Best Michigan Player for Each Jersey #

Submitted by Seth on February 4th, 2009 at 10:31 AM

Bored while waiting for an 18-year-old to decide your level of happiness for the next four years?

Here's a list I compiled of the best (in my opinion) player to wear each jersey number, 1-99, for Michigan, from 1929 to the present.

If you're wondering why guys like Germany Shultz, Al Benbrook or Willie Heston from the Yost years aren't on there, that's they didn't wear numbers back then. When they did start wearing numbers, however, they switched them around almost willy-nilly. I'd love to have Ernie Vick (19, 8, 2, 14, ...) or Harry Kipke (1, 4, 6, 14, 18, or no number at all) on my list, but they wore too many numbers to associate them with one or another. Therefore, I made my cut-off at 1929, when Kipke became the head coach, and made numbers (relatively) permanent.

Also, a player can only have one number they are associated with (even if Braylon Edwards was the best player to ever wear 80, he's up against the No. 1's)

All-time best Michigan man at each number.

1. Braylon Edwards, WR (over Carter, Terrell, Alexander)
2. Charles Woodson, CB
3. Tripp Welborne, CB (over Marlin)
4. EDIT: Jim Harbaugh, QB (over Marquise Walker)
5. Gordon Bell, HB
6. Tyrone Wheatley, HB (over Dave Brown)
7. Chad Henne, QB (over Leach & Henson)
8. Jason Avant, WR
9. EDIT: Dennis Franklin, QB
10. Tom Brady, QB
11. Alvin Wistert, OL/DT (over Albert and Francis Wistert)
12. Ricky Powers, HB
13. Garland Rivers, CB (over Larry Stevens)
14. Brian Griese, QB
15. Elvis Grbac, QB (over Breaston)
16. Adrian Arrington, WR
17. Ted Petoskey, End (over Larry Foote)
18. Bump Elliot, HB (over Amani Toomer)
19. Robert Brown, C/DT (this is a big number for kickers)
20. Mike Hart, HB
21. Desmond Howard, WR (over Biakabutuka)
22. Ty Law, CB
23. Jamie Morris, HB (you try picking btw JM and CP!!!)
24. Butch Woolfolk, HB (over Jack Clancy)
25. Tom Curtis, S (over Shazor)
26. EDIT: David Key, HB/DB
27. Bennie Friedman, QB (over Charles Bernard. Who remembers Stephen King?)
28. Robert Timberlake, QB
29. Leon Hall, CB
30. Andre Weathers, CB
31. Stuart Harris, S
32. Anthony Thomas, HB
33. Leroy Hoard, FB (over Mike Taylor)
34. Tony Leoni, HB (not Brabbs?)
35. B.J. Askew, FB
36. Aaron Shea, TE
37. Erick Anderson, LB (Can you pick btw him and Jarrett Irons?)
38. Robert Wiese, FB (met this guy on the plane once)
39. Adam Finley, P
40. Ron Johnson, LB (over Ron Simpkins)
41. Zoltan Mesko, P (over Rob Lytle)
42. Billy Taylor, RB/FB (over Tony Boles, Lawrence Reid)
43. Jim Pace, RB/FB (over Carl Diggs)
44. John Lott, DB
45. Dave Harris, LB (over Bill Daley)
46. Harry Newman, QB
47. Bennie Oosterbaan, End
48. Gerald Ford, C
49. Bob Chappuis, HB (over Ed Frutig)
50. Otto Pommerening, OL
51. Steve Everitt, C
52. Rod Payne, C
53. Mel Owens, LB
54. Mo Williams, OL
55. Brandon Graham, DE
56. LaMarr Woodley, DE
57. Maynard Morrison, FB/C (over Dave Pearson)
58. Rob Renes, DT
59. George Lilja, C
60. Mark Messner, DT (over Danahue)
61. Turner Booth, LS (Michael Sullivan, Willis Ward)
62. Quentin Sickels, OL
63. Les Miles, OL
64. Clare Jack Wheeler, QB
65. Reggie McKenzie, OL
66. Mike Hammerstein, DT
67. Mervin Pregulman, OL
68. Joe Cocozzo, OL
69. Jon Runyan, OL (over Forest Evashevski Sr.?)
70. Marty Huff, LB
71. Dave Gallagher, DT/OL
72. Dan Dierdorf, OL (over Jumbo Elliott, Robert Wahl)
73. Bill Dufek, OL
74. Mike Husar, OL
75. William Yearby, OL (over Bubba Paris, Skrepenak, Baas)
76. Steve Hutchinson, OL (over Stefan Humphries)
77. Jake Long, OL (over Jansen)
78. Dean Dingman, OL
79. Jeff Backus, OL
80. Alan Branch, DT
81. Glen Steele, DE
82. Norm Betts, TE
83. Bennie Joppru, TE
84. Shawn Thompson, TE
85. Lowell Perry, End (over Paul Seymour)
86. Tai Streets, WR (over Bob Westfall)
87. Ron Kramer, End
88. Jim Mandich, TE
89. Richard Rifenberg, End
90. Tim Jamison, DE
91. Matt Dyson, LB (over Josh Williams)
92. Steve Evans, LB (what, you prefer Dan Rumishek?)
93. Sam Sword, LB
94. Jason Horn, DT
95. Curtis Greer, DT
96. Calvin O'Neal, LB
97. Chris Hutchinson, DT
98. Tom Harmon, HB
99. Pierre Woods, LB

*Thanks to the Bentley Library for their searchable database.

Notice only two players are from last year's team. But I have high hopes that some of the younger guys can end up on this list eventually. For some of them, it wouldn't require so much improvement as a switch to a generally bad number.

Now make me a liar. I'm sure I'm wrong on several of these.



February 4th, 2009 at 10:59 AM ^

You may have had brain cramp on #4... Harbaugh was legendary..I like Marquise but not even close.

#9 I think has to be Franklin as well.

I'll take my Marcus Ray over anybody for #29


February 4th, 2009 at 11:46 AM ^

is a big omission. Agree that 9 should be Franklin. I would probably put Breaston over Grbac. Breaston is the best returner in UM history number-wise (with Howard as the better over-all returner). I would put Leach over Henne. I would think that AC has to own #1. Lytle over Mesko. Jumbo Elliot over Hutchinson. Paris at 75.

-These all come with the disclaimer that although I have been techinically "watching" (meaning alive) since '77, I can only really remember the players beginning around '84 or so.

-Thanks for putting that together.


February 4th, 2009 at 12:07 PM ^

To pick between players, I kept asking myself, "was he the best player on his team?"

The Harbaugh choice was difficult, but here's what stood out to me about Marquise: in 2001, he WAS the offense. Just as Braylon eased Henne into the role, Walker was always open for Navarre, always ready to catch a Tacopants shot.

The others I stand by a little more strongly. Mesko and Lytle is the same argument. Mesko is, in my opinion, the best punter in M history. And while Jumbo is no slouch, Hutchinson was the best player on a loaded team.

The other guy mentioned Ray at 29. Both were fantastic performers for M early on. Ray's injury and disappointing '98 season downgraded him for me, while Leon Hall's steady improvement throughout his career gave him the edge in my eyes.

My youth betrayed me on Franklin. That was Mercury Hayes fandom there.


February 4th, 2009 at 12:42 PM ^

Harbaugh is undisputable-Walker had 1 great season. Harbaugh had several great years as well as signature moments in huge games.

Ray was more a joke than anything I loved that guy, but looking objectively you could go with others..just a personal favorite...a rare making plays bad ass in the secondary for U-M depite his 4.9 speed :-) Fuck you David Boston.


February 4th, 2009 at 12:43 PM ^

Braylon, as great as he is, drops balls. Anyone ever see Anthony Carter drop a ball? AC was a pivotal player in Michigan taking to the air, he has to be our #1 #1.

And Chad Henne and his 0-4 vs OSU over Rick (3 wins over OSU)Leach, one of the grittiest and most exciting players ever to wear the winged helmet is simply incorrect.


February 4th, 2009 at 3:35 PM ^

Dreisbach was briefly in contention until Burnie Legette pops him in the mouth, and Ricky Powers bullrushes right through him. Little pieces of Dreisbach fly everywhere, while Brian Griese and Tom Brady celebrate the suddenly wide-open depth chart.

Griese goes on to win a National Championship, and Brady becomes a superhero. Dreisbach briefly appears on the Lions depth chart during the Charlie Batch years.


February 4th, 2009 at 3:40 PM ^

Manningham had it in him to pass Streets, but I think he submarined his own junior season. He was always a great deep threat. Streets was a star receiver.

Also, and this goes to the Leach/Henne discussion, Manningham was great at getting open downfield, but Henne was just as great at getting him the ball.

I think there's a tendency among M fans to downgrade the last quarterback, then reminisce about how awesome the old guy was. The same people saying Henne was only "above average" were the guys who thought Brady wasn't NFL material, or that Henson was overrated. Those guys were GREAT quarterbacks. Even Navarre's reputation has healed over time. Give it a few years, and Henne will look like Leach.

Except his 0-4 record v. Ohio. I can't argue that.


February 4th, 2009 at 4:21 PM ^

Forest Evashevski Jr. never started for the mid 60 Wolverines, you might have him confused with his dad, who may belong above Jon Runyan? For 26, I'd go with Rosey Smith or more likely David Key.


February 4th, 2009 at 9:21 PM ^

Wow, good catch!

Yeah, I totally meant his dad, who was an excellent running QB back when the QB was basically a 3rd tailback. I remembered him from a video my dad has of Michigan's greatest teams (1939 team - natch). Of course, he wore No. 69, which I bump Runyan?

Forest Jr. was probably a legacy.


February 4th, 2009 at 5:59 PM ^

Nice job. The Franklin and Harbaugh things stuck out for me on your original list. To round this out you might want to consider adding a best player who didn't wear a number on his jersey. To me, that'd probably go to Willie Heston.

SI ran through this exercise for college football not too long ago. I pulled out where the M men fell:

They have AC as their top ranked #1 (in all of college football) with a bunch of M guys runners up. They've got the legend Harry Kipke as runner up behind Robbie Bosco with the number six jersey. I didn't know he wore #6, but if that's the case he's got to take that over t-sweets.


February 4th, 2009 at 10:21 PM ^

Oh man, I have that SI Special Edition thing on the best by numbers! I remember reading that, then gushing to everyone about how AC was the best player in CFB history. The responses I got back that week are probably the reason I stuck Braylon ahead of him (and perhaps because inside my head somewhere that MSU game is always on replay).

Kipke wore No. 6 his junior season (or for part of it), then switched to No. 1 his senior year. It seems he wore 14 for his sophomore season. I put in a query with the Bentley historians as to this and the general history of the uni number at Mich (it seems we were among the first ever to sport 'em). I also sent an e-mail to Paul Lukas (ESPN Page 2's resident clothes horse). Maybe we can get him to do a column on it.


February 4th, 2009 at 8:56 PM ^

Seriously? You're gonna put a punter over an iconic Wolverine like Rick Leach (the guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated)?

#67 Jon Vitale (R.I.P.)

#72 I'm not knocking Dan Deirdorf but Jumbo Elliot was one of the top tackles to ever play at Michigan.


February 4th, 2009 at 9:12 PM ^

Rick Leach wore 7, not 41.

A good punter makes a big difference to a team. A punter who averages 10 yards a punt more than the average can easily give you an extra 1,000 yards in a season. I'd take the best punter of all time over the 8th best quarterback. But yes, if the Space Emperor (of Space) went up against Leach, I'd go with Leach, at least in football prowess (if it was a space battle for control of Transylvania, I'd go with Mesko).

Ali G Bomaye

February 4th, 2009 at 10:52 PM ^

Steve Morrison has to take #36 over Aaron Shea. Shea was an OK tight end. Morrison was a four-year starter at MLB, and his senior year he was All-Big Ten and a Butkus semifinalist. He still holds the Michigan record with 23 tackles in a game.