Then there was Michigan. In reading Michigan T-shirts, Michigan media guides, and listening to Michigan fans, one hears a strong argument that the Wolverines are not number nine, but number one! They have a good case, which includes the most Division I-A victories (860 through 2006), the best winning record (860-282-36), the most Big 10 championships in the oldest conference (forty-two), and the nation’s largest stadium (107,501, sold out every game). They have won seven legitimate national championships but, according to some systems, can be credited with between nine and eleven. Eleven, by the way, is the most of any program (a tie between USC and Notre Dame).
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Colors: Maize and blue
Stadium: Michigan Stadium (opened: 1927; capacity: 107,501)
All-time record (1879-2006): 860-282-36
Bowl record: 18-20 (through 2006)
National championships: 1901, 1902, 1918, 1923, 1933, 1948, 1997
Big 10 Conference championships: 42 (through 2006)
Heisman Trophies: Tom Harmon (1940), Desmond Howard (1991), Charles Woodson
First round NFL Draftees: 39 (through 2007)
Notable alumni: Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey; Hall of Fame baseball player
George Sisler; baseball player Jim Abbott; basketball player Chris Webber; U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum; attorney Clarence Darrow; playwright Arthur Miller; singer Madonna; actors James Earl Jones and Lucy Liu; network commentator Mike Wallace
While the overall numbers demonstrate Michigan greatness, it is something of a misnomer. The Wolverines started playing, and winning, football games in 1879. Rutherford B. Hayes was the President of the United States. The Civil War ended fourteen years before that, Reconstruction only two years prior. Most non-Ivy League teams did not get around to it until the 1890s. That gives the Wolverines ten-, fifteen-, twenty-year head starts over most of their competitors in the “most wins” race. They are still a great power, to be sure. However, compelling modern sensibilities tell us that they are not the greatest overall program. Their records in the 1880s, 1890s, 1900s and 1910s simply do not carry the weight of records after World War II, and especially not after 1960 (the unofficial “embarkation point” when the game truly changed into what it is today).
To use an imperfect empire metaphor, Babylon, Persia, Athens and Rome once ruled the known world. That does not mean Iraq, Iran, Greece and Italy are the “greatest countries of all time.” We place more importance on World War II than the Peloponnesian War; more importance on the BCS era than the days of the “Yale wedge.”
National champions - pre-World War I era (1869-1918)
1. Princeton 19 legitimate
1869, 1870, 1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1881,
1884, 1885, 1886, 1889, 1893, 1896, 1899, 1903, 1911
2. Yale 12 legitimate
1876, 1880, 1882, 1883, 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892, 1894, 1900,1906, 1907
3. Harvard 5 legitimate
1890, 1898, 1908, 1910, 1912
4. Michigan 3 legitimate
1901, 1902, 1918
5. Washington 2 legitimate
5. Pennsylvania 2 legitimate
7. Oregon 1 legitimate
7. Washington State 1 legitimate
7. Georgia Tech 1 legitimate
7. Army 1 legitimate
7. Chicago 1 legitimate
7. Stanford 1 legitimate
7. Minnesota 1 legitimate
In many ways, Michigan is the story of America. The Midwest became populated in large part by German and Swedish immigrants of the nineteenth century. A look at Michigan football lists show the offspring of these sturdy settlers starring on the gridiron for the Wolverines: Adolph Shulz, John Maulbetsch, Harry Kipke, Jack Blott, Benny Friedman, Otto Pommerening, Ralph Heikkinen, Dick Riffenburg, Dan Dierdorf, Ed Muransky, Mike Hammerstein, Mark Messner, Greg Skrepenak. The ethnic make-up of Michigan football over the years is indicative of more than a few laughs over steins of beer at the Ann Arbor German-American Bund. It is a socio-political statement with profound implications.
Pre-World War I era – national champions by conference (1869-1918)
INDEPENDENTS (PRE-IVY LEAGUE) 38 LEGITIMATE
Princeton 19 legitimate, 19 consensus, no bowls
Yale 12 legitimate, 12 consensus, no bowls
Harvard 5 legitimate, 5 consensus, no bowls
Pennsylvania 2 legitimate, 2 consensus, no bowls
Princeton: 19 legitimate (1869, 1870, 1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1881,
1884, 1885, 1886, 1889, 1893, 1896, 1899, 1903, 1911)
Yale: 12 legitimate (1876, 1880, 1882, 1883, 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892, 1894, 1900, 1906, 1907)
Harvard: 5 legitimate (1890, 1898, 1908, 1910, 1912)
Pennsylvania: 2 (1895, 1897)
INDEPENDENTS 2 LEGITIMATE
Army 1 legitimate, 1 consensus, no bowls
Georgia Tech 1 legitimate, 1 consensus, no bowls
Army: 1 legitimate (1914)
Georgia Tech: 1 legitimate (1917)
PACIFIC COAST 5 LEGITIMATE
Pacific Coast Conference formed, 1916 Washington 2 legitimate, 2 consensus, no bowls
Washington State 1 legitimate, 1 consensus, 1 bowl win
Oregon 1 legitimate, 1 consensus, 1 bowl win
Stanford 1 legitimate, 1 co, no bowls
Washington: 2 (1909/independent, 1913/independent)
Washington State: 1 (1915/independent)
Oregon: 1 (1916)
BIG 10 5 LEGITIMATE
Michigan 3 legitimate, 3 consensus, 1 bowl win
Minnesota 1 legitimate, 1 consensus, no bowls
Chicago 1 legitimate, 1 co, no bowls
Michigan: 3 (1901, 1902, 1918)
Minnesota: 1 (1904)
Chicago: 1 (1905)
In the late 1920s, when Adolph Hitler was rising to power in Germany with plans to take the world to war, he assessed his chances and found, for him at least, a disturbing fact. The loss of the “flower of German manhood” in World War I was bad enough, but Hitler further theorized that the very “best” Germans – the strongest, most able of mind, body and spirit – had left Germany and taken up allegiance in and with America. These “supermen” were in the 1920s asserting their presence on the sporting fields of the gold ol’ U.S. of A. A little over a decade later men with names like Eisenhower would lead us to victory over their grandfather’s Fatherland.
National champions (1869-1918 – pre-World War I era) – chronological order
No bowl games: 1869-1901, 1903-1915
1869 Princeton 1-1
1870 Princeton 1-0
1872 Princeton 1-0
1873 Princeton 1-0
1874 Princeton 2-0
1875 Princeton 2-0
1876 Yale 3-0
1877 Princeton 2-0-1
1878 Princeton 6-0
1879 Princeton 4-0-1
1880 Yale 4-0-1
1881 Princeton 5-0-1
1882 Yale 8-0
1883 Yale 8-0
1884 Princeton 9-0-1
1885 Princeton 9-0
1886 Princeton 7-0-1
1887 Yale 9-0
1888 Yale 13-0
1889 Princeton 10-0
1890 Harvard 11-0
1891 Yale 13-0
1892 Yale 13-0
1893 Princeton 11-0
1894 Yale 16-0
1895 Pennsylvania 14-0
1896 Princeton 10-0-1
1897 Pennsylvania 15-0
1898 Harvard 11-0
1899 Princeton 12-1
1900 Yale 2-0
First Rose Bowl played January 1, 1902
1901 Michigan 11-0
Beat Stanford, 49-0/ Rose Bowl
Other: Harvard 12-0
Rose Bowl discontinued, 1903-15
1902 Michigan 11-0
1903 Princeton 11-0
Other: Minnesota 14-0-1
1904 Minnesota 13-0
1905 Chicago 10-0, Stanford 8-0 (co-national champions)
1906 Yale 9-0-1
1907 Yale 9-0-1
1908 Harvard 9-0-1
1909 Washington 7-0
Other: Yale 10-0
1910 Harvard 8-0-1
1911 Princeton 8-0-2
1912 Harvard 9-0
1913 Washington 7-0
Other: Auburn 8-0
1914 Army 9-0
Other: Texas 9-0
Rose Bowl resumed January 1, 1916
1915 Washington State 7-0
Beat Brown, 14-0/Rose Bowl
Other: Oklahoma 10-0
1916 Oregon 7-0-1
Beat Pennsylvania, 14-0/Rose Bowl
Other: *Pittsburgh 8-0
1917 *Georgia Tech 9-0
1918 *Michigan 5-0
Many of these able young men played football for the University of Michigan. . Officially, Michigan was a member of the Western Athletic Conference, but it was dubbed the “Big 10.” It held that moniker even when teams came and went, but would not become the official name of the league for decades (1987).
Their first consensus All-American was William Cunningham in 1898, but Michigan football hit the big time with the arrival of coach Fielding H. Yost in 1901. His teams immediately went 11-0 (1901), 11-0 (1902), 11-0-1 (1903), 10-0 (1904), and 12-1 (1905). Yost’s teams were known as the “point a minute” Wolverines, particularly his 1901 powerhouse which beat Stanford, 49-0 in the first Rose Bowl. In many ways the Wolverines “ruined” it for everybody else.
Several schools were invited but declined the invite to Pasadena. Yost’s team was willing to take on the challenge of travel (no easy task in 1901-1902) and a big game against a mysterious Western opponent. The whole country would pay attention to its outcome. If the Wolverines lost their success would be forgotten. But the lopsided score dissuaded the Tournament of Roses from continuing with the game, which held no fan interest past its early moments. The Rose Bowl was discontinued in favor of various lackluster activities until January 1, 1916.
Michigan All-Century Team
Chosen by fans via website
Bo Schembechler, coach
OL Dan Dierdorf
OL Reggie McKenzie
OL John “Jumbo” Elliott
OL Greg Skrepenak
OL Jon Jansen
WR Bennie Oosterbaan
WR Anthony Carter
WR Desmond Howard
QB Rick Leach
RB Tom Harmon
RB Tyrone Wheatley
PK Remy Hamilton
ML Mark Messner
DL Glen Steele
DL Chris Hutchinson
LB Erick Anderson
LB Jarrett Irons
LB Ron Simpkins
LB Sam Sword
DB Charles Woodson
DB Ty Law
DB Tripp Wellborne
DB Tom Curtis
P Monte Robbins
Michigan’s success under Yost put the Ivy League on immediate notice that great football was being played ”out west.” Minnesota and Chicago, seemingly spurred on by Big 10 rival Michigan, joined the party. Consensus Wolverine All-Americans of the 1900s included Neil Snow, Willie Heston, Adolph Schulz and Albert Benrook.
When World War I broke out, there was concern in the United States that the large German-American population in the Midwest would not “choose” America over Germany, but these doubts proved unfounded. Despite prejudice, German-Americans fought bravely. Many from the University of Michigan served honorably.
Consensus Michigan All-Americans of the 1910s included Stanfield Wells, Miller Pontius, Jim Craig, and John Maulbetsch. In 1918, Michigan (5-0) was credited with the national championship in a season abbreviated by America’s total (and victorious) involvement in the Great War, which it was known as until the “second World War” a little over two decades later.
It was after this season, when the boys came home, that America truly took to its sports, namely big league baseball and college football. Thus was created the dividing line between the “ancient” and “modern” eras determining how collegiate football is judged. Yost stayed on as Michigan’s coach through the unbeaten, national championship (8-0) 1923 season. George Little coached in 1924, but Yost returned in 1925 and 1926 before retiring. In 1927, Michigan Stadium, now known as the “Big House,” was erected on campus. It was a monument to a sport that America, particularly Midwestern America, had by now gone crazy over.
Michigan’s record versus biggest rivals
Versus Ohio State 57-40-6
Versus Notre Dame 19-14-1
Fans in all regions fell in love with football, but Midwestern football had a special affinity. It was rugged and manly; a perfect compliment to the elements of fall weather. It was a game against Michigan in which Harold “Red” Grange of Illinois compiled over 400 total yards, thus engendering the classic nickname the “Galloping Ghost.” Grange made pro football popular when he moved on to Green Bay.
Consensus All-Americans of the 1920s were Harry Kipke, Jack Blott, Bennie Oosterbaan, Benny Friedman, and Otto Pommerening. Kipke took over the program in 1929. In 1930 they were 8-0-1, followed by records of 8-1-1 (1931), 8-0 (1932), and 7-0-1 (1933). Some services rated the 1932 squad as national champions, although USC is easily the consensus champs of that season. But in 1933, the Wolverines won the title in undisputed manner. The program took some bad years while Minnesota (under Bernie Bierman) dominated Big 10 play the rest of the decade. Consensus All-Americans in the 1930s were Harry Newman, Francis Wistert, Chuck Bernard, Ralph Heikkinen, and the great Tom Harmon. The most famous of all, however, was an All-American but not a consensus one. Gerald R. Ford starred on the 1932 and 1933 teams. He later served as Speaker of the House, Vice President and then President of the United States from 1974-1977.
Michigan versus Elite Ten
Alabama (2-1), Nebraska (3-2-1), Notre Dame (19-14-1), Ohio State (57-40-6), Oklahoma (0-1), Penn State (9-3), Southern California (4-6), Texas (0-1); Total: 94-68-8
Michigan also deserves kudos for integrating its program early. The famed Branch Rickey broke baseball’s “color barrier” when, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers he brought Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues. Rickey was a Michigan graduate. He coached the baseball team when the great George Sisler played there.
Gerald Ford played with a black player named Willis Ward. Georgia Tech refused to play against Ward, so he was forced to listen to the game by radio from the fraternity house. When a Tech player made an intemperate remark, Ford reportedly hit him so hard on the next play that the Tech player was forced out of the game. When Ford next saw Ward, he told him, “We got one of ‘em for ya, Willie.”
Elite Ten by the numbers
Top 20/25 Associated Press - final poll rankings (1936-2006)
1. Michigan 54
2. Notre Dame 48
3. Ohio State 47
4. Alabama 45
5. Southern California 41
6. Nebraska 40
7. Miami 28
Fritz Crisler took over in 1938. He coached at Michigan from 1938-1947, during which time he compiled a 71-63-32 (.806) record. Crisler’s greatest player was the 1940 Heisman winner, Tom Harmon. Known as “Ol’ 98,” he remains the ultimate Michigan football legend. Life magazine put him on their cover with the headline, “Michigan’s Great Harmon.” On September 28, 1940 at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, the six-foot, one-inch, 195-pounder ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, returned a punt 72 yards for a TD, and scored two other times on runs of eighty-six and eight yards. On his 86-yard run, a drunken Cal fan named Bud Brennan ran out of the stands to try and tackle Harmon.
In World War II, Harmon’s plane was shot down twice. Both times he was listed as missing in the Pacific jungles. He survived, was rescued, earning the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and a position in the pantheon of well-deserved American hero worship. He was the first pick in the NFL Draft and played for the Los Angeles Rams. In L.A. he took to the Hollywood scene.
Harmon married a beautiful actress, Elyse Knox. He became a popular Southern California sportscaster. His son, Mark Harmon quarterbacked UCLA to a 1972 upset of Nebraska in the Coliseum, ending the Cornhuskers’ 32-game unbeaten streak. Tom announced the game. Mark, a gifted, handsome actor, has had a long, successful career in the movies.
Harmon’s time was a fateful period in the history of Michigan, the Big 10, college football, and America, not necessarily in that order. A shift was seen in the conference, with Ohio State under coach Paul Brown briefly assuming dominance in the wake of great years under Bernie Bierman at Minnesota.
Michigan State was not yet in the Big 10. Michigan refused to play them, since to do so would elevate the Spartans closer to their level. Later, they would fight against Michigan State’s entrance into the conference. The natural rivalry between the states of Michigan and Ohio manifested itself on the football field. For years the Wolverines denied that Ohio State was their main rival, as if to do so was to admit that the Buckeyes were in their “league” athletically, academically and socially. A sense of class envy developed between the two schools, which still exists today. But by the time Crisler took over in Ann Arbor, there was no more denying it. In 1942 the Buckeyes won their first national championship under Brown.
While Michigan had won national championships in various systems, they had also been denied. They had won their first on the strength of beating Stanford in the 1902 Rose Bowl. Ohio State had lost to California in the 1921 Rose Bowl. After that, Big 10 teams had eschewed the Rose Bowl. In 1932, the Wolverines might have earned a legitimate national title, which went instead to USC on the strength of their Rose Bowl victory. Michigan sat at home on New Year’s Day, 1933.
Minnesota managed to win three straight without the benefit of bowl victories. Some also noted that their titles may have occurred because they chanced no bowl defeats. In 1934 Minnesota was co-champion along with Alabama, winners of the Rose Bowl. The “no bowl” Golden Gophers were forced to share the 1940 title when Stanford beat Nebraska in Pasadena. The Big 10 saw some of its prestige waning. Southern schools caught up to the rest of the college football world because they played in Rose Bowls. With the creation of the Cotton, Orange and Sugar Bowls they had ample opportunity to further show their wares.
A natural arrangement was entered into whereby the champions of the Big 10 would meet the champions of the Pacific Coast Conference in the Rose Bowl. This would have the effect of first glorifying the Big 10 as the most prestigious conference in the country. Over time it would serve to shed light on its overrated position in the hierarchy.
Michigan made their first appearance in Pasadena since 1902 on January 1, 1948. Probably the greatest Michigan team of all time brought a 9-0 mark into a game against Southern California. Great expectations were heaped upon this contest, considered a battle not just for a football game played in 1948, but for national prestige representing the first half of the twenty-first century. Here were two of the most storied programs in the nation. The nature of “East versus West,” or at least “Midwest versus West,” meant this was for bragging rights and regional supremacy.
There was a third team in the Rose Bowl that day, although they were not there in physical presence. Notre Dame was Southern California’s all-time great rival, and teams – like Michigan – wanted to discredit the Trojans (and by some kind of proxy, Notre Dame) by asserting themselves as USC’s betters. In 1947 this premise was made even more obvious by virtue of the fact that Michigan and Notre Dame were locked in a head-to-head struggle for the national championship. Because of the AP’s pre-bowl vote, Notre Dame – and this may have been the best team in Irish history – had been declared number one with no bowl game to besmirch them. Michigan had been denied the title, but if they could beat USC then they could establish at least a sense of equality with Notre Dame. They did not They did not merely beat the Trojans, they destroyed them by a score of 49-0. It was the identical score they had defeated Stanford by forty-six years earliertablish at least a sense of equality with Noitre Dame.n had been denied the title, but if they could beat USC then. It had the effect of establishing Big 10 dominance over the PCC that would take years to overcome.
“The Big 10 looked at the Rose Bowl as a chance to hang out at the beach and meet pretty girls,” recalled legendary USC football announcer Tom Kelly. “The football game was just an after-thought, it was so automatic they’d win in those years.”
In 1948, the Trojans provided a slight favor to Michigan when they tied Notre Dame. It was just enough of a tarnish to drop the Irish to number two. Former All-American Bennie Oosterbaan took over from Crisler that season. This time unable to go to Pasadena because they had been there the previous year, the unbeaten, untied Wolverines finished with the national championship. Consensus All-Americans of the 1940s included Bob Westfall, Albert Wistert, Julie Franks, Bill Daley, Bob Chappuis, and Dick Rifenburg.
Wolverines on the run
S/Start season; F/Finish season
Year Record Run
1901 11-0 11-0 (1901)
1902 11-0 22-0 (1902)
20-0 (1901-02) 20 games
1903 11-0-1 S/6-0, 6-0-1, F/5-0 33-0-1 (1901-03)
29-0-1 (1901-03) games
1904 10-0 43-0-1 (1901-03)
39-0-1 (1901-05) 40 games
1905 12-1 S/12-0 55-1-1 (1901-05)
49-0-1 (1901-05) 50 games
Year Record Run
1929 5-3-1 F/3-0-1 5-3-1 (1929)
1930 8-0-1 13-3-2 (1929-30)
1931 8-1-1 F/5-0-1, 2-0 21-4-3 (1929-31)
1932 8-0 29-4-3 (1929-32)
26-1-3 (1929-32) 30 games
1933 7-0-1 36-4-3 (1929-33)
Year Record Run
1946 6-2-1 F/4-0 6-2-1 (1946)
1947 10-0 16-2-1 (1946-47)
1948 9-0 25-2-1 (1946-47)
1949 6-2-1 S/2-0 31-4-2 (1946-47)
Year Record Run
1970 9-1 9-1 (1970)
1971 11-1 20-2 (1970-71)
1972 10-1 30-3 (1970-72)
1973 10-0-1 40-3-1 (1970-73)
37-3 (1970-73) 40 games
1974 10-1 50-4-1 (1970-74)
46-3-1 (1970-74) 50 games
1975 8-2-2 S/2-0, 8-0-2 58-6-3 (1970-75)
53-4-3 (1970-75) 60 games
1976 10-2 68-8-3 (1970-76)
60-7-3 (70 games)
1977 10-2 78-10-3 (1970-77)
78-9-3 (1970-77) 90 games
1978 10-2 88-12-3 (1970-78)
88-11-3 (1970-78) 100 games
1979 8-4 S/1-0 96-16-3 (decade: 1970s)
94-13-5 (1970-79) 110 games
On January 1, 1951 Michigan upset favored California in the Rose Bowl, 14-6. After that, aside from a 34-7 Rose Bowl victory over Oregon State in 1965, Michigan football entered its longest period of decline under Oosterbaan and Bump Elliott. They would not truly begin to regain lost stature again until 1969. What made it even more frustrating were two facts. Ohio State under Woody Hayes established themselves as the cream of the Big 10 and a national powerhouse. That was bad enough, but in 1952 Michigan State, playing as an independent, won the national championship. In 1953, against the vote of Michigan’s representative, the Spartans were admitted into the Big 10 Conference. As if to deny Michigan State their just due, Michigan continued to play Ohio State in the last game of the season, refusing to view the Spartans as equal rivals.
Michigan disdained everything about Michigan State; their green jerseys, their factory town surroundings (East Lansing), and their academic inferiority; at least in Michigan’s view when compared to their own student-athlete reputation.
Michigan State did not care. They simply exuded excellence on the field. Duffy Daugherty took over in East Lansing in 1954. For the next thirteen years he and Woody Hayes at Ohio State had the best program in the Big 10. Only one Michigan player made consensus All-American in the 1950s (Ron Kramer). Three earned the honor in the 1960s (Bill Yaerby, Jack Clancy, Jim Mandich and Tom Curtis).
But in 1969 Michigan hired a former Ohio State assistant coach named Glenn “Bo” Schembechler. He immediately improved the Wolverines, but Ohio State had beaten them, 50-14 the previous year and were considered to be better than the 1968 national championship team.
The week of the game, Schembechler had the Michigan scout team wear jerseys that all read number 50, to remind the Wolverines of the half-century score the Buckeyes had pasted on them in 1968. Ohio State got off to a 12-0 lead at Michigan Stadium, but the Wolverine defense stiffened. Quarterback Don Moorhead engineered a glorious comeback win, 24-12.
Michigan’s College Hall of Famers (30)
Germany Schulz 1904-1908
Ernie Vick 1918-1921
Albert Benbrook 1908-1910
Reggie McKenzie 1969-1971
Dan Dierdorf 1968-1970
Merv Pregulman 1941-1943
Albert Wistert 1940-1942
Alvin Wistert 1946-1949
Francis Wistert 1931-1933
Ron Kramer 1954-1956
Bennie Oosterbaan 1925-1927
Neil Snow 1898-1901
Jim Mandich 1967-69
Anthony Carter 1979-1982
Benny Friedman 1924-1926
Harry Newman 1930-1932
Bob Chappuis 1942-1947
Bump Elliott 1943-1947
Tom Harmon 1938-1940
Willie Heston 1898-1904
"Crazylegs" Hirsch 1943
Ron Johnson 1966-1968
Harry Kipke 1921-1923
Neil Snow 1898-1901
Bob Westfall 1939-1941
Tom Curtis 1967-1969
Dave Brown 1972-1974
Bo Schembechler 1969-1989
Tad Wieman 1927-1942
Fielding Yost 1897-1926
Fritz Crisler watched it on television. Afterwards he wrote Schembechler a letter telling how he shed tears of joy over “the greatest upset I have ever seen.” In 1970, the Michigan-Ohio State game was more like George Patton and Erwin Rommel, or maybe Wellington and Napoleon. Both Hayes and Schembechler were viewed as football “generals,” not just because of their disciplinarian demeanors but because they preferred ground-oriented offensive styles, reminding pundits of an infantry assault. Both teams were unbeaten and untied when they played in Columbus. The national title was up in the air, with the AP waiting to vote until after the bowls. Ohio State gained revenge, 20-9.
But it was the 1972 Rose Bowl that somehow, frustratingly, epitomized the Bo Schembechler era at Michigan. While it is true that Nebraska held the number one spot all year and was not about to relinquish it, nevertheless Michigan woke up on New Year’s Day with hopes that a national title could be theirs if they beat Stanford. It was a longshot (the national title, not beating Stanford) but crazier things have happened.
A look at Michigan’s 1971 football scores leaves the reader in awe, asking the question, “Could it be possible anybody was ever better?” Only one team scored more than ten points against them in the regular season. In retrospect the Big 10 was slow and far too ground-oriented by 1971, but when a pretty good UCLA team visited Ann Arbor in September they were sent home with their tails between their legs, 38-0.
Then there was Stanford. In 1971, Stanford represented something more than just a pretty good football team trying to revive memories of thirty-year old glories. They had become a center of revolutionary political activity during the Vietnam War. In the view of people like Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes, the “Jane Fonda” wing of the protest movement deserved nothing less than a treason sentence. Schools like Stanford and California had, in their view, allowed their campuses to become rallying grounds for Communism. They could stomach losing to USC, but Stanford? This was war!
In 1970, Ohio State needed only to beat a good, but not great, Stanford squad to capture the national championship. They led early but folded in a 27-17 loss. However, Stanford had been led by the great Jim Plunkett, the Heisman Trophy winner, number one pick in the NFL Draft, and eventually a two-time Super Bowl champion. That made them a worthy conqueror.
But in 1971 nobody gave Stanford half a chance. Traditional powers USC and UCLA were expected to dominate the Pac-8. The Trojans, however, were beset by racial animosities in 1971. A red-shirt senior quarterback named Don Bunce led Stanford, whose defense was given the uniquely northern California appellation “Thunder Chickens.” Bunce was smart; he was just starting medical school and would be Stanford’s team doctor for years. But as a college quarterback he was no Jim Plunkett. He might have been able to handle the chores at Michigan, where the signal-caller did little but hand it off to a ball carrier in what was now more like a “nine yards and a cloud of dust” offense.
Bunce certainly did not light up the sky against Michigan, but the “Thunder Chickens” had no trouble containing the predictable Wolverine ground attack. Stanford held a slim lead late in the game Michigan tied it up, 10-10. It looked like it would end in stalemate, like Flanders or the Somme with fewer casualties. When Michigan’s kickoff was mishandled into a costly safety, Wolverine fans whooped it up, sort of. Later that night Alabama would play Nebraska. The Wolverines had been so mediocre that a 12-10 win over Stanford courtesy of a “gimme” safety had no chance of impressing voters regardless of who won in the Orange Bowl. That said, it was still better than a loss. To the “Thunder Chickens!”
Stanford had just enough time, though. Bunce suddenly looked like Johnny Unitas in 1958, revealing another inconvenient truth, which was that Michigan’s – and by proxy the Big 10’s – defense could not stop a passing team. Bunce got the Indians (they dropped Indians and went to Cardinal a year later, in solidarity with the Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay) within field goal range. On came Rod Garcia. Against world-beating San Jose State earlier in the season, all Garcia had done was miss two extra points and several chip field goals, including one with no time left, to give the Spartans a 13-12 win over Stanford. This time he was as straight and true as William Tell. The Stanford fans went wild in the wake of the 13-12 win. Michigan’s people looked for a rock to crawl under and hide.
Between 1972 and 1974 Michigan was 30-2-1. In 1973, after a 10-10 tie with Ohio State, the Big 10 athletic directors voted for Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl, the first-ever repeat team from the conference. First-year Michigan State athletic director Burt Smith voted for Ohio State. Some said it was revenge for Michigan trying to keep the Spartans out of the Big 10 in 1953. Others said it was because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin was hurt, meaning Ohio would have the better chance in Pasadena (where they in fact won big over Southern Cal). In truth, Michigan kicker Mike Lantry missed tries of 58 and 48 yards, both in the last 1:08. The Wolves had their chances.
“This is the lowest day of my career as a player and coach,” Schembechler said after the vote.
Elite Ten by the numbers
1. Michigan (1879-2006) 860-282-36
2. Notre Dame (1887-2006) 821-269-42
3. Texas (1893-2006) 810-313-33
4. Oklahoma (1895-2006) 768-292-53
5. Ohio State (1890-2006) 787-301-53
6. Alabama (1892-2006) 780-307-43
7. Nebraska (1890-2006) 801-327-41
8. Southern California (1888-2006) 743-300-54
9. Penn State (1887-2006) 780-343-41
10. Miami (1926-2006) 533-291-19
The Wolverines went to the Rose Bowl following the 1976, 1977 and 1978 seasons. Each time they were sent home in defeat, always because their ground-oriented offense was predictable and too easy to stop when faced with a quality opponent. When Michigan was not going to Pasadena, Ohio State was. After the 1974 defeat of USC, Woody and then coach Earle Bruce fared no better. It was a complete turnaround. The Pac-8, now the Pac-10 beginning in 1978, was thoroughly dominant.
Consensus All-Americans in the 1970s were Dan Dierdorf, Reggie McKenzie, Mike Taylor, Paul Seymour, Randy Logan, Dave Gallagher, Dave Brown, Rob Lytle, Mark Donahue, and Ron Simpkins.
In 1978, Michigan revived the Notre Dame rivalry. It had begun when Michigan was a power, the Irish an unknown Catholic school on the prairies, but it had not been maintained. Eventually after 1978, the game became a home-and-home fixture every September, its outcome promising to foretell national championship fortunes. When Notre Dame went on a long run of dominance over USC, Michigan continued to play them tough every season. It indicated a swing back to the Big 10.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Top 20/25 Associated Press - all poll rankings (1936-2006)
1. Michigan 724 (through 2005)
2. Ohio State 699 (through 2005)
3. Notre Dame 688 (through 2005)
4. Nebraska 619 (through 2005)
5. Oklahoma 625 (through 2005)
6. Southern California 619 (through 2005)
7. Alabama 605 (through 2005)
8. Texas 603 (through 2005)
9. Penn State 531 (through 2005)
On January 1, 1981 Bo finally got a win in the Rose Bowl, 23-6 over Washington. In the 1980s, with bowl opportunities expanding, Michigan had mixed success in post-season contests, but lost in two Rose Bowl games against UCLA (1983) and Arizona State (1987). On January 2, 1988 Michigan was out of the national championship picture when they returned to the Rose Bowl. USC, their opponent, had been in the hunt all year until losing a disastrous season-ending game to Notre Dame. This was a new, lesser version of the once great Trojans. Under coach Larry Smith, Southern California seemed to have lost pride in themselves, mailing in an uninspired performance against the Wolverines. Michigan running back Leroy Hoard could not be stopped. Bo had his “most satisfying” victory ever, 22-14.
(Both Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler have referred to Rose Bowl wins over Southern California as their respective “biggest” and “most satisfying” wins ever.)
The next year, it was the same old story: USC 17, Michigan 10. Consensus All-Americans in the 1980s were the great receiver Anthony Carter, Ed Muransky, Kurt Becker, Mike Hammerstein, Brad Cochran, Jumbo Elliott, John Vitale, Mark Messner, and Tripp Wellborne.
Gary Moeller took over the program in 1990. In 1991, Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy. His famous “pose” in the end zone after scoring a touchdown seemed apropos. Moeller’s teams were 44-13-3 between 1990 and 1994 with one blowout loss to Washington (34-14, 1992) and one hard-fought win over the Huskies (38-31, 1993) in two Rose Bowls.
Lloyd Carr became their coach in 1997, returning Michigan to glory. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson and quarterback Brian Griese, the Wolverines went 12-0, beat Ohio State (20-14) and Washington State (21-16) in the Rose Bowl to finish number one.
Elite Ten by the numbers
1. Michigan 860
2. Notre Dame 821
3. Texas 810
4. Nebraska 801
5. Ohio State 787
6. Alabama 780
7. Penn State 780
8. Oklahoma 768
9. Southern California 743
10. Miami 533
Tom Brady came out of the Michigan program, where he was a fair quarterback considered less than a major NFL prospect. In New England he developed into the greatest signal-caller since Joe Montana. Brady is a surefire Hall of Famer. Consensus All-American in the 1990s and 2000s have included Greg Skrepenak, Desmond Howard, Jarrett Irons, Charles Woodson, Steve Hutchinson, Chris Perry, Braylon Edwards, David Baas, Marlin Jackson, and Ernest Shazor. Leon Hall was Cincinnati’s number one draft pick in 2007.
But the Carr years have proven to be frustrating. After the national championship glory of 1997, the Wolverines were always strong but beginning with the 2003 season could not win bowl games.
This included a thrilling 38-37 loss to Vince Young and Texas in the 2005 Rose Bowl, and two semi-blowouts at the hands of obviously superior Southern California teams in the 2004 and 2007 Rose Bowls. In 2006, Michigan and Ohio State ran the table, leading to another “Game of the Century” with the Buckeyes’ Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith in Columbus. The game lived up to its billing, but in the end Michigan came out on the losing side of a 42-39 score. What happened after that was an embarrassment.
USC moved ahead of Michigan in the polls to the number two spot, setting up a BCS title game with Ohio State, which did not bother anybody. When the Trojans lost to UCLA, however, Florida jumped ahead of Michigan, causing many to cry foul.
Then they played the bowls.
Did you know . . . That Michigan has produced thirty-one All-Pro selections (through 2005)?
Both Ohio State and Michigan would have been better off staying at home, as they had often done in the old days. Forced to actually compete on the field, Smith and Ohio State were beaten up and down the field by Florida. The Wolverines were at least competitive for a little more than half a game before the Trojans established their dominance in the Rose Bowl. All arguments on behalf of Ohio State, Michigan and the Big 10 became mere synapses in the air. It was obvious that Florida was the best team in the nation, and further obvious that had USC played Ohio State, while they likely would not have beaten the Bucks as thoroughly as the Gators had, they too were clearly better.
Through the 2006 season the University of Michigan is the:
· Winningest school in college football history (860 wins).
Has a .746 all-time winning percentage.
Has the highest all-time strength of schedule rating in college football.
· Has been named national champions by at least some source eleven times (1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1918, 1923, 1932, 1933, 1947, 1948, 1997).
Has won forty-two conference championships (more than any school in any single conference).
Has 113 winning seasons (most in college football).
Has twenty-five undefeated seasons (more than any other Division 1-A school).
Is one of only three schools with a winning record versus every Division 1-A conference including independents.
Has a 56-game unbeaten streak (second longest in college football history).
Went thirty-nine straight years without a losing season (longest ongoing streak in the nation).
The 2007 bowl games are a microcosm of Big 10 frustration in the modern era. The first and at one point the most prestigious conference was an also-ran in comparison with the historically superior records of the Pacific-10 and Southeastern Conferences. Ohio State and Michigan, longtime stalwarts of the college game who no doubt will remain so for years, decades, could not make the argument that they were still the dominant college powers. Michigan has a long list of gaudy accomplishments, but when giving greater credence to glory achieved lately as opposed to glory achieved long ago, they lose points in the harsh sunshine of modern football history. No matter where they rank among College Football’s All-Time Top 25 Traditions, Michigan represents the kind of passion that makes the college game a cut above the mercenary pros. “Hail to Michigan.”
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism