Regular readers of this site know one of my favorite decades of Michigan football is the 1930s, having covered different seasons and events in eBay Watch and in the Little Brown Jug Lore series from those years.
If I had to pick one year as my favorite during the stretch it’s definitely 1934 which is ironic, as it’s arguably the worst season in Michigan football history. I argued this point here and here, but in a nutshell consider that Harry Kipke’s team, coming off back-to-back national championships, finished 1-7, was shut out in five of the eight games, and scored a mere 21 points. Fugly.
Despite the futility on the gridiron, the season is packed of historical treasures of major significance both on and off the field. The next edition of eBay Watch features the auction of a program from the Ohio State-Michigan held on November 17, 1934, exactly 75 years ago today in Columbus:
The program features several photos of players, including a collage of the Michigan team including team MVP Gerald Ford:
The top of the photo features Willis Ward, the African American end who was at the center of a fierce controversy that played out before the Georgia Tech game a few weeks earlier that season. For those not familiar, The Jackets made it known well before the game that they wouldn’t take the field in Ann Arbor if Ward played, spawning intense protests on campus in Ann Arbor.
Eventually Michigan caved, sitting Ward after a deal was struck with Tech that required the Jackets to sit a player as well. (It’s not lost on me that the 1934 OSU program features two white dudes shaking hands.) The 9-2 game was the Wolverines’ lone win of the miserable season but came with a historical price. These incidents resonated with would-be President Ford, a friend of Ward’s, who wrote a 1999 New York Times Op-Ed piece defending Michigan’s affirmative action policies:
“Do we really want to risk turning back the clock to an ear when the Willis Wards were isolated and penalized for the color of their skin, their economic standing or national ancestry?”
President George W. Bush also mentioned the Ward incident in Ford’s eulogy.
The 1934 Program also features a photo of one of the most famous athletes in the world, a burgeoning freshman track star at Ohio State named Jesse Owens:
Owens of course knows a little something about race and discrimination. He’ll forever be remembered for kicking Hitler squarely in the bucknuts at the Berlin Olympics a couple years later. While certainly on a smaller stage, Owens did some serious damage in Ann Arbor on Ferry Field in 1935 and the Bentley Library details his exploits:
Ferry Field has been the site of many great individual performances in Big Ten track championships, none more remarkable than Jesse Owens’ efforts in 1935. Within a period of two hours, the Ohio State sophomore set world records in the 220 yard dash – :20.2, the broad jump – 26 ft. 8 1/4 in., the 220 yard low hurdles – :22.6 and tied the world record in the 100 yard dash – :09.4 seconds. A plaque at the southeast corner of Ferry Field commemorates Owens’ incomparable performance.
That’s rubbing it in, man.
The year 1934 also marked the start of a Buckeye tradition that lingers today like a foul odor: the issuing of gold pants charms to players. Their timing was impeccable. The Sweatervest’s website explains the deal:
Schmidt founded the "Pants Club", which still exists today as reward for a win over the Wolverines. Since 1934, each player and coach receives a miniature pair of gold pants for each victory over Michigan. The charms contain the recipient’s initials as well as the year and score of "The Game".
This prize commemorate OSU’s 2007 and the seller even gives the initials of the original owner (D.H.) which are placed on each pair. That’d narrow things down to ‘07 senior De’Angelo Haslam, freshman Dan Herron or yikes, assistant coach Darrell Hazell. Didn’t mean that much, obviously.