendees to grimace:

Yes, this happened.  I don't know who chaired the Ticket Committee but calling the venue Chrysler Arena at the event celebrating the history of the football program is a major foul.   It'd be one thing if this were a ducat for the annual Dance for Mother Earth Pow Wow, but come on.   The topper?   Fritz Crisler himself was an honored guest.

On top of the Chrysler misstep, you might have noticed that the ticket calls this the bicentennial banquet.   The 200th celebration will be held seventy years from now at Rodriguez Pavilion and I'll see you there.

Sadly the program wasn't error-free either.   Legendary player and coach Bennie Oosterbaan was referred to as Benny.    The surname of Jackie Harbaugh, the mother of Ravens coach John and future U-M quarterback Jim, is spelled 'Harbough'.

Distinguished Guests
Besides Bo, Oosterbaan, and Crisler, the attendees were treated to a few words from legendary radio voice Bob Ufer.   Just seven weeks later he would deliver the most famous radio call in Wolverine football history.   Here's a 60 second taste [more at ufer.org]; note Ufe's recognition of the centennial at the end:

Also scheduled to be on the dais was Kip Taylor, the man who scored the first touchdown in Michigan Stadium in 1927.   Taylor was actually injured in the game and never played again, perhaps choosing to rest up for a life of free drinks, back slaps and banquet speeches.

The night featured men representing several eras of Wolverine football who, according to the Daily, "tried to capture the gridiron highs and lows of their own certain ten-year period."   From the program:

Here's a little bit on each man on the list:

  • Wally Webber:  His surname is actually spelled with just one 'b' (if this were an episode of 'The Office' I'd be staring at the camera right now).   I read a little bit about Weber and he's a real beauty, like the Yogi Berra of Michigan football.   The bios and articles about the man are riddled with hilarious often self-deprecating quotes.  Describing his role while playing with Benny Friedman and Bennie Oosterbaan in the 1920s, Weber offered, "my sole function in the drama was to inflate the ball."   He served U-M for several years as a coach, alumni relations director, color commentator alongside Ufer on WPAG, and of course, as a legendary raconteur.
  • Willis Ward:  The African-American end and U-M track star was Gerald Ford's roommate for road games and a member of the '32 and '33 national championship squads.   This man's story deserves a full documentary or movie, not a blurb on a blog post, and it's safe to assume he gave some interesting remarks to the banquet crowd.  During the miserable 1934 season, controversy erupted prior to the scheduled game against Georgia Tech as the Yellow Jacket officials made it clear they would not take the field against a black player.  Protests ensued on campus and within the team (it's rumored that Ford threatened to quit).  I've read that future famous playwright Arthur Miller, who was on the Daily staff at the time, tried to intervene.   Eventually the game was played without Ward and resulted in a 9-2 Michigan win.  [For more, here's a Daily article from 1999, and Ward's Wikipedia page.]
  • Wally Teringa: The last name of the halfback for Crisler's 1947 and Oosterbaan's 1948 national championship teams is actually spelled Teninga.  Ugh.  Can we get a proofreader for the sesquicentennial? According to the Daily, Teninga spoke of the 14 All-Americans produced that decade and remarked how Crisler's teams "built both athletic and academic character."  At the time, Teninga played for the last U-M team to claim a national championship.
  • Roger Zatkoff: The linebacker for the Wolverines in the 1950s was later dubbed 'Zany Zatkoff' and is considered one of pro football's all-time hardest hitters.   According to the book Football's Most Wanted,  Zatkoff was once asked to wear a cowbell during practice so guys could hear him coming.   It's also written that he kept a list of the players he crushed, so Zatkoff literally kicked ass and took names.  Another beauty.
  • Bob Timberlake:  Quarterback for the great 1964 squad (ignored by HBO's 'The Rivalry') which downed Oregon State in Rose Bowl.   A devout Christian, Timberlake is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a member of the faculty at Marquette.
  • Dennis Franklin:  The former Michigan quarterback is probably best known for his role in the great 1973 Michigan-Ohio State game which ended in a 10-10 tie.    Franklin broke his collarbone shortly after scoring the game-tying touchdown.   After the game a vote by conference athletic directors sent the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl with some ballots allegedly influenced by Franklin's injury.  Bo later called this the biggest disappointment in his career.
    The auction of the ticket and the program fetched $12 when time expired on Thursday.

For the full index of eBay Watch posts on MVictors, click here.    If you've got a unique piece of Michigan memorabilia and/or ideas for a future eBay Watch post, I'd love to hear about it.

[Thanks for the help from Greg Kinney at the Bentley Library, Alex Prosperi at the Daily for the research, and Phillip Schneider who sent me the higher res images of the auction items.]


Doctor Sardonicus

February 8th, 2009 at 10:59 PM ^

Wally used to tell stories in the "pre-game" portion of Ufer's broadcast. I missed one doozy of one, all I remember is that the following week Ufer had to read a statement on the air apologizing to anyone who was offended by Weber's story.