A true piece of Michigan football history just sold on eBay. It’s a postcard but no ordinary piece of mail. It’s a 1909 postcard depicting that season’s championship squad along with a flag presented to the team by the crew of the U.S.S. Michigan:
This is a special item for me—I first noticed this a couple years ago and used it to lead my submission on the 1909 season in Brian Cook’s Hail to the Victors 2009. Back then, the gent named Don McCord who owned a different version of the mailer forwarded me a high res version for the publication. Here’s how it looked in HTTV ‘09:
So as you can see, the original owner of the item recently auctioned on eBay took a few liberties with the pen, decorating the front with various info including a few cheers and the score of the following week’s game against powerful Minnesota (a 15-6 victory which earned U-M the title ‘Champions of the West’, and oh, was the first time the teams played for the Little Brown Jug.)
On the back (opposite the address line) the owner jotted down the words to your favorite fight song along with the notes:
It’s addressed to one ‘Miss Flora Bates’ up at Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing (!):
Most notably, scribed sideways on the front of the postcard was a note about the flag adorning the center (flipped 90 degrees clockwise):
This reads, “the flag the sailor boys gave our team at Philadelphia – a beauty!”
Indeed a beauty and here’s the story, with parts extracted from HTTV ‘09:
In 1909 Michigan won the first four games of the year but was stunned 11-3 by Notre Dame (coached by former Michigan player Shorty Longman) on November 6. It was ND’s first victory over the Wolverines. Two tough games remained, trips to powerhouses Penn and Minnesota.
Penn was a team Yost and crew met in the prior three seasons but had yet to muster a single point against the Quakers. It was getting so bad that traditional eastern power Penn was growing bored with the Wolverines and pressure was mounting to drop Michigan from the schedule in favor of Dartmouth. A few weeks prior a Penn official told reporters, “If we beat Michigan, I don’t see how we can schedule her again.”
Something was clearly different this time and it started even before the game began and when the Wolverines arrived in Philadelphia they got a big boost. The battleship U.S.S. Michigan happened to be docked nearby and contained around 400 sailors on board “determined to see the name Michigan honored.” The “jackies”, as they were called, decided to rally behind Yost and the boys and marched onto the field before the game bearing Maize and Blue emblems. A gift (that flag that made it onto the postcard) was presented to the team. And to the dismay of Quaker fans the jackies didn’t head back to the ship after the ceremony. They stayed–cheering and singing songs to honor their namesakes on the gridiron. Michigan captain Dave Allerdice later called this gesture, “as fine a spirit as I have ever witnessed.”
Clearly inspired by the Navy men, Michigan jumped on the Quakers when the battle started just past two o’clock. Michigan struck first, set-up by a fake field goal by Allerdice who feigned a kick but instead fired the ball to tackle Stanfield Wells who took it down to the Penn three. Two plays later the Wolverines pounded across the line for U-M’s first score (ever) against the Quakers. Michigan added another touchdown a few minutes later.
After a mere eight minutes of play, Michigan led 12-0. Per the Michigan Daily, “so stunned the Quakers that they gathered in the middle of the field and decided that something unusual was happening.”
Penn tallied a late score to make it 12-6 but by all accounts the game wasn’t that close. The Daily’s recap suggested that Yost took the foot off the gas, as the Wolverines were “able to score whenever they wished…content simply to win and not wishing to disclose many plays.” In the aftermath of the historic win the players carried Yost, who toted an unlit cigar in his mouth, off Franklin Field as the Michigan faithful cheered.
After the season the gesture by the men aboard the U.S.S. Michigan lingered firmly in the minds of those on campus. In January, nearly two months after the game, the U-M student council agreed to take up a collection to fund a special tribute to the crew. Chairman of the Board in Control of Outdoor Athletics George Patterson offered his endorsement for the project saying:
“The spirit and alertness displayed by the team throughout the game was without doubt due in no small measure to this auspicious welcome from our gallant friends of the U.S.S. Michigan, and I hope that they may carry away with them on their cruises around the world a fitting remembrance of the University’s gratitude and appreciation of their friendship and good will.”
The U-M yearbook, The Michiganensian, summed up the Penn triumph in its season summary thusly: “Football is not a serious thing to many people, but the stand made by Allerdice and his men against Pennsylvania meant something.”
Regarding the auction of the postcard, a few folks clearly realized this was something special up for bid. I actually tried to bid on this but was left way in the dust. The auction closed with a top bid of $112.50 earlier this week.