The COMPLETE History of the Michigan Football Spring Game

Submitted by Wolverine Devotee on April 4th, 2017 at 8:06 PM


The record attendance of 60,000 in 2016 (MLive)

So two years ago, I posted a diary called the Cloudy History of the Michigan Spring Game.

For years--for some reason--I've had a strange thing where I've really wanted to know what the history of our spring game was. This started back in 2010 when it had been years since we had played an actual, watchable spring GAME. 

Google wasn't giving me anything back in those days. So I waited and kept digging. I eventually found Google Newspaper Archive which had a decent collection of Michigan Daily articles where past spring games where searchable.

But there wasn't enough to do a complete and 100%, double-checked accurate history. Plus, the Daily stopped publishing after the semester ended in April beginning in the 70s, so sometimes there was no way to view these results.

That's where a subscription to Newspapers.com helped. I had access to the Detroit Free Press history, which was a great and searchable option that helped this project move along tremendously.

But it wasn't until January of 2017 when the long-awaited Michigan Daily Digital Archive went live. An absolute GAME-CHANGER for my research not just for this small portion of what I do, but for the entire Michigan SuperGuide Project Collections. 

What I am very proud to post on here, after 7 years of digging and searching and piecing together information, is a 100% accurate and COMPLETE history of the Michigan Football Spring Game.

Let's take a look-

 

The First Games: Strange colors

The first public Michigan Spring Game was on May 14, 1925 at Ferry Field. 

Already-graduated (apparently graduated seniors could still play in spring practice) Edliff Slaughter's Blues defeated the Reds, by a 13-6 score. The first touchdown in a Michigan Spring Game was scored by Ralph Baer on a 15-yard fumble return TD. 

Marty Garber would score a Red TD to tie the game at 6-6. Enid, Oklahoma native Bus Haskins would score the game-winning TD by rumbling through the entire Red line and plowing into the endzone to give the Blue team the win. Further painting a picture for future Michigan games.

Strange to see Michigan players on a Red team? The next season the Blues would take on the Green team (and lose 3-0). 

In 1928, it got really weird. The spring game became a tournament. The team was divided up into multiple teams during practices and would compete for the title of Spring Grid Champions. The only thing was that the team names were named after other Big Ten schools. 

The 1928 Spring Game on May 13th would feature "Illinois" beating "Ohio State" for the Spring Game Championship, the first and only. 

Two years later in 1930, 3 teams were divided up. Team 1 was captained by Al Bovard, Team 2 by Joe Gembis and Team 3 by Howard Poe. They each played a game against the other, with Team Gembis winning on the day overall.

This was also the first Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Despite the stadium being built in 1927, the previous two games were played at Ferry Field which still very much was a stadium.


1931: Blue vs Yellow/White/Maize rivalry begins

The modern spring game matchup first took place in 1931. Blue vs Yellow...........yup, Yellow. The great ancestors of today's Maize team that won on a goal line stand last year.

 The first Blue vs Yellow game was on May 9, 1931 and was a 6-0 win by Blue.

The game was played in a driving rain. The winning and only score was a long TD pass from Harry Newman to Herman Everhardus.

After 5 straight Blue wins over Yellow where Blue outscored their counterpart 155-25, Yellow finally broke through with their first win in 1938 after two previous years of coming away with ties.

The following year, Yellow would be renamed the "White team" to reflect the color jerseys the team wore. This actually came a decade before Michigan wore white jerseys for a road game so they must have used special white jerseys just for the Spring Game.

New name, same results. After dropping the 1940 contest, White would hand Blue two more defeats the next two years, going on a 4-1 run against the Blue.
 

Wartime guts college football

All across the country during World War II, teams were losing players at a moments notice in the draft for the war effort. The 1942 spring game was months after the US entered the war, and it would be the last spring game scheduled until the Allies won the war and things went back to normal.

During the war era, players were listed on the roster by their military designation (N for Navy, C for Civilian, M for Marine and R for Reserves) as opposed to their academic standing. There were actually rumors on campus that Michigan would not have a Football team in 1943. Other schools across the country simply didn't have enough men to field a team like Michigan State, who dropped their athletic program during the war.

There was no spring practice during WWII. There were Spring drills instead, and they were basically an open tryout to help fill the roster out in the Fall for depth purposes.

 

1950-1983: Blue dominance


1953 Spring Game

There was a spring game scheduled for 1946, but it was cancelled and instead a closed practice. There would not be a traditional Blue-White game again until 1950, but this time by choice as Bennie Oosterbaan had non-scoring scrimmages at The Big House from 1947-1949. Similar to ones that would unfortunately return 60 years later.

In 1950--the first Blue-White game since 1942--the Blue team smashed the White composed of reserves by a score of 50-0. The Blue run of dominance would continue for 9 years with the closest game being a 6 point win over White in 1957 where a "5th quarter" was played after the upstart White squad had a 25-24 lead over the Blues at the end of regulation. The Daily speculated this was done to help salvage some morale for the starters.

It would be a telling sign as Michigan would have a mediocre 5-3-1 season that Fall.

White finally broke through two years later in 1959, coming back from down 21-8 in the 3rd quarter to win. A TD on a fumbled QB sneak, safety and TD gave the young White team the upset win.


White upset of Blue in 1959 Spring Game

 


1961 Spring Game

 

The Spring Game would feature the Blue team as the starters and the White team as the reserves until Bo took over in 1969. The teams were then split evenly into two squads.

Didn't matter very much, though. The Blue went on a run of dominance, winning 27 of 34 spring games from 1950-1983. Even continuing their run when evenly split. Pretty impressive.

Also, something else to note. The month the game would be played in changed because U-M apparently changed its semester format. The semester ended in May at U-M until 1965, which the Daily publishings reflect because once the semester ended, no papers would be printed. In the old days, the papers printed through late May. 
 


1975 Spring Game

 

The Legend of Mike Walker


Walker signing autographs after the 1983 Spring Game

In the 1983 game, it was a very low-scoring and dull affair by all accounts for most of the game.

White led Blue, 8-3 with just seconds left before halftime. That's before an unknown mystery man wearing #15 entered the game at QB.

With just one second left before halftime and his team down, the unknown Blue QB threw a 69-yard TD pass as the time expired to give Blue the lead at halftime, 10-8. It would prove to be crucial as Blue would go on and win the game, 16-8 after two insurance FGs by Mike Melnyk and Pat Moons. Some freshman QB named Harbaugh scored all of White's points on a TD pass and 2pt pass.

But the QB of the game was the mystery man that had almost everyone in the stadium--including the head coach--asking "who is that guy?"

His name was Mike Walker. He was the backup QB at DePauw in 1982, a Division III school in Greencastle, Indiana. He transferred to Michigan for academic purposes because he wanted to become an architect and DePauw's program wasn't in the same category as Michigan's.

When Bo was asked about who the mystery man was in the postgame press conference, he said this in an AP article from 1983-

"I really don't know," Schembechler said. "Mike Walker is a nice kid. As I understand it, he transferred here from a small school in Indiana for academic reasons. That's all I know about it. That's the first time he's ever scrimmaged. We just stuck him in because a couple of other guys were hurt"

That was Mike Walker's one and only pass in that spring game, and ever in a Michigan uniform.

He doesn't even officially exist since spring game walk ons aren't added to the all-time roster database at Bentley unless they make it on the Fall roster.

Bo would actually offer Mike Walker a walk on tryout in the Fall, but he declined, instead opting to focus on academics that he transferred to Michigan for in the first place.

 

1984: Turning of the tide


White team celebrates in the 1986 game, their 2nd win in 3 years over Blue

 

After years of taking punishment from Blues, the Whites finally got to dish it back. The run that continues to this day started back on April 14, 1984.

And that run was started by none other than a young QB named Jim Harbaugh. Seriously-


Detroit Free Press account

Harbaugh led the White to an 18-15 win and impressed Bo in the process. He would go on to start that 1984 season, but not finish it as he suffered a broken arm which killed the season that ended in a 6-6 record, Bo's worst.

Harbaugh would switch sides the following year in 1985, and lead the Blues to a 27-20 win over the Whites. Bo was angry about the defense in the postgame.

Harbaugh would lose his final game to the resurging White squad in 1986, 18-13.

White would go on to win 4 of 5 from the Blue for their best run since the early 40s.
 

1991-2003: Torn up grass

This period of time would be marred by multiple things that added turbulence to the tradition of the Spring Game.

In 1991, the game was scheduled to be played on April 13th, but was cancelled due to "injuries and renovations". Michigan Stadium would undergo the removal of the artificial All-Pro (astroturf) surface and a lowering of the field during the offseason.

The game returned in 1992, and the White continued their newfound success against the Blue, winning every single game in the 90s. 

1995 was a first for the spring game. It was scored scrimmage with a point system. The White team was the offense and the Blue team was the defense. It wasn't taken very seriously, as Gary Moeller gave the Blue 10 points at halftime to make the "game" closer. White prevailed 45-44.

1996, the game was cancelled again. This time due to poor field conditions on the Michigan Stadium grass field.

4,000 fans braved the weather and saw arguably the best spring game in Michigan history in 1997. White trailed 14-0 before scoring a rushing TD and a TD on 57-yard fumble return to cut the lead to 1, but missed the PAT on the slippery field.

White kicked a FG to take the 16-14 lead and then went up 22-14 when LeAundre Brown picked off Scott Dreisbach and took it back 62 yards for what appeared to be the game-clinching touchdown with 14 seconds remaining. But another missed PAT provided Blue with one small chance left.

Blue marched right down the field in just 16 seconds and Dreisbach hit Tai Streets in the endzone for a TD as time expired. Blue went for the 2-point conversion to tie the game and send it OT, but the pass was no good and White escaped with a wild 22-20 victory.


1997 Spring Game

 

Coming off of a National Championship in 1997, you would think the crowd would be better than ever in 1998. Not a chance. This small crowd of diehards watched White win their 7th straight Spring Game, 20-17.

Only the media coverage on ESPN and the rise of the internet has increased Spring Game attendance and attention.


Photo: UMGoBlue.com

1999 was the first Non-Scoring scrimmage in exactly 50 years. Scrimmages would become the norm, as the 2000 tilt was a scored scrimmage (A 23-22 White win) and 2001 would be the final Spring GAME until the man who turned the tide in the series took over as head coach in 2015.

And to cap things off with the lovely grass field, the 2003 game was yet again cancelled due to poor field conditions. The grass field would be torn out during the summer and replaced with FieldTurf. 
 

2004-2014: Scrimmages & Punt Exhibitions

Under Lloyd, the frequency of traditional spring games significantly decreased. 

Most of them were scrimmages with crazy scoring systems, not much care was put to it. Which meant not very entertaining action.

No more steak for the winners and beans and hotdogs for the losers of the game.

From 2004-2006, all of the Spring Games would be non-scoring scrimmages. In 2007, a weird and complicated scoring system was in place where (who else?) the White team would beat the Blue in a 42-41 final. No one knew the scoring system in the crowd, and by my memory no one explained it.

Stadium renovations were actually taking place during that April. I believe it was replacing bleacher seats. MVictors said it was foundational construction.


Photo: MVictors

The 2008 Spring Game was the last one I personally did not get to go to. It was invitation-only at Saline High School, due to the massive renovations taking place at The Big House.

I'm sure it was a good thing the new offense and the horrors that took place on the field at Saline were hidden only to donors and parents. 


2008 Spring Game at Saline High School

2009 was the first advertised, promoted and ballyhooed Spring Game.

MGoBlue broadcasted it and it smashed any and all previous attendance marks. An estimated 50,000 people showed up on April 11, 2009 on a sun soaked day that felt more like a May Spring Game in the old days rather than early April. 

True freshman Tate Forcier who had been in high school just 4 months earlier carved up the defense in a non-scoring scrimmage. Quite an omen. 


2009 Spring Game (WD)

 

The following year would be another scrimmage, this time a scored one where no one knew the rules. Defense could score points.

The Blue team was the 1st team offense and 2nd team defense and the newly-reanmed MAIZE team was the 2nd team offense and 1st team defense. Denard carved up the 1st team defense and Blue won 49-37.

It was the first win by a Blue team in the Spring Game since 1989 in Bo's last Spring Game, snapping Maize/White's 10 game win streak.

2011 and 2012 under Hoke were also scored scrimmages with the same team concept, but there was no scoring method for the defense for stops, turnovers etc. 

2013 and 2014 were played in freezing conditions and were non-scoring scrimmages. Basically, they were an hour of stretching and punting with an hour scrimmage. Like watching paint dry. Thankfully, change was on the horizon in many ways...

 

2015-present: Return of Harbaugh


2015 Spring Game. Harbaugh.

The biggest blockbuster hire in college football history happened. It Happened.

The man who does not get sick or observe major holidays and has a burning desire for winning competitions, brought back the traditional Michigan Spring Game.

Teams were drafted in a formal Spring Game Draft at the Junge Center, and the game would happen.

On April 4, 2015 before a new Michigan Spring Game record crowd of an estimated 60,000 fans on a beautiful day, the Tim Drevno's Blues defeated DJ Durkin's Maizes in a 7-0 offensive struggle. 

The winning TD was a pass from Shane Morris to Jaron Dukes who caught the ball over 5'7 Dennis Norfleet. 

Last year was the most exciting Spring Game many people can remember.

The Maize team stonewalled the Blue team on the goaline with no time left on the clock as Blue attempted to win the game on a 2-point conversion. Wilton Speight and the Maize defeated John O'Korn and the Blue, 14-13 in a thriller.

 

The 2017 Spring Game is on April 15th at 1pm. 

Will Maize win their second straight and continue their 15 of 21 run over Blue? Will Blue re-establish the dominance it once had over its counterparts before Harbaugh changed it?

Only the future will tell.

 

Here is the result of every Michigan Spring Game in history. 
 

Since the Maize-Blue series began in 1931, Blue holds the all-time edge 39-26-2.

 

Date Winning Team Losing Team Score Format
5/14/1925 Blue Red 13-6 Game
5/15/1926 Green Blue 3-0 Game
5/13/1927 Blue Red 6-0 Game
5/11/1928 "Illinois" "Ohio State" 10-0 Game
5/8/1929
5/9/1929
Red
Red
Blue
Blue
6-0
12-0
Game
Game
5/12/1930 Team 2
Team 2
Team 1
Team 1
Team 3
Team 3
6-0
13-2
19-0
Game
Game
Game
5/9/1931 Blue Yellow 6-0 Game
5/7/1932 Blue Yellow 33-7 Game
5/6/1933 Blue Yellow 54-0 Game
5/5/1934 Blue Yellow 28-12 Game
5/4/1935 Blue Yellow 34-6 Game
5/9/1936   Yellow vs Blue: Tie 0-0 Game
5/1/1937   Yellow vs Blue: Tie 6-6 Game
5/14/1938 Yellow Blue 13-9 Game
5/13/1939 Yellow Blue 31-26 Game
5/18/1940 Blue White 6-0 Game
5/10/1941 White Blue 14-7 Game
5/9/1942 White Blue 7-0 Game
1943 No Spring Practice (WWII)
1944 No Spring Practice (WWII) 
1945 No Spring Practice (WWII)
1946 Cancelled
5/16/1947 No Score Kept Scrimmage
5/15/1948 No Score Kept Scrimmage
5/14/1949 No Score Kept Scrimmage
5/20/1950 Blue White 50-0 Game
5/19/1951 Blue White 35-7 Game
5/14/1952 Blue White 36-0 Game
5/9/1953 Blue White 54-12 Game
5/15/1954 Blue White 48-6 Game
5/14/1955 Blue White 31-7 Game
5/12/1956 Blue White 34-7 Game
5/11/1957 Blue White 31-25 Game
5/17/1958 Blue White 21-6 Game
5/9/1959 White Blue 22-21 Game
5/7/1960 Blue White 7-0 Game
5/6/1961 Blue White 10-8 Game
5/12/1962 White Blue 28-19 Game
5/4/1963 Blue White 25-0 Game
5/9/1964 White Blue 32-29 Game
4/17/1965 Blue White 34-0 Game
4/16/1966 Blue White 47-10 Game
4/15/1967 Blue White 20-7 Game
4/13/1968 Blue White 42-21 Game
5/6/1969 Blue White 23-7 Game
4/18/1970 Blue White 28-13 Game
4/17/1971 Blue White 24-3 Game
4/22/1972 White Blue 14-12 Game
4/21/1973 White Blue 17-7 Game
4/20/1974 Blue White 41-7 Game
4/19/1975 Blue White 17-3 Game
4/17/1976 White Blue 13-0 Game
4/16/1977 Blue White 35-24 Game
4/15/1978 Blue White 15-14 Game
4/14/1979 Blue White 21-0 Game
4/19/1980 Blue White 35-7 Game
4/18/1981 White Blue 19-18 Game
4/17/1982 Blue Maize 10-6 Game
4/16/1983 Blue White 16-8 Game
4/14/1984 White Blue 18-15 Game
4/20/1985 Blue White 27-20 Game
4/19/1986 White Blue 18-13 Game
4/18/1987 White Blue 20-17 Game
4/16/1988 White Blue 20-17 Game
4/15/1989 Blue White 24-17 Game
4/21/1990 White Blue 31-6 Game
4/13/1991 Cancelled due to poor field conditions
4/11/1992 White Blue 14-12 Game
4/10/1993 White Blue 21-20 Game
4/9/1994 White Blue 10-6 Game
4/8/1995 White Blue 45-44 Scrimmage
1996 Cancelled due to poor field conditions
4/12/1997 White Blue 22-20 Game
4/18/1998 White Blue 20-17 Game
4/17/1999 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/15/2000 White Blue 23-22 Scrimmage
4/14/2001 White Blue 21-7 Game
4/13/2002 No Score Kept Scrimmage
2003 Cancelled due to poor field conditions
4/10/2004 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/16/2005 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/17/2006 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/14/2007 White Blue 42-41 Scrimmage
4/12/2008 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/11/2009 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/17/2010 Blue Maize 49-37 Scrimmage
4/16/2011 Blue Maize 14-7 Scrimmage
4/14/2012 Blue Maize 17-0 Scrimmage
4/13/2013 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/5/2014 No Score Kept Scrimmage
4/4/2015 Blue Maize 7-0 Game
4/1/2016 Maize Blue 14-13 Game
4/15/2017 TBD TBD TBD Game

 

Comments

Amaizing Blue

April 4th, 2017 at 9:34 PM ^

The Spring Game doenst mean crap in the greater scheme of things, though as you point out omens can sometimes appear that are obvious later.  However, it is like pitchers and catchers reporting, a harbringer of the sport we love.  For me, this brought back memories of my time at UM, which was the Harbaugh era.  Appreciate the effort, nice work.

UMgradMSUdad

April 4th, 2017 at 11:20 PM ^

Thanks for putting in this work and posting. It is interesting how many players shine in the Spring Game then never accomplish a whole lot once the real games start.

Initially I thought that was the case with Lynwood Haskins from the 1925 Spring Game, because I didn't see evidence of his even ever starting at Michigan.  But apparently he transferred to Oklahoma because he won all-conference honors for them in 1927 for the MVC and in 1928 for the Big Six.

The Maizer

April 5th, 2017 at 10:13 AM ^

The Spring Game Championship tournament sounds kind of fun. Don't know how they would do it, but I wouldn't mind a return to that.

I wish there was an easy way to have a rooting interest in the spring game. I always find myself equally excited and disappointed in each play. "The offensive line gave QB so much time to make that pass! Awesome! But... the defensive line got no pressure and the blitz was easily foiled, damn." Maybe I need to make a friendly wager on the outcome.

Bando Calrissian

April 5th, 2017 at 5:17 PM ^

Rosters weren't that big across the board pre-WWII, between freshman inelgibility and non-platoon football. You wouldn't need a ton of subs when the same 11 guys are playing all the time and substitution rules make it difficult to put a lot of new guys in the game.

I count 24 players on the 1928 varsity squad:

EastCoast

April 6th, 2017 at 9:57 AM ^

I stand corrected.

But how did they manage a tournament when they barely had enough guys for a modern day offense and defense?

Also, with the way the game is played today (HUGE players and enough padding to make guys feel invincible....and therefore dangerous), there'd be a huge risk of injury if there were no substitutions and everybody had to play both ways.

truferblue22

April 5th, 2017 at 5:44 PM ^

Wow. You definitey put a ton of work into it. Thanks for sharing.

 

P.S., if a game is 7-0 it's a defensive struggle. The offense struggled, thus making it a defensive struggle. If merely a typo or sarcasm then don't mind me. Otherwise great work! 

South Bend Wolverine

April 5th, 2017 at 7:52 PM ^

I went to one of those "scored scrimmages" - I think it was the 1995 one - as a kid.  I enjoyed watching the team, but found it a big let down after going to an actual game the year before.  What really bugged me was that, as a kid sitting in the stands, I could see how routinely they were failing at properly scoring the damn thing.  It wasn't even a complex system, it was just a matter of the guy in the booth not paying much attention. /rant :)

BeatOSU52

April 5th, 2017 at 9:37 PM ^

This is kind of a side topic to all this, but is there a reasoning why Michigan's spring games aren't ever on ESPN like some of the other big name programs are often?  Just curious if there's a specific reasoning, other than Michigan not being very good from 2008 to 2014.

BeatOSU52

April 5th, 2017 at 11:28 PM ^

I guess I for some reason thought OSU was on espn some years but I must be wrong.  I was in Columbus one year during the weekend of their spring game and thought about going to it just for the hell of It (defeinitely wouldn't have worn Michigan stuff) and I remember that tickets cost money, so I said hell no.  That was 5 years ago so I assume theirs still cost money.

FieldingBLUE

April 14th, 2017 at 2:32 PM ^

Created my Michigan fandom. I was always a Blue fan but having a buddy take me to those games with his parents (the super Michigan fans I knew growing up) changed things forever. I was in middle school and had never been to Michigan Stadium. I was hooked. And after the game, you could go down onto the field and meet the players and get autographs. It was unreal. I have so many autographs from those years and remember meeting a freshman Desmond Howard in 1989.

I decide that spring to come to Michigan.