Welcome to the MVictors Uniform Timeline where below you will find a descending timeline of changes to the Michigan football team uniforms over the years.
Note: For all uniform changes prior to 1970, the rules change a bit. If I have a compelling photo of an actual jersey (or portion of a jersey) over this period, I will include it in the timeline even if it didn’t mark a particular change in design or new feature:
October 1, 1938 | Ann Arbor, MI | vs. Michigan State
HELMET: Fritz Crisler takes over as head coach, introduces the “winged” helmet design. Photo of the Michigan State game via the 1939 Michiganensian:
1931 Season | Ann Arbor
JERSEY: Remarkably what is believed to be an actual 1931 jersey belonging to former player Norm Daniels showed up on eBay in 2008:
1930 Season | Ann Arbor
JERSEY: This is the first season jersey numbers appear on the front of Michigan uniforms, evidenced by the end-of-year team photos:
November 10, 1928 | Baltimore, MD (Baltimore Stadium) | vs. Navy
JERSEY: Navy insisted on wearing blue, so Michigan team wore “bright yellow jerseys with blue numbers. The team was said to look like canaries, and the uniforms were put away after the 6-6 tie.” (Source: Champions of the West)
1927 (End of Season) | Ann Arbor, MI
JERSEY: Following the 1927 season, Michigan retires the #47 jersey belonging to Bennie Oosterbaan.(In 2012 Oosterbaan and the #47 officially entered the Michigan Football Legends program and returned to the field, before being re-retired on November 28, 2015 when the Legends program ended.) Below, a colorized version of Oosterbaan’s 1927 uniform:
November 12, 1927 | Ann Arbor, MI | vs. Navy
HELMET: To create contrast with Navy’s uniform, Michigan paints its helmets “a bright maize color” for the game. Here’s a clip from the Michigan Daily prior to the game:
November 22, 1924 | Ann Arbor, MI | vs. Iowa
HELMET: According to the Michigan Daily, U-M wears “white-washed headgears”.
October 1, 1927 | vs. Ohio Wesleyan | Ann Arbor MI
Michigan Stadium holds its first game, a 33-0 victory over Ohio Wesleyan:
February 1917 | Ann Arbor, MI
Michigan returns to the Big Ten Conference
1915 Season | Ann Arbor, MI
JERSEY: According to U-M Bentley Historical Library, numbers appear on Michigan uniforms for the first time in 1915, appearing only on the back of the jersey.
1912(?) Season | Ann Arbor, MI
JERSEY/HELMET/SHOES: Put up for auction in 2010, what appears to be an authentic full uniform from the (approximately) early 1910s (perhaps 1912 or 1913?) Michigan football team:
October 11, 1910 | Michigan Daily
JERSEY: The Daily posts a variety of options on of whether Michigan should put numbers on football jerseys:
1908 Season (this played out between 1906-1908).
Michigan leaves Big Ten Conference over new rules controlling the schedule (5 games), benefits to players (training tables), eligibility (3 years vs. 4), and the big one for Michigan – the head coach had to also be a member of the faculty (Yost was not).
October 31, 1903 | Minneapolis, MN | vs. Minnesota
Following Michigan’s 6-6 tie against Minnesota, U-M leaves a water jug behind. Minnesota keeps the jug as a souvenir, eventually forming the tradition that is the Little Brown Jug rivalry.
1901 Season | All Games
Fielding Yost’s first season in Ann Arbor. The team finishes 11-0, outscores opponents 550-0 including a 49-0 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl, the first college “bowl” game.
An interesting find from author John Kryk at the U-M Bentley Historical Library – a colorized version of the 1901 team photo. (It’s unclear when this was done and whether the color tones are accurate, but worthy of posting here nonetheless).
November 24, 1898 | Chicago, IL | vs. Chicago
Michigan defeats Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Chicago Maroons 12-11. Following the game student Louis Elbel pens ‘The Victors’:
February 8, 1896 | Chicago, IL
CONFERENCE: The Big Ten is formed with original members Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue and Chicago.
November 23, 1887 | South Bend, IN | vs. Notre Dame
On a trip to Chicago, Michigan visits Notre Dame and teaches a group of men the game of football. From John Kryk’s Natural Enemies:
At about 11 o’clock the elevens trotted onto the slop, which we can only assume was somehow marked to proper proportions. Before the players were set to have at it, Brother Paul informed DeHaven that the Notre Dame boys – several of them former classmates of DeHaven’s and Harless’s – had had trouble playing by the book. Brother Paul then suggested the teams at first be mixed for a brief period of hands-on instruction. The Wolverines agreed.
“So we played gently with them that day,” DeHaven recalled, “…and carefully taught Notre Dame how to play modern football.”
When the Notre Dame players learned just how physical this brand was, they took to it with reckless abandon. Too reckless, actually. One student in attendance recalled DeHaven and company having to caution their eager pupils against playing too violently.
After this brief tutorial, the players segregated into their proper squads and played a 30-minute game. When both sides finished slipping, rolling, and tumbling in the mud, Michigan tallied two touchdowns (worth four points each) to win 8-0. It was said the Notre Dame players, as well as the students in attendance, appreciated the fact the Wolverines did not try to run it up on their disadvantaged hosts.
ALMA MATER: Responding to a contest in the Michigan yearbook, Charles Mills Gayley pens what becomes U-M’s alma mater, “The Yellow and Blue”.
JERSEY: From the team photo, it appears most of the the team donned dark sweaters with ‘U of M’ brushed or painted onto the front. Several of the players all wear a short beanie cap:
May 30, 1879 | Chicago, IL (White Stocking Park) | vs. Racine
JERSEY & SHOE/SOCKS: According to Champions of the West, the uniform’s for the first game in history consisted of “white, close-fitting canvas with blue stockings and a belt.” Based on the team photo available at the U-M Bentley Library, the team also donned nifty striped hats:
February 12, 1867 | Ann Arbor, MI
MISC: Michigan officially adopts maize and blue as its school colors (more here):
Our college colors were chosen at a meeting of the literary department held in the chapel on Saturday, February 12, 1867, when Milton Jackson, ’67, Albert H. Pattengill, ’68, and J. Eugene Jackson, ’69, the committee appointed for the purpose, reported a resolution in favor of “azure-blue and maize”, which was adopted. In about ten years the colors came to be styled, as they are now styled, yellow and blue. The original blue was neither light nor very dark, and the yellow was decidedly golden. Never has there been any warrant for the sickly yellow and the faded blue furnished by some of the tradesmen of Detroit and Ann Arbor.