Thanksgiving Day Football

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Did you know that Michigan football used play on Thanksgiving day?  Indeed—your beloved Wolverines met Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Chicago met on this holiday on several instances back in the 1890s including a couple historically significant battles:

1896— The undefeated Michigan squad met up with Stagg’s Maroons in the Windy City in a unique venue (see ticket stub above, via Jack Briegel’s collection).  As far as I can tell it was the first  football game played indoors, yes, inside the Chicago Coliseum.   Chicago squeaked by 7-6 in the first year of B1G conference play.  Get this–they even invoked “electric lights” when it became dark inside the facility late in the game.  Want more?  Check out my This Week in Michigan Football History piece from last year.

1898—What else can you say?   Once again undefeated heading into the finale, Michigan’s 12-11 victory in 1898 was played on Thanksgiving 114 years ago this Saturday.  U-M student Louis Elbel was so inspired by the Wolverines’ win, which capped a perfect season, he composed ‘The Victors’ in the aftermath.

Postscript:  Michigan was undoubtedly the Champions of the West in 1898, but looking back does Michigan have a right to claim the title of national champion?  It’s seems silly discussing this 114 years later but there is recent precedent for such action.   In 2004 Southern Cal looked back at its history and claimed the 1939 national championship.   And in August this year, our Little Brown Jug rival Minnesota announced that it claimed a share of the 1904 national championship.   While Harvard and Princeton each take credit for the 1898 crown based on different measurements – Does Michigan, who went undefeated and outscored opponents 205 to 26, have an argument to join them?  Ok, it’s silly.  But fun to talk about.

Beat Ohio!

[Originally posted November 2012]

The 1951 Rose Bowl victory capped off a nice season for coach Bennie Oosterbaan’s crew.  The 1950 squad featured team MVP Don Dufek and All-American R. Allen Wahl and won the conference title with a 6-3-1 overall record, dropping games to Michigan State, #1 ranked Army [played at Yankee Stadium), and to Illinois.  Despite a tough start the team rallied to win their final three games and added the great victory in Pasadena.

You probably can’t say this for any Michigan Rose Bowl champion, but the win over Cal in Pasadena was not the definitive victory for this team. That distinction will always be reserved for the game over a month earlier on November 25, 1950 in Columbus—a game that will forever be known as The Snow Bowl.

The week leading up to the game was somewhat normal for a November in the Midwest. On Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), Columbus experienced 38 degree temperatures and rain. By 8am Friday morning the thermometer sunk to 5 degrees and it snowed off and on for most of the day. The forecast for Saturday was a chilly 15 degrees and possible snow, but Friday evening to early Saturday morning things took a wicked turn:


A shirtless, unruly hairy beast with bad teeth seen outside Ohio stadium?  shocker

During the night, a storm moving up the Carolina coast pumped Atlantic moisture like a fire hose westward to meet the southward blast of frigid air. The clash of these two air masses reached full fury over Ohio and western Pennsylvania, paralyzing the region with heavy snow, gale-force winds and near-zero temperatures. Pittsburgh lay under a 16-inch snowfall with another foot forecast, forcing cancellation of the Pitt-Penn State game. Southeastern Ohio measured 14 plus inches. Transportation across the state ground to a halt.

As game time drew near the field was buried and around 50,000 brave fans huddled beneath the Ohio Stadium stands and waited to take their seats. A meeting was held between the schools to decide whether to play the game that included Ohio coach Wes Felser, Ohio athletic director Dick Larkin, Michigan AD Fritz Crisler and Oosterbaan. There had yet to be a Big Ten conference game canceled for any reason and this game held greater significance. If the game wasn’t played, Ohio State would earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. But Larkin knew (and certainly Oosterbaan and especially Crisler reminded him) that Michigan could potentially earn a trip to the Rose Bowl with a win. Ultimately Larkin gave the green light and remarked, “We’ll just have to do the best we can.”

When the game started, the teams did the only thing they could. Run a play or two and then punt rather than risk a turnover.

Michigan entered the game third in the conference standings behind the Buckeyes and Illinois. During the game word made it to the Michigan sideline that Northwestern upset the Illini meaning a Wolverine victory would send Oosterbaan and company to Pasadena.

The decisive moment came with time running out in the first half as Fesler made a tactical move that probably cost him his job, as described by Sports Illustrated:

On third and 6 at the Ohio State 13, Buckeyes coach Wes Fesler instructed [Heisman Trophy winner Vic] Janowicz to punt with Ohio State holding a 3-2 lead. Only 47 seconds remained in the half and it is likely that Ohio State could have run out the clock. But Michigan’s Tony Momsen — whose older brother Bob played for the Buckeyes — blocked the kick and then fell on it in the end zone, closing the scoring in a 9-3 Michigan win.

Thanks to WolverineHistorian, a few clips from the game:

 

The statistics from the game are remarkable:

  • Ohio State had 41 yards of total offense, Michigan 27.
  • The Buckeyes actually attempted 18 passes, completing just three for 25 yards.
  • Michigan had no first downs; Ohio State three.
  • The teams punted a combined 45 times for a total of 1,408 yards.
  • The team fumbled 10 times but lost only one each.

There’s probably hundreds of other stories about the game from those who witnessed it. HBO’s The Rivalry spent a good portion of the documentary on the game providing some phenomenal footage. The BBC website pulled together an impressive recap and added this anecdote which will definitely get a chuckle out of any Michigan Marching Band fan:

..the Ohio State Marching Band, which considered itself the best in the country (and still does), was offended by an article in Life magazine which claimed Michigan had the best. Ohio State was determined to prove itself and arranged an elaborate performance for half time. However, the brass instruments were chilled and the mouthpieces frozen. It seemed it would be unable to play.

The band planned to silently perform its maneuvers, which included standing together in a shape resembling a Buckeye leaf, while previously recorded music played over the loudspeakers. However, the determined band members got hold of some antifreeze for their mouthpieces and did the performance.

I’ll bookend end this eBay Watch with another item from the period. It’s a 1951 Michiganensian yearbook, featuring a few photos from both games, here’s a few pics from the Snow Bowl as displayed in the yearbook:

[Originally posted November 16, 2008]

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Sources:
* From the Ohio State library 1950 OSU vs. Michigan, The Snow Bowl
* An excellent recap from The BBC Website
* Game footage from ohiohistory.com
* Weather Events: Blizzard Bowl
* SI.com on the 10 greatest games in the U-M/OSU Rivalry

Ugh.  For the record:

This day in history – I mentioned to the fellas on air in the Victors Lounge that I’m actually getting crap on Twitter for citing history and historical events.  Umm…that’s what I do and almost all I do.   It this site’s raison d’être.   Needless to say I march on.

So while sadly Saturday was a low point of sorts, November 22 will remain an epic anniversary for Michigan football for decades to come, if for no other reason these two games:

celebration  takethat

Two Hundred.  Holy fandom endurance awards – props to uber fan Mike Khomutin for attending this 200th straight U-M game (yes, that’s home AND away).  I believe that dates back to 1998.  See Sap’s Decals for your decal.

Jake No Patch – Some of you noticed that Jake Ryan didn’t wear his Bennie Oosterbaan Legends patch during the Northwestern game.  I’m efforting some details from media relations on why.  To my knowledge this hasn’t been addressed by anyone…and if you think this little detail is silly, I’d offer that it’s no sillier than anything else people are writing about this team at this moment.

Willie Heston – Yo!  My piece short bio piece on Willie Heston appeared in the game program on Saturday (page 4).  I’ll repost it here soon and note that historian/pal John Kryk helped me out with a few nuggets.  A clip:

Heston 

According to Kryk, Yost considered Heston an exceptional tackler, but because he played behind U-M’s dominant line he rarely got the chance to make a play.  Strangely enough his first touchdown at Michigan actually came on defense. In the 1901 season opener against Albion, he broke through the line, snatched the ball from the quarterback and dashed the rest of the way for his inaugural visit to the end zone.

Senior day – The seniors were honored on the field before the game as usual, but this year the players received framed jerseys instead of righteous commemorative pigskins that they’ve been given in recent years:

Brady Hoke hugs Denard Robinson - MVictors.com

Seven Decade Usher! – Another great tradition on the last home game is honoring the longest tenured stadium ushers.  I read this off of the closed captioning on the scoreboard, but I believe they acknowledged one Robert Prieskorn (sp?) for 75 years of service!  Holy moly.  That means Robert was on duty when Tom Harmon won the Heisman Trophy in 1940.

Wile and Hagerup – My co-Most Improved Players.

Mood UpdateComing up later.  Hint:

MMB – Their halftime routine summoned up a comet to blow up the Buckeye Marching Band’s dinosaur:

That’s all here.

Elsewhere:

Maize and Blue Nation:

We’ve been waiting almost 3 whole years for Dennis Norfleet to return a kick/punt for a touchdown after almost breaking loose numerous times. So it stands to reason the one and only time he takes one to the house…which probably would’ve put game away and slammed the door on any Maryland comeback…was called back for a highly questionable block in the back call.

mgoblog – Ace instant react

As far as I know, Brady Hoke hasn’t been informed he’s fired, but he knows. We all do. With bowl eligibility on the line—unless you’re holding out hope for a miracle in Columbus—Hoke’s squad couldn’t get out of its own way.

 

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[Ed. Bless you Sap for putting some heart into the final home decals of the year after…that.]

OFFENSIVE CHAMPION

DEVIN GARDNER – To me, New 98 is the LaVell Blanchard of the Michigan Football Team. Great kid. Smart kid. Face of the program for the past few years. Much like Blanchard, Gardner has been caught in the middle of a coaching change during his career. Caught in the middle of a program trying to find its way. Caught in the middle of a university trying to figure out what kind of identity they want their football team to have. Much like we do when looking back on the career of Blanchard, I’m sure we will say much the same for Gardner: “Oh, the Gardner years! Tough kid. Never quit. Never gave up. Sad that his record wasn’t better.”

At the half, I saw no one on offense who stepped up to spark this unit. This offense rushed for almost 300 yards and only Gardner got into the endzone. You can see he’s feeling better, but he is obviously still a shell of himself, physically, and probably mentally. There’s an old Canadian hockey saying about a goalie that gets peppered with so many shots that draws a parallel to a QB in football who gets hit and sacked a lot: “That guy has seen more rubber than a dead cat on the 401 Highway.” I’m sure DG can somewhat relate. Great kid. Smart kid. Tough kid. Sad…

DEFENSIVE CHAMPION

JAKE RYAN – During the first half, I was pleasantly surprised to see the old Michigan Football adage come to life – the expectation is for the position, not the player. Mario Ojemudia, #53, was making plays like #57 used to! The Maryland offense had been kept in check and kept out of the endzone. But in the second half, much like #57 was not on the field, I didn’t hear #53’s name called much.

What I DID see all game long was #47 flying all over the place trying to make something happen for the defense. Sure enough, Ryan caused a fumble, but as luck would have it, the Maryland ball carrier had the ball fumble right back to himself. I don’t have it in me for a Jake Ryan player analogy. Another talent come and gone without the proper career sendoff. Sad…

SPECIAL TEAMS CHAMPION

JOE KERRIDGE – I loved the fake punt call and was thrilled to see Kerridge rumble 52 yards to convert the 4th & 6 into a first down. But as soon as I saw that he didn’t quite make it into the endzone, this ominous feeling came over me that the Michigan offense would have to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. Some people love to quote movie lines. I choose to quote lines from past Michigan Football games. After this play, I immediately thought of the 1986 Fiesta Bowl telecast where NBC color commentator Sam Rutigliano (former Cleveland Browns Head Coach) said, “If you block downfield you get touchdowns instead of first downs.” A better block downfield puts Kerridge in the endzone. Just sayin’…

UNIFORM CHAMPION

SENOR DAY PATCH – I didn’t see any uniform callouts this week, but did come up with one idea of my own. Seeing that UM has a Spring Game Patch on the jerseys for their April inter-squad scrimmage/practice, I’m sure we’ll one day see a Senior Day Patch to commemorate the last home game for all the departing seniors. Why not?

UFER FAN AWARD

MIKE KHOMUTIN200 straight Michigan football games, home and away, dating by to 1998(?).  Oh, the highs and the mediums and the lows and the lows.  Well done.

Last Saturday WTKA played the Ufer broadcast of the 1964 Ohio State game (the 10-0 win that sent Bump Elliott’s crew to the Rose Bowl).   Dang those broadcasts are gems and this was no exception (remind me to try to get a copy of Ufer’s halftime interview with Fritz Crisler and post it here).  

If you read this site you know how I feel about that squad and their legacy—they have to be the one of the most underappreciated teams in U-M history.  I think this year a few folks have done a lot to help right that wrong, leading with historian Bruce Geelhoed. 

For starters Geelhoed has an outstanding story in the current edition of Michigan History magazine on the 1964 Ohio State game titled, ‘The Game that Turned Around the Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry’.  You can pick it up at local Meijer and Barnes and Noble stores or online here.

photo Captain Conley’s righteous pigskin – the Ohio State game ball

But foremost — Geelhoed recently published this, a 248 page book on the 1964 season itself:

Geelhoed Book If you are the type of fan who has books like John Kryk’s Natural Enemies and John Bacon’s Blue Ice on your shelf, this is no brainer— go out and get a copy.   It includes an endorsement from yours truly on the back cover.

That incredible season had so much drama—and it’s all captured here, finally, for the record.   A big hat tip to Geelhoed for pulling this book together – I know it’s been years in the making.

 

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Over the years people have asked me why I’m so interested in the history of The Little Brown Jug.  While there are a few reasons, a biggie for me is that the jug itself is the ultimate piece of college football memorabilia.   And college football fans love memorabilia.  How many of you reading this have a shrine of some form another at home or work dedicated to your beloved Wolverines?

Of course ticket stubs have been a popular piece of of memorabilia for a long time (I have a shoebox somewhere with a bunch of gems).   111 years ago I don’t think people felt as compelled to hang onto stuff like ticket stubs but either way, one thing that always surprised me was that I’d never seen a stub to the 1903 Michigan-Minnesota 6-6 tie—the game that spawned the jug tradition.   It was such a huge game especially for the folks in Minneapolis so it’s bugged me for a while that to my knowledge a stub had never surfaced (and I’ve mentioned it on these pages before):

Righteous Stub
So we know approximately 20,000 witnessed the famous clash and we do know that the gross receipts for the game were precisely $30,933.50 (with the Wolverines netting a $13K cut).  Assuming the ducats, based on others from that year, were probably about two bucks, it’s fair to assume Doc Cooke’s athletic department produced somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 tickets. 

This leads to one missing piece of Jug Lore—I’ve never seen a ticket stub to the 1903 Minnesota-Michigan game.

I polled a couple of the most famous U-M memorabilia collectors.  Jack Briegel, who owns a ticket to every game played in Michigan Stadium and many more emailed me confirming that he’s doesn’t have one and in fact, he’s “never seen a ticket from that game.”

Ken Magee, who runs Ann Arbor Sports Memorabilia and owns an extensive vintage U-M collection, hasn’t seen one either.

I reached out to the U-M Bentley Library (they do have a collection of tickets) but I don’t think they have one.  Paul Rovnak of University of Minnesota media relations wrote to me and said they don’t have a ticket from the game either.

My guess?  Someone out there has a ticket stub to this game.   Reveal yourself(!)..and become a piece of Little Brown Jug lore.

FOUND!
Fast forward to last week when I got a text with the news and a pic.  Yes indeed, Ken Magee of Ann Arbor Sports Memorabilia, located someone selling an old scrapbook that included newspaper clippings from the 1903 game and inside the scrapbook was this:

1903 Minnesota Ticket Stub

While I don’t have a reference point to compare, it looks legit.  Based on a peek at other tickets from 1903, it looks like the font and general style is the same (I assume schools often used the same printing companies).  Check out stubs from U-M games against Wisconsin (played in Ann Arbor, via Jack Briegel) and against Chicago (played in Chicago – via the Bentley Library):

wisc chicago

I say case closed.  Nice find!

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Today marks the 110th anniversary of Willie Heston’s final game at Michigan.  Heston was Michigan’s first superstar, a two-time All-American, who scored (somewhere around) 72 touchdowns.  From 1901 to 1904, Heston’s teams went 43-0-1 and are credited with four national titles.

willieheston

I’ll have more on Heston later this year.

Hearing Willie
Back in 2012 I posted a short audio clip of Fielding Yost from the 1940 nationwide radio tribute the man titled, ‘A Toast to Yost from Coast to Coast’.   Check it out if you missed it.   In that post I promised to share a few more clips, and thanks to the Bentley Historical Library for passing these along.

The man who introduced Yost to the crowd in attendance and the radio audience was none other than the great Heston.   Here are two clips of the great Willie and in the first we have a surprise.   Before offering up his tribute to his old coach, Heston acknowledges that current student athlete and national icon Tom Harmon in the audience.  Old 98 shares the mic & even has a little back and forth with Heston that is all in all pretty priceless.

The second clip has Heston delivering his testimonial to Yost.  Enjoy:

As an aside, while I’m sure you’ll be hard pressed to find another audio clip of the Harmon and Heston together but they did appear elsewhere…namely on this campaign pin for Heston [original 2008 post].   This is probably a decent representation of what each man looked like back in 1940:

image

Seeing Willie
Don’t ask me to point out who’s who (maybe Brian can whip out a UFR), but here’s footage from Willie’s final game played at Regents Field in Ann Arbor, a 22-12 victory over rival (and Yost’s nemesis) Amos Alonzo Stagg and Chicago.  The footage was taken by Thomas Edison’s firm (note the “gridiron” – the lines painted on the field like a grid):

 

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Bless you Sap for serving up decals after that rough game.  Here you go:

OFFENSIVE CHAMPION

DE’VEON SMITH – Now you know why coaches like Bo and Bill Parcells loved to have a strong running game. When you can close out a game, or at least milk the clock, it puts pressure on the opposing team to either use all their timeouts late in the game or drive the length of the field to win. Smith has given the Michigan offense the strength and stability it desperately needs – especially when U-M’s QB is basically playing on one leg.

DEFENSIVE CHAMPION

FRANK CLARK – Finally a solid, break-out, statement game from Clark. Dude was the classic guy who came to play right from the opening snap to the final play of the game. I haven’t seen such a strong and steady big play performance from a Michigan defender since some guy wore #2 in 1997.

SPECIAL TEAMS CHAMPION

KICK TEAM – I don’t want to sound like an old coach, but don’t EVER take another extra point for granted. If Matt Wile doesn’t convert his PAT, the score would have been 9-9 instead of 10-9, and all Northwestern would have needed was a PAT of their own to win.

 

I know, I know, Wile had one kick blocked, but aside from that, the entire Kick Team played lights out against the Wildcats. From Will Hagerup’s Aussie Drop style punts being downed at the Northwestern one-yard line, to Jehu Chesson recovering a Wildcat muff, the execution of the Michigan Kick Team flipped field position in this contest the entire night. And when playing against an offense that was as scintillating as Northwestern’s was (NOT!), it tilts the field even more in your favor.

UNIFORM CHAMPION

YELLOW SHOES – If I can accept the blue stockings (instead of the traditional maize shoes white socks), y’all can give me the yellow cleats that Blake Countess strutted out on Ryan Field on Saturday night. Talk about sick!?!? I LOVED that look with the white jersey, maize pants and white socks!!

 

If Michigan ever goes back to the Canary Yellow unis, you gotta complete the ensemble with those wicked yellow Countess cleats!

EDITOR’S CHOICE

image

JAKE RYAN -  The position move to middle linebacker was a tough transition for Jake but man, he’s looked solid the past few games and he was an badass out there Saturday.  On the NW sideline Fitz must have seen shades of his old playing days watching #47 out there.  He had one series (that ended with his interception) that is a mini-highlight package all in of itself.  FWIW he didn’t wear his Legends Bennie Oosterbaan patch on the #47 jersey for some reason—I half wondered if he removed it and sewed it on Fitz’s ass during pregame.

 
   

This week we rolled back 17 years (wow, 17 years!) to November 8, 1997 for one of the most anticipated and hyped-up Saturday’s in recent history.  ESPN dubbed it Judgment Day, and the big winner of the whole exercise was your beloved Wolverines who crushed JoePa and the Nittany Lions 34-8:

While I didn’t get to it in the clip, that game featured one of the hardest hits that I’ve ever seen when U-M’s Daydrion Taylor smoked Penn State’s Bob Stephenson.  The collision ended the careers of each man.

You can catch all of the This Week in Michigan Football History clips here

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