While we’re on the topic of the famous 12-11 victory, a resurrected postscript: Michigan was undoubtedly the Champions of the West in 1898, but looking back do our beloved Wolverines have a claim to the national championship that season? It’s seems silly discussing this so many decades 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 of 2012, our Little Brown Jug-toting buddies 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?
A while back legendary Michigan Football Equipment Manager Jon Falk told me the story of how Anthony Carter was given the #1 jersey to wear by Coach Bo Schembechler. He also told me that Bo went to unbelievable lengths to get AC to come to A-squared.
Recently I tracked down former U-M Coaches Bill McCartney and Don Nehlen to get the real details of how Carter became a Wolverine. Nehlen told me that U-M was not regularly into recruiting Florida back then, but at the same time, Michigan was still a considered a program with a national reach. “I can still remember the first time I saw him at practice,” Nehlen told me. “I said, ‘Oh, brother—this is a pretty fragile looking guy!’ He was a dynamite football player, though.” One concern they had about recruiting in Florida was the reality of having to bring the players to Michigan—and more specifically—the Michigan weather. While he was involved in the courtship, Nehlen also told me that the point man for the recruitment of AC was coach McCartney.
Sure enough, coach Mac had the full skinny and here’s our Q&A:
Steve Sapardanis (SS): Was Carter the most electrifying athlete you had seen in High School? Coach Bill McCartney (BM): Yes. He really was electric. He had balance, acceleration. His quickness was uncommon. He was a cut above. One thing you have to remember, the kids in Florida were able to play football year round and as a result, they had a noticeable edge when they got to college. By the time I went to visit him, he was already leaning toward Miami (Florida).
SS: Did you as coaches feel AC would get you over the hump and help you win a bowl game at Michigan? BM: You gotta remember, he was the rage! He was the cat’s meow! He was shot out of a cannon! He was faster than a speeding bullet! It didn’t surprise me one bit that he returned a punt for a touchdown in his first game (at Michigan).
SS: Did you have to recruit his parents to get Anthony to come to Michigan? BM: In some cases, you are right – you have to recruit the parents, because sometimes if you convinced the kid to come without selling the parents on it, you could lose the kid. That wasn’t the case with Anthony. Michigan was an easy sell.
SS: Why do you think AC wanted to come to Michigan? BM: Michigan was the maximum experience. It was a college town. It was a safe town; close to a big city. It had the largest stadium in the country. The most wins in college football history. It was wholesome.
SS: Wasn’t Carter worried about Bo running the ball and not throwing it a lot? BM: You’re right about Bo wanting to run the ball, but I don’t think Anthony really knew a lot about Michigan, to tell you the truth.
SS: It sounded like AC was the prized recruit in his class – was that the case? BM: Absolutely. I’ve never told anyone this before but we saw that the temperature for his visit to Ann Arbor was going to be 10 degrees. So we had this plan (laughs). We covered every detail with the coaches and his host.* It was all rehearsed. I flew down to Florida to pick up Anthony and brought him up to Ann Arbor. Because it was so cold, we were worried that the weather might affect his decision, so when the plane landed in Detroit, we had a car waiting to pick us up. So as soon as we got off the plane, I rushed Anthony into the car (laughs). And when we got to Ann Arbor, we had the car pull up right in front of the football building and whisked him inside. I had it coordinated with the other coaches so that Anthony was never outside for more than 10 seconds. [The host] did a great job with Anthony, showing him around and saying all the right things.
When his visit was over, I flew back with him to Florida. It was the only time I would ever fly to meet a recruit and fly back home with him – he was that important and that special. When we landed in Florida, Anthony said to me, “You know coach, it really wasn’t that cold!” That’s when I knew we got him. SS: Did the promise of an indoor practice facility factor in his recruitment? BM: It never did, because we didn’t want to make a big deal about the weather. See, if we talked about that, or how cold it would get, it would have put all the focus on the weather and we didn’t want to talk about that.
The ‘79 staff from the game program that season
SS: I heard that while you got AC’s mother to sign his Letter of Intent, getting his father to sign it was a little more involved. Did you and Bo actually go into the Florida Everglades to get Carter’s father to sign his LOI? BM: Yes, it’s true.
SS: Bo literally rolled up his pant-legs, took off his shoes and socks and walked into the Florida Everglades to get Anthony’s dad to sign his Letter of Intent? BM: Yes. (laughs!) The old man was foaming at the mouth to get AC!
SS: Why did both of Carter’s parents have to sign his Letter of Intent? Couldn’t it have been faxed? BM: We weren’t taking any chances. We didn’t want to run the risk of a fax. Lots of things can happen at the last minute. Lots of kids will change their mind and vacillate – especially with out-of-state kids. And with Anthony being from Florida, there were a lot of schools down there wanting to get him to sign. Anthony was insecure, but was an extra-ordinary kid who came from a not so stable situation. So Bo and I went down there and timed it (with all the other recruits) so that we were there (on Signing Day). In my mind it was a done deal. That’s why Bo came with me. If Anthony hadn’t signed, I would have been fired! I would have had to find my own way home! In my mind, he was the single greatest recruit Michigan has ever had – ever! I mean, he was a three-time All-American! When has that ever happened?
*Coach Mac couldn’t remember the host player’s name, but John Wangler later told me he thought it was Zeke Wallace from Pompano Beach, FL.
An update to your U-M style guides: Those of us who love Bob Ufer have often tried to type out how Ufe, imitating Yost, liked to say Michigan. Until today I settled on “Meechigan”. I believe John U. Bacon goes with “Meeshegan”. I’ve seen many other variations here and there.
Well, thumbing through an old 1979 game program I found a piece published by Ufe as part of the 100 year anniversary of the football program and it appears as though Ufe went with “Meeehegan” with 3 (ok, technically 4) Es:
The bar was mercifully empty except for a tiny, longhaired, black leather jacket clad junkie looking guy and his much taller, Tina Louise looking girlfriend. That man was Iggy Pop. While the bartender retrieved the beers, I gushed all over my fellow Michigan expat.
“You’re Iggy Pop, man. I love your stuff. I’m from Michigan too,” I rambled on, sounding as moronic as the Pop is accused of being by some of his critics.
Iggy pointed to my t-shirt with the word Michigan splayed across my chest. “Meeschigan,” he said, holding his right arm in front of his slight chest in a 90-degree angle. “Meeschigan.”
After a minute or so of gushing and trying to open up a conversation with the man who’s music, with the Stooges anyway, was the soundtrack to much of my late adolescence and early adulthood, all I could get out of the guy was “Meeschigan.” As I turned to go back to the boys, I decided Iggy was either too burned out by the adulation of the years and hero worshiping kids like me or the critics were right. He was so sort of junkie savant. Either way, I was utterly confused by our meeting.
Chad and Josh had moved back towards the bar purely for matters of self-defense. The area in front of the stage had become one large, seething slam dance. I was grateful I didn’t have to navigate the flannel hipster clad rage to get the guys their beer so I didn’t mention my odd Iggy Pop encounter.
Half an hour later, AMC had gone through a series of ballads that failed to alter the weird, contained rage from the mosh pit. I felt a tug at my shirt and turned around. I looked down right at Iggy Pop.
“Meeschigan,” he said, his arm cocked at that 90-degree angle.
“Meeschigan,” I answered him, my arm at the same angle. He turned and walked out with his Ginger look alike on his arm.
All these years later, our quick meeting still confuses the hell out of me, even more so than his appearance on American Idol.
Former U-M media relations legend Bruce Madej guest hosted in studio with Ira on WTKA this morning. They were joined mid-morning by WXYZ sports director Tom Leyden who shared a few stories, notably this recap, perhaps never shared before, around his first hand experience of the events when Bo Schembechler passed away back in 2006:
Bo era savant Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis recently caught up with Jon Falk to get down and dirty on the decals. And if you are wondering when this site is going to stop talking about helmet decals, the answer is NEVER.
Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis (SS): Bob Ufer mentioned that there were team goals as well as individual achievements that were used to award the decals. Do you know what criteria was used to get a decal? Was that list published?
Jon Falk (JF): There was a notebook that Bo had that listed the goals. It had offensive scores, defensive stops, interceptions, tackles for loss – I can’t remember all of them. When the offense would score, every player on offense would get one. If we scored more than 30 points, the whole offense would get one. If the defense made a goal line stand, the entire defense would get a decal. Things like that.
SS: Who made the decision to award decals to each player? JF: The position coaches would give me the list. Later on, it would be the Victors Club List. That’s where guys would wear Victors Club jerseys at practice.
SS: When were those decisions made? After evaluation of game film? JF: Correct. On Sunday each position coach would break down the game film and make a list of who would get (how many) decals.
SS: When were the decals applied to the helmets? JF: Monday. After I got the list from the coaches on Sunday, I would put the decals on Monday before practice.
SS: Who put the actual decals on the helmets? JF: I did. I would also check the helmets on Saturday to see if any were torn.
SS: Who kept track of the decals and were they locked up? JF: I had them in my office, locked in a drawer. I had a book that I kept a record of for the entire year of who had how many decals.
SS: Do you still have that book?
JF: Oh, gosh no!
SS: The design of the decals changed over the years. Who decided to change the design in 1975 & 1985? JF: I did. The original ones were crudely shaped – they were just punched-out and literally stuck to adhesive tape.
SS: Who/what company made the decals? JF: There was a local guy in Milan, MI – gosh, I can’t remember his name – but he was the guy who made them. They were made on cards that had 10 decals on each card.
SS: Were the decals actually a yellow football with just a clear-colored (not blue) wolverine head? JF: Well, like I said, the first ones were cut out and applied to adhesive. The next ones (1975-82), the yellow was adhesive with a clear wolverine head. But those were very thin and would tear and get torn, so the next ones (1985-94) were made a little thicker. They were yellow with a blue wolverine head (with laces) and were a little more durable.
SS: The decals were not on the helmets in 1983 & 1984 but were still kept track of. Who made the decision to take them off the helmets? JF: I don’t recall that. I thought they were always on.
SS: They came off in ’83 & ’84 and I had heard that they were still kept track of, but they were just not placed on the helmets. Evidently, Bo wanted to reinforce the TEAM element and thought removing them might help.
JF: No, I don’t remember that. Are you sure? SS: Absolutely.
SS: Were the players excited about getting new decals each week? JF: Oh, yeah! Each Monday they’d say things like, “How come I only got this many decals?” And I would tell them, “Go talk to your (position) coach.” But some of the players would move the decals each Monday and then I would move them back on Saturday before the game.
SS: You mean some of the guys would reposition them?
JF: Yes. And I would have to move them back to where I put them.
SS: I know there were left and right decals. Were they placed on the helmets in a certain way? JF: Yes. I tried to place the decals so that the wolverine head was facing away from the (side) stripe. So the left-facing ones were on the left side of the helmet and the right-facing ones were on the right side of the helmet. That didn’t happen every year, but that’s what I tried to do.
SS: When Lloyd Carr made the decision to remove the decals in 1995, were they still kept track of? JF: By then we had the Victors Club T-Shirts – not the jerseys. A few years later, if we were playing a home game, they would wear a blue Victors Club jersey with no numbers on it at practice. If we were playing a road game, it would be a yellow Victors Club jersey. The Demo Squad would wear different colored jerseys for each team that we were playing on the road. The Demo Team would wear white jerseys for the road (visiting) teams.
SS: How did the players react when they were told there would be no more decals? JF: You know what? They just took it in stride. We didn’t want anything to distract from that winged-design.
SS: I have been a big proponent in trying to bring back the decals. What’s your take, Jon? Would you like to see them again on the Michigan Football helmets? JF: I like that Michigan helmet without the decals. SS: :(
OTHER TIDBITS FROM JON FALK:
“I used to tell all the players who would go to the Senior Bowl, ‘Don’t put any (other team) stickers on that helmet of yours!’”
“Bo used to ask me, ‘How come these helmets are scratchy?’ Guys like (Mark) Donahue and (Rob) Lytle would have their helmets all scuffed up and Bo didn’t like that. He liked those old (MacGregor) helmets where the design was actually inside the helmet and there was a plastic coating on the outside. So we got some touch up paint and Bob Bland would touch up the helmets every Thursday night.”
“Dave Brandon wanted the helmets to look shiny for each game on Saturday. So a few years ago, Bob Bland would paint the game helmets on Monday so they would look perfect for Saturday’s game. More recently, all the game helmets have been shipped to Elyria, Ohio to have them touched up and have a heavy gloss coating applied to them so they could be nice and shiny. On Monday the helmets would get shipped to Ohio to get the gloss finish re-done. The guys would wear practice helmets all week and get their game helmets back on Thursday. This way the helmets would look nice all the time.”
“The first night game against Notre Dame was when we first used the speckled (yellow) paint and used it all season.”
I’ve heard a lot about the dogs Whiskey and Brandy providing Michigan Stadium some ball-chasing entertainment over the years, but I’m not sure I’d seen a video clip. Via the Dr. Sap Archives from halftime of the epic 1969 Ohio State game:
Fan demand grew to the point that administrators issued an announcement in the Michigan Daily asking that the dog’s owners make the halftime show a regular arrangement.”WANTED,” the announcement read, “Overwhelming demand for continued halftime performances for ‘Little Dog Blue’ and his magic ball has necessitated a full scale search for the small but strong star.
The Rogers feared there might be difficulties in getting her to Pasadena, but people connected with their trip were helpful in making arrangements for the dog.
The only real scare came when they learned at the last minute that the dog could not be accommodated on their chartered flight. As a last resort, Dave walked onto the plane at the end of the line with Whiskey in her traveling box, hoping that the other passengers would recognize her and insist that the dog be allowed to stay. As Rose Bowl watchers already know, his request was granted and the dog was able to perform at the Rose Bowl game.
I also noted that the exploits of Whiskey and Brandy were not mentioned in the Traditions list I started in 2013. That’s fixed, and I plan on taking a deeper crack at the Traditions list later this offseason.
Since the turn of the last century, as I see it the Michigan coaching hires have fallen into 2 buckets:
Legacy Hires > under the Michigan Man umbrella, these are guys with playing and/or coaching experience in Ann Arbor before they took over. (And FWIW a lack of outside heading coaching success).
Hired Guns > gents with head coaching “success” (let’s call it .550 or better) at other college programs but no previous coaching or playing experience at U-M.
Harbaugh is the first hire that really falls on both sides of this divide, having had both college (& NFL for that matter) head coaching success along with U-M ties as a player and alumnus. A breakdown*:
* I removed George Little who kinda/sorta coached U-M for one season in 1924 while Yost took a breather, and ok, if I moved the mendoza line for “success” down to .500 Hoke gets a check.
A few thoughts:
Of the 4 Hired Guns, I think Ivan Maisel of ESPN got it right, comparing this hire to that of Fritz Crisler who won two national titles at Princeton before taking over in Ann Arbor:
For one thing, Harbaugh is the most successful head coach Michigan has hired since it swiped Fritz Crisler from Princeton in 1938. All Crisler did in 10 seasons in Ann Arbor was slap the wings on the helmet, invent two-platoon football, go 71-16-3 (.806) and finish with a 10-0 record in 1947.
The next highest profile hire would be Rodriguez (on the brink of a national title shot at WVU), then Yost (short term dominance wherever he went), then Schembechler (Bo who?).
Speaking of Yost, he didn’t have the reputation of Crisler or even Rodriguez because in 1900 he still just didn’t have the name out there to attract him to the major college programs. Michigan found him thanks to a lead from Illinois (Yost had applied for the gig in Champaign in December of 1900—thank goodness they didn’t bite). I found this short clip in the 1934 Michigan Alumnus where Charles Baird, the AD who hired Yost, described how he found him: