[Ed. You know I’m a huge fan of Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis & he’s featured here each postgame with Dr. Sap’s Decals. You might know that his detailed knowledge of uniform tweaks since the Bo era helped spearhead the Uniform Timeline. Bottom line - the Sap mind blended with the Sap archives is a Wangler-to-Carter-esque combination. Here’s another great Bo-era story from the mind of Sap.]
Guest Post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis
After Bo Schembechler left U-M to become the president of the Detroit Tigers he met Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley. Finley liked to dabble in the unique as he was the inventor of the high visibility yellow baseball as well as the green and gold tunics the A’s wore in the ‘70s.
The two talked about Finley’s new football invention – the reverse dimple football. Its enhanced grip was supposed to improve the accuracy of throws and increase the distance it was kicked. [more on the patent here.]
The grip enhancement looked much like a golf ball’s surface and the leather looked something like this:
Bo was intrigued and told Finley to go see U-M equipment manager Jon Falk in Ann Arbor…and that’s exactly what he did in the spring of 1990. The two hit it off and Falk agreed to try the new ball that Rawlings now dubbed the “Double Grip Football” with the 1990 Wolverines.
Everybody liked it. The quarterbacks liked the grip and felt more accurate throwing it. The receivers liked the tackiness and the kickers felt it sailed longer when booted.
Falk wanted to use the new pigskin against Notre Dame to start the 1990 season, but had to wait and use their existing ball, the Wilson 1001 AFCRT, until the new Rawlings ball was
accredited by the NCAA Rules Committee. That didn’t happen until late October, which meant the Purdue contest on November 3rd, 1990 was the first time the Reverse Dimple Rawlings Double Grip Football was used in an NCAA game. Michigan won 38-13 in West Lafayette that afternoon.
While U-M was the only school to use the ball during the regular season, it was used in several bowl games later that year. Air Force defeated Ohio State in the 1990 Liberty Bowl while using the Double Grip football. Washington would use it for the first time against Iowa in the 1991 Rose Bowl and trounced the Hawkeyes.
Of course we all know what Michigan did in the 1991 Gator Bowl. Over 700 yards of total offense in a 35-3 beat down of Ole Miss was enough to convince everyone watching that the Rawlings Double Grip Football was no one-hit-wonder.
In the second game of the 1991 season, the Double Grip got even more publicity and exposure thanks to Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac.
That diving catch in the endzone made by Howard against Notre Dame?
That’s right. It was made with the Rawlings Double Grip Football.
While Grbac would become the first Michigan QB to be the nation’s most efficient passer, Howard would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that year. Rawlings took notice and even issued a Press Release in December of 1991 saying its new ball resulted in greater accuracy, a higher percentage of completed passes, longer passes, a better grip in cold or wet weather and was the best ball for quarterbacks with small hands.
”Howard caught 19 touchdown passes while Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac led the nation in passing efficiency and 24 TD passes–all with the Rawlings ‘Double Grip’ ball,” it read.
Here is Howard striking another pose – this time with the Rawlings ball on the cover of Beckett football card monthly:
But much like the old saying goes, what goes up, must come down. And in 1992, that’s exactly what happened.
Grbac would go on and become the nation’s most efficient passer again, this time without Howard’s heroics. Michigan would win their 5th consecutive Big Ten Championship but would finish with an awkward 8-0-3 regular season record. Three ties were strange enough, but the one tie that took all the air out of the Rawlings Double Grip ball was the Illinois game on November 14th, 1992.
The weather conditions were typical for Ann Arbor in November: 32 degrees, 65% humidity and a 10-15 mph wind blowing from the southwest. It had snowed the night before and would do so occasionally throughout the game. There was some concern about how the ball would hold up as this would be the coldest weather it would be used in. Even in their wildest dreams, #3 Michigan could not have expected a nightmare like this.
When it was all said and done, the 22-22 tie knocked U-M out of the national championship race and the turnover stats line read like a horror show:
- Fumbles – 10 (12, if you include two bobbled kickoffs)
- Fumbles Lost – 4
- Dropped Passes – 4
- Interceptions – 2 (1 off a muffed reception)
- 1 botched PAT snap/hold that was bobbled by the holder (Jay Riemersma)
- 1 kick that hit the upright (no good)
And it was not like this 1992 U-M squad was a turnover machine – quite the opposite. In the previous 9 games, Michigan had fumbled only 15 times and lost 7 of them. Illinois, which used the traditional pebble grain Wilson 1001 AFCRT ball, had just 1 fumble (which they recovered) and 1 interception (from a dropped pass) along with 1 missed PAT kick. It was a damning stat line for the Double Grip and one that caused Falk to take a closer look at the ball Michigan would be using going forward.
He studied the game tape and he told me that he noticed the ball became hard when the temperature dropped. The leather lost its tackiness and it became slick and difficult to handle. While Rawlings claimed the ball would provide better grip in cold weather, it appeared as though that might not have been the case.
With the weather the following week in Columbus expected to be in the mid-50s, Falk gave the Rawlings ball one last chance against Ohio State. Even though Michigan would not fumble the while using Double Grip against OSU, Falk officially pulled the plug on it after the game.
The guy who gave Finley’s invention the green light a few years earlier, was now putting the kibosh on it and gave Coach Gary Moeller the cold, hard facts.
“I told Mo that we had to change it up for the Rose Bowl against Washington,” Falk said. He said, ‘Ya. Let’s do it.’”
Michigan would switch back to the Wilson 1001 for the 1993 Rose Bowl and would use it until Rich Rodriguez took over in 2008. RichRod preferred the narrower Wilson 1005 for his spread offenses. It is the ball Michigan continues to use to this day.
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