Saturday night I had dinner with some friends at the Sheraton in Ann Arbor.  In the bar I spotted a group of folks donning black and gold #47 jerseys and was puzzled.  Was it a group of Oosterbaan family members?   I’m thinking Bennie O’s godson Bennie McCready would have given me a heads up if that were the case, right Bennie?.   Maybe it was Jake Ryan’s crew?  Again I was thinking probably not, and if so, why would they wear throwback-ish jerseys?   So I walked over.Drake Family

It turns out they were wearing the #47 in honor of Dr. Gerald Drake, a former Michigan State football player from the late 1930s.  Oh, and the kicker: the 95-year old Dr. Drake was there with them!  Photo inset are the Drakes: Chuck, Molly, Gerald, Donna, Dan & Doug.

Naturally I hustled over & chatted with him.  What a great man. 

I asked him how he ended up playing football at State.  “My dad played football at [M.A.C.] in the class of aught three,” Drake told me.   “It wasn’t intercollegiate football; it was class team football.  They beat each other up without headgear on the banks of the Red Cedar.”

He shared that he was a fullback at East Lansing High School and also ran track.  Freshmen back then didn’t play on the varsity of course, so Drake joined Charlie Bachman’s Spartans as a sophomore and made the travel team as a junior. 

“When I tell people I played at State they don’t acknowledge it.  But when I tell them I was the substitute for All-American John Pingel they say, ‘Oh yeah!’” 

After MSC Drake went to med school at Michigan and later served the Air Force in Japan.  He eventually ended up in Petoskey, MI, where he practiced until his retirement in 1984.

The other great part about this meeting.  Shortly after I met the family I learned that they had with them one of Drake’s original jerseys from the 1930s.  Of course I insisted they go get it! 

There you go, with a shot of Drake from his playing days inset:

Dr. Gerald Drake with vintage MSC jersey #47 (2013 - MVictors.com)
Awesome.  It looks similar to the Michigan jerseys from the late 1930s, early 40s and here’s a little Spartan jersey history from that era.   And yes, the Spartans wore gold & black for a while back in the day.  For the intense uniform nerds here’s a shot of the tag and a little about the company:

O'Shea Knitting Mills label (2013 - MVictors.com)

The family was in town supporting the Michigan men’s Football Experience .  Here is Drake chatting it up with Coach Hoke this weekend at the event:Brady Hoke and Dr. Gerald Drake (2013 - MVictors.com)

A huge thanks to the Drake family for indulging me Saturday night.

As an aside, I tell people I frequently witness a cool synchronicity with the things I post on these pages.  If I have it right, Drake’s junior season was 1938 meaning he was probably on the field on October 1 of that year, when Fritz Crisler introduced the winged helmet in Ann Arbor..something I wrote about a few days ago!  

Follow MVictors on Twitter

4 Comments

  1. Greg – Another great story! I thought for a moment you had found some long-lost relatives! See you in August! – Bennie McCready

  2. Dr. Drake earned varsity letters for football in 1938 & 39.

  3. A great story. It is so neat to hear about and from these former players.

  4. Although he would be too modest to say so, Dr. Drake graduated 6th in his class at the U of M medical school and has received numerous humanitarian awards. He was a founding member of International Physicians to Prevent Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize.