Recently I visited the outstanding U-M Bentley Historical Library to wade through the pages of the Michigan Daily archives from fall of 1910. Here’s a brief look back at Fielding Yost’s tenth season at the helm of the Wolverines:
Expectations were high coming into 1910, as the previous season Yost’s men became the first “western” team to knock off one of the traditional eastern foes when they defeated Penn 12-6 in Philadelphia, in a game not as close as the score indicated. They added a 15-6 win in the season finale over Minnesota and Michigan made claim to the mythical title of “Champions of the West”.
The 1910 season would prove a bit rockier, as Michigan was still settling into their status as an independent. Seven games were scheduled for the year, including four against rivals that are quite familiar a century later: M.A.C (later MSC then MSU of course), Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Minnesota.
Here’s how the season went, through the words of the U-M student newspaper from the fall of 1910:
Game 1: vs. Case, Ann Arbor, October 8, 1910
The 1910 slate started on October against Case, the Wolverine’s foe in the previous four season openers and a team that nearly spoiled the 1909 season. Yost squeaked by 3-0 that season and hoped to put up a more impressive showing this time.
On Yost’s mind: High expectations. “Michigan will send the strongest team against Case that has faced them in five years,” said Yost in the week leading up to the opener.
Scouting Report: According to the Daily, “..the Clevelanders will send up a powerful aggregation confident of providing the hoo-doo on the Wolverines by besting them in this thirteenth struggle between these teams.”
The Game: Michigan and Case tied, 3-3 in a tough battle. According to the Daily, despite displaying “clever plays and brilliant strategy”, the Wolverines “failed in the execution.”
Random Notes: That week the Daily chastised the practice of the hazing of freshman on campus, including a description of some of the incidents:
Game 2: vs. Michigan Agricultural College (M.A.C), Ann Arbor, October 15, 1910
The “Aggies” as they were known and delivered a stinging blow to Yost’s men in 1908 when they tied their very much bigger brothers 0-0. The landmark tie was still on the minds of many in the state.
On Yost’s mind: Bouncing back from the Case disappointment with a mix of concern about the team from Lansing. “M.A.C. has a fine team,” Yost told reporters. “I hope to win, but the boys must play better than they did against Case.”
Scouting Report: According to the Daily, “The last time Michigan played M.A.C. the game resulted in a tie and ever since that time the Farmers have been boasting of what they would accomplish at the next meeting with the Wolverines.”
The Game: Thanks to a late rally Michigan prevailed 6-3 at Ferry Field. According to the Daily, the victory, “required every ounce of strength which the maize and blue players possessed to secure the verdict.” Apparently things looked grim for Yost’s crew late in the game, as the Daily observed, “the war correspondents in the press box began to write of a Michigan defeat, and black fear crept into the hearts of the rooters.”
Random Notes: Earlier that week the topic of whether Michigan players should wear uniform numbers, as was the practice on eastern teams. Yost didn’t like it, telling reporters, "..it brings the individuals into too much prominence. The team is a machine and should be considered as such and not their individual efforts."
Game 3: vs. Ohio State, at Columbus, October 22, 1910
Michigan blew out Ohio State 33-6 in 1909 but expected a tougher test this time in Columbus. The Buckeyes weren’t yet nearly the rival, at least for those in Ann Arbor, which they would evolve into over the next few decades.
On Yost’s mind: Fixing his team. Knowing the team needed much work, the Daily reported that Yost closed practice, working with the team “till dark behind closed gates.”
Scouting Report: Per the Daily the folks in Columbus smelled blood “Great local interest has been aroused and the indications point to a larger crowd. The O.S.U. backers believe that this year their favorites have an opportunity to vanquish the oft-triumphant Wolverines and they are planning to attend the anticipated massacre..”
The Game: Once again the teams ended the day tied 3-3 and Michigan could simply not get things going. The Daily came down hard: “it was the third time that they failed entirely to show the class expected of them.” The effort of Yost’s men was described as “ragged in the extreme.”
Random Notes: The 3-3 was tough to take in Ann Arbor, but Buckeye backers had a different view of the deadlock. The Daily observed the scene:
When the timer’s whistle made it certain that Michigan had indeed been tied, the Ohio rooters, who packed the stands, rushed onto the field and danced madly while their band played and the student clowns capered about “Berky” the mule, that was advertised as ‘having Michigan’s goat’. Factory whistles screamed and cannons boomed in honor of what the Ohio backers felt to be a triumph.
Game 4: vs. Syracuse, in New York, October 29, 1910
Michigan pounded Syracuse in Ann Arbor 44-0 [yes, 44 not 43-0 haha] in 1909 but this time the team would travel east for the battle, and that was not a trivial trek in those days.
On Yost’s mind: How to fix his team after the sluggish start. The Daily reported that, “Yost came to the conclusion that three times was often enough for a Michigan eleven to display miserable form in its gridiron contests” and reported there would be a “shake-up” in the team’s line-up.
Scouting Report: Syracuse fans were certainly still a bit shell-shocked from the 44-0 beatdown from 1909 but given Michigan’s struggles this season, the Daily’s read was that they were poised to win. They described the mood in New York, writing, “if the Wolverines do not leave the stadium a beaten eleven tomorrow afternoon, there will be disappointment and surprise in the orange and black camp.”
The Game: Finally Michigan “hit their stride as last,” shutting out Syracuse once again, this time 11-0 on a wet day. How sweet was the win? The Daily wrote that Yost’s crew, “played the kind of football that has made the maize and blue victorious on many gridirons..”
Random Notes: The Wright brothers had their famous flight in 1903 and the spirit of air travel infected Michigan’s campus. The Daily announced the forming of ‘The Aero Club’ because “Michigan is not to be outdone in the matter of aeronautics.” The agenda of the club (since they surely had no actual planes!) was unclear, per the Daily: “just what will be done by the club is as yet undecided.”
Game 5: vs. Notre Dame, in Ann Arbor, November 5, 1910
Notre Dame was coached by Shorty Longman, a former Michigan player under Yost and ‘The Catholics’ issued Yost his only defeat in 1909. A debate lingered from the previous season about who truly deserved the distinction of ‘Champion of the West’. Michigan was confident coming out of the huge victory in New York, and the Daily headline boasted, “Notre Dame Looks Easy For Varsity.”
On Yost’s mind: Trying to temper the team’s confidence. “They played poor football last week,” Yost said, “but look out for them.” He added, “Those fellows play real football.” Yost continued to practice in secret.
Scouting Report: Word out of South Bend reported that Longman was “busily developing the ‘system’ he has devised, behind closed doors.”
The Game: On Friday before the scheduled game, the Daily headline roared, “Rumored Ineligibility May Prevent Contest.” At issue were up to three Notre Dame players who Michigan argued exceeded the eligibility limits that the two teams agreed to contractually. This drama actually was being played out long before the scheduled game, but wasn’t resolved until a day before the scheduled kick-off. At noon Friday, Michigan announced the game was cancelled and tickets would be refunded. Michigan instead played an intrasquad scrimmage at Ferry Field on Saturday.
Random Notes: A week before the schedule Notre Dame, a senior wrote the Daily to air concern that the band stopped playing Michigan still relatively new fight song, ‘The Victors’, prior to games. Instead the senior noticed it was only being played at the half and he urged the Daily to poll fans to get their take on the matter. More here.
Game 6: vs. Penn, in Philadelphia, November 12, 1910
The 1909 Penn game was one of the more memorable of the previous decade. Not only was it the first win for a western school for one of the traditional college football powers, the Wolverines were cheered to victory by the men of the U.S.S. Michigan, a navy ship that was docked in Philadelphia.
On Yost’s mind: He clearly wasn’t worrying about Notre Dame. As soon as he learned that the Notre Dame game was canceled, he hopped a train to Lafayette to scout the Penn team that was playing there that day. Later, once the team arrived in Philadelphia, Yost moved the team out into the country fearing for Quaker “spies”.
Scouting Report: In ESPN-style hype, the Daily declares that the winner of the game will likely decide, “the championship of America.” Rumors were abound pregame that two of the Penn stars would not be able play, but the Daily writer cautioned, “these stories are not, however, accepted at face value..”
The Game: For the third time this season, Michigan left the field in a tie, this time 0-0. The Wolverines seemed to own the pace of play but had a field goal blocked and what appeared to be a touchdown reception ruled incomplete as the receiver “stepped outside.” Yost declared, “We ought to have won.”
Random Notes: The Michigan band wanted to make the trip to Philadelphia to support the football squad, but needed to raise some money to supplement the university’s funding to make it happen. The Daily reported that a Mr. Joseph R. Smith, U-M class of 1848, sent $2.50 to the band leader to help. Eventually, thanks in large to the attention given to the matter in the Daily, the funding was secured and the band made the trek to the game to support the Wolverines.
Game 7: vs. Minnesota, in Ann Arbor, November 19, 1910
Much was on the line in the season finale against the Gophers. Despite the scars of the three ties, Michigan was undefeated and faced the undisputed champion of the Western Conference in Minnesota setting up the opportunity to stick it to the old conference. The Daily continued the hype declaring, “the greatest game of the season, east or west, will be played next Saturday on Ferry Field.” Hay was spread on Ferry Field to protect the gridiron from the snowfall expected during the week.
On Yost’s mind: How to fill some holes. Michigan agreed to play Minnesota under the eligibility rules of the Western conference, and that would mean that Yost would be short his right tackle.
Scouting Report: Word was out that a veteran player on the Gophers surprisingly returned to action the week prior after appendicitis earlier in the season. Seasoned writers in the Midwest were torn on who to favor in the game against the two rivals.
The Game: The Daily headline roared in blocked letters, “CHAMPIONS OF AMERICA”, the perceived spoils of the 6-0 victory over the Gophers. From the view of the student newspaper, “In a scintillating exhibition of modern football the Wolverines completely bewildered the much touted Gophers..” The Wolverines outgained the Gophers by 130 yards in tough battle, where the teams punted an amazing 43 times.
Random Notes: The Little Brown Jug rivalry was just in its infancy, having effectively been crafted the year before in the contest between the schools played in Minneapolis. The jug was now in Ann Arbor and a Daily headline read, “Fight For Old White Jug”, which was indeed the original color of the crock.