[Ed. Adapted from a couple posts from 2007. Yes, there were a few blogs around back then.]
While Notre Dame will be Michigan’s guest for the first night game at the Big House, did you know it was Bo Schembechler’s 1982 Wolverines who played in the inaugural battle under the lights in South Bend? The Irish upset the 10th-ranked Wolverines 23-17 on that historic evening in front of 59,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium.
But that ’82 game wasn’t the first time the Wolverines played at night, as that tradition started nearly 70 years ago. On September 23, 1944, Fritz Crisler’s Wolverines traveled to Wisconsin to play The Hilltoppers of Marquette in a game that kicked off at 7 p.m.
As part of the war effort, Michigan had several players on the roster as part of the Navy’s “V-12” training program. To enhance the supply of college-educated officers, the Navy rolled out V-12 in 131 U.S. schools. Those enrolled were considered active duty personnel, required to adhere to strict military rules and discipline. One of those rules prevented any member to be away from the “base” (the campus, in this case) for more than 48 hours.
To accommodate the 48 hour rule and to play a game on the road as far as Milwaukee, Fritz Crisler’s crew left Ann Arbor at around 1:30pm Friday afternoon and arrived at Marquette that evening. Crisler held a brief practice under the lights and even employed a maize-colored football.
The ’44 game against Marquette was the first time the teams met since 1909, a tight 6-5 win for Fielding Yost in his ninth season at the helm of the Wolverines. Coincidentally Marquette was at the center of a controversy over the rightful owner of the distinction of ‘Champion of the West’ that season between–you guessed it–Michigan and Notre Dame. The Irish seemed poised to claim the title after beating the Wolverines for the first time in their history in November 1909, but on Thanksgiving Day, Notre Dame and Marquette battled to a scoreless tie. A debate ensued among sportswriters and in the end they favored awarding the mythical honor to Michigan.
Marquette was looking to avenge that 6-5 loss from 1909 when Crisler and his men returned in 1944. While Fritz would have preferred to play the game in the afternoon, many on his staff were open to the idea of playing under the lights. One Michigan coach told reporters, “Variety is the spice and maybe we’ll like night football. Who knows?”
They liked it well enough, defeating Marquette 14-0 in front of 20,000 fans, despite fumbling that maize pigskin (which was also used in the game) a whopping eight times. (One reporter even suggested Michigan caught a bad case of "fumblitis”!)
After the win the team quickly hopped the train back to Chicago and arrived in Ann Arbor late Sunday morning—safety within the 48 hour required limit of the V-12 program.
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