I realize this is highly subjective but I’m a bit burned up over this. Many in the media have taken the most losses in school history statistic to equate to worst season ever. The front page of this morning’s Ann Arbor News contained two items making this claim:

  • A headline (below the fold) reads, “An epitaph for 2008: Wolverines’ worst“.
  • In the lead column, columnist Pete Bigelow writes, “On his watch, the Wolverines careened to the worst season in their 129-year history..”
  • Another Monday, Angelique Chengelis “There will be no bowl game for the Wolverines, and however you want to look at historical statistics, this will go down as the worst season in the 129-year history of Michigan football.”

Defend this! Saying it doesn’t make it so, these statements should be qualified. I went over this last week but it’s not going away and the two mentions on the front page of the News put me over the top. It’s clear that the nine loss number is what people are keying on, and I could see an outlet like ESPN running with that. But the AA News and Detroit News?

“Worst” and “Best” when discussing college football seasons is certainly subjective but how can you say this season is worse than 1934? Consider the following measures of ineptitude:

  • Number of losses. Yes, most ever in 2008, got it. But for the first 60+ years of existence, Michigan didn’t consistently play a schedule of more than 8 total games.
  • Winning (losing) percentage. In 1881, Michigan went 0-3, beyond that, the 1934 and 1936 teams went 1-7. These represent the worst seasons percentage-wise in team history.
  • Expectation/Recent History. Listen, I don’t know exactly what the expectations were for the 1934 team but I can assure you they were not anywhere close to the one win that season yielded. In four seasons prior to 1934 Harry Kipke’s teams had lost just a single game, winning two national championships and four conference titles in the stretch. Heading into the 2008 season I’d say the consensus was that Michigan would finish with 7 or 8 wins amongst Michigan fans.
  • How Ugly it was. Yep, it was fugly this year at times, getting shelled by Penn State and Ohio State, and losing to our rivals Michigan State and Notre Dame, added with the embarrassment of the Toledo game. But Michigan was in all these games for at least a half if not until the end. In 1934 Michigan was shut out in five of the eight games and scored a mere 21 points.

If you want to say that you can’t compare eras, that’s fine, but by saying this is the worst season in 129 years you are by definition including the other 128 seasons for comparison.

The answer is clear to me: the Gerald Ford-led 1934 Wolverines were the worst team in the history of this program.

Related:
1930 Michigan Football Jersey
1933 and the Dickinson Formula
Norm Daniels’ 1931 Jersey
On the Meyer Morton Award
The 1930 Schedule Bot!
The Fall of 1934

6 Comments

  1. With all due respect to our esteemed webmaster, I don't see why you're so charged up about this characterization. Why split hairs? If it wasn't our worst season ever, it was certainly very close to it and certainly a great case can be made for a tie. The fact that it belongs in a very small handful of dreadful seasons over 100 years is just as bad as the title as Worst Season Ever. The media has a bad habit of polarizing things into black and white to make news more sensational, but i don't think they are that far off in this one. Then again, i live on the east coast now and just get the national feed on this one.

    I do think our fan base is pretty spoiled with a tradition of excellence – or at least a shade below excellence – every single year since before most of us were born (not to mention the pride that accompanies such a run). I think that expectation has made us view this season with an increased sense of contrast that probably has added to the negative pile-on.

    Is all the negative media and Sunday morning program trashing warranted? No.

    Did the program have its worst and most disappointing season since before the second world war? Most definitely. And that's long enough of a timespan to be newsworthy.

    I think we got outplayed, outclassed, and outcoached far too often this year to be accounted for by the 'transition year' excuse i keep hearing from the apologist side of the aisle. I think Rich Rod and his staff have a lot to do this offseason to right the ship. At the very least i think most of us expected an average squad, but we got a squad instead that looked lost, unorganized at times, poorly led, and with enough positive stretches that made the negative stretches look increasingly like a result or poor preperation and a lack of leadership all around. A good part the the blame goes to the players, but a lot of this must land on the coaches plate as well.

    Here's hoping that the coaching staff will turn it around and make us forget about the 2008 product, no matter how you characterize it. Kind of like how I felt during that UCLA UM hoops game the other night….a ship turning slowly around, but turning nonetheless….

  2. So this is how low Michigan Nation has stooped? We're comparing 1934 to 2008 and how the number of games played relates to winning percentages?

    Before the season started, I was pretty excited about RR… and didn't want to hear what the WVU fans had to say — after all we've never threatened Coach Carr's life for losing to tUoOS all those times; where WVU arsonists threaten RR's family for a loss to Pitt. I really wanted to give this guy a chance and the off-season was shaping up like Bo's first year.

    However, do all of you with a short memory already forget when Mallet was still on the team and RR said "I will tailor the offense to the players we have"? It doesn't seem so now does it. RR force fed his playbook to players who couldn't handle. He could have done something a la the Florida game but no… RR was the head guy and he was gonna do it his way or else.

    This team actually looked worse at the season progressed. This team was up or tied at halftime in most of their games. The other coaches seemed to adjust RR could not.

    Now, all the fans keep saying give RR time… he needs HIS players? WTF is that about? In the last 40 years, did not freshman start? In the last 40 years was not there some occasional rebuilding? Coaches over the last 40 years found a way to win (and with tougher schedules… back in the day when we had a real AD who scheduled respectable non-conference opponents like FSU, Miami(FL), Colorado, etc. but Bill Martin fucking up the athletic department is a rant for another thread) — RR failed; RR could NOT find a way to win!

    To all those ranting about RR needs HIS players… how about coaching the TEAM instead of a SYSTEM? I'm sorry but RR must go. I hear Tennessee and Clemson are open.

  3. Bonus, great comment. The history of this program is important to a lot of people. This has nothing to do with this team or Rich Rod, it has to do with the history of the program. There's hundreds of thousands of Michigan fans walking around thinking that this was the worst season ever because the Ann Arbor News said so (at least twice). If you going to claim that the 1997 Michigan team was the best ever, it'd be natural that you'd at least compare that to the other great teams of all-time. Why doesn't this deserve the same research? There's no mention of 1934 or 1936 at all, I think that's laziness.

  4. Chris, thanks for the comment. As far as your first note "So this is how low Michigan Nation has stooped? We're comparing 1934 to 2008 and how the number of games played relates to winning percentages?". Maybe, but this argument isn't meant to be a feather in Rich Rod's hat (he's not the worst ever!), it's meant to suggest that there's 129 years of history and for a gaggle of columnists to decide it is the worst ever without at least defending it is wrong. And I think my points above point out that they're wrong.

    I'll get back to doing Justin Boren photoshopped pics.

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  6. I don't think it's laziness, just irrelevant. Debate for hours whether the worst U.S. president was Buchanan, Grant, Hoover or Nixon, and there's plenty of ammunition to go around. In the end, the answer really isn't important. They all sucked. The win percentages in '34 or '36 were worse, but it's an imperfect comparison given program resources and profile now. Maybe "worse" just means the greatest number of losses, not lowest win percentage. I don't think your observations are meritless, but it seems like an odd bone of contention, unless your expectation is a newspaper digression on the Platonic nature of "worst." Ultimately, this is an open-ended, interesting question, and not a matter of journalistic responsibility.

  7. Here is the greyhound from West Virginia. I would call you a coach but your not a coach, your a traitor. I heard you broke a bunch of records this year. But you broke the wrong kind of records, the losing records. HA HA HA I'm glad your losing and losing and losing. I hope you continue losing until your out of football. Ohio State is always going to beat you. Ohio State beats you all the time that means Michigan will fire you because they have always fired any coach that cannot stand up to Ohio State. You have no sympathy from me or anybody else in WVU. You could not even beat Pitt whom you was favored to beat by 38 point to get to the National Championship game. I hope that everything bad in the world happens to you, because you are nothing but a traitor. I hope Ohio State beats you every year. I don't like Ohio State but I sure hope they beat the hell out of you every year. TRAITOR. What goes around comes around, and you will find that out. Now that Michigan has the worst record ever, are you really proud of yourself? YOU ARE A TRAITOR. Thats the way we feel about you in West Virginia now.

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