In February 2008, an item claimed by its seller to be an actual 1930 Wolverine jersey came up for bid on eBay. The description said that the jersey was previously owned by Francis Cornwell, the right guard on coach Harry Kipke’s squad.
Obviously authenticity was the key here and the roughly-worded auction description didn’t really help that cause (the seller misspelled ‘university’ in the auction title but this was mostly explained away with the ‘Go Buckeyes!’ that strangely concluded the item summary).
The strongest element of the seller’s claim of authenticity started with the jersey number (28) and name ‘Cornwell’ which was sewn on with prominent maize thread. The 1930 team photo from the University of Michigan Bentley Historical library website features Cornwell donning a #28 jersey that is very similar to the one for sale.
During the auction I emailed the seller to see if more info was available such as the identity of the previous owner or how the seller happened to come into possession of this beauty. My email was promptly returned but with no additional info. A note to the Bentley Library asking for a comment on the authenticity went unreturned. In the end, eBay bidders weren’t dissuaded by the choppy description or the lack of info as the auction closed with a winning price of $1900.
Cornwell and his jersey participated in a wonderful season in M history as Coach Kipke’s Wolverines finished 8-0-1, the lone blemish a scoreless tie at home with Michigan State College. That tie cost the Wolverines consideration for the national title, settling for a share of the conference crown with Northwestern. And although this was a year before a certain future President arrived on campus, the squad featured some very famous names. The sons of both Fielding Yost and the legendary Willie Heston suited up for the Wolverines in 1930- two chips off the old block M.
The 1930 schedule also featured a double-header. Yes, two football games in one day-Consider the tailgating logistics for that one! In an attempt to cover revenue shortfalls due to the Depression, Michigan actually played both Denison and Michigan Normal on September 27, 1930. Unfortunately only a few thousand fans bothered to watch this circus act as the Wolverines shut-out both squads to get off to a quick 2-0 start to the season.
Despite the success, the maize and blue masses didn’t descend into Michigan stadium to watch their Wolverines in the early thirties. In 1931 the Big Ten conference actually scheduled an extra game after the original slate was complete to help boost revenue. On November 28, 1931 Michigan shut-out Wisconsin in its “extra” game but less than 10,000 spectators bothered to show.
Attendance picked up marginally over the next two seasons and the Wolverines continued their victorious trend. Despite the small crowds, Kipke’s crew continued to roll up opponents, taking a share of the conference crown in 1931 and followed that with a perfect season in 1932 to claim the national title.