04. August 2007 · Comments Off on Michigan’s Debut as a Nocturnal Eleven (1944) · Categories: Archive 2007, History, Indiana, Media, Ohio State

Webmaster’s note 8/4: Originally published on July 31, I just heard back from the Bentley museum which provided some key info on the game. I’ve updated the piece with the new info from the Bentley…

Tribune Lead on Michigan's night debut
Feminine ticket stub. Manly kick-off time.

On May 1st of this year the athletic department published a press release announcing that the 2007 game at Illinois would be played at night. The presser also listed the history of Michigan’s games in prime time. It all started in 1944 with a game under the lights at Marquette and the Blue didn’t play another for nearly 30 years.

Searching the Internet
I dug around the internet looking for more detail on the game. Emails to the athletic department and the Bentley museum got nothing. The Bentley summary of the Fritz Crisler’s 1944 team provided basics on the game (Michigan won 14-0 in front of approximately 12,366 fans) but nothing substantial.

Digging further, I bought an archived copy of the 1944 Chicago Tribune which published a piece covering the game. The article provided a summary of the game and provided a glimpse at sports writing back in the day. Written by Charles Bartlett, the Tribune piece reads more like a play by play than a modern game summary. Here’s the headline and a small taste of Bartlett’s writing style:

Tribune Lead on Michigan's night debut

Call to Marquette Sports Information
Next I contacted the Marquette sports information department. One of the challenges in digging up data on this game is that Marquette stopped playing football in 1960. Michael Whittliff of MU suggested I try looking at the library’s collection of yearbooks. Expecting to find nothing, a review of the 1945 ‘Hilltop’ yearbook paid off big time & yielded a game photo:

Michigan's first night game vs. Marquette in 1944

In case you can’t make it out, the clowns on the yearbook department added the caption “May I have the next Waltz, please?” under that photo. That’d probably not cut mustard on one of the MichiganZone’s caption contests. It’s a great photo and I was jacked to see it was taken after sundown.

Bentley Museum Comes Through
The info and the game photo was cool, but up to this point I still didn’t find any special reason why Marquette played the 1944 game at night. It wasn’t unique for MU to play at night as scan of the yearbook showed other night game photos. Then, a few days after my initial draft of this story, I got an email back from the Bentley museum.

Greg Kinney, the curator of the Michigan football archives at the Bentley wrote to me: “After checking a bunch of sources, I finally found a newspaper article that offers some rationale for the night game. Michigan was host to the Navy V-12 program and so had many Navy and Marine recruits on the team.”

Here’s the deal on the V-12 program:

The V-12 Navy College Training Program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the United States Navy during World War II. Between July 1, 1943 and June 30, 1946, over 125,000 men were enrolled in the V-12 program in 131 colleges and universities in the United States. When the draft age was lowered to 18 in November 1942, the Navy quickly foresaw a shortage of college-educated officers for its operations. Likewise, hundreds of the nations colleges and universities feared economic collapse without students to fill suddenly empty classrooms. All those in V-12 were on active duty, in uniform and subject to a very strict form of military discipline.

Kinney found additional articles on the game including one in particular which provided the reason for the night time start. Kinney wrote to me:
“The team left Ann Arbor at 1:30 Friday afternoon and arrived in Milwaukee at 7:40 and had a brief workout under the lights. The article states; “Michigan meets Marquette University at Milwaukee tonight and the opening kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 o’clock to enable the Wolverines to catch an early train out of Milwaukee and have the navy and Marine players back here within the 48-hour limit.”

So…it was the V-12 program and the time limit that made for the unique start time. There must have not been a train that left Saturday evening to get the players home within the 48 hours.

The Season of 1944
As mentioned Michigan took down the pass-happy ‘Hilltoppers’ 14-0 on two second half scores. The change in schedule apparantly took its toll on the ’44 Wolverines as the following week they were stomped by Indiana 20-0 in Ann Arbor! The rest of the schedule was a breeze until losing a tight game to the undefeated Buckeyes in front of over 78,000 in Columbus. For the last four games it should be noted that Michigan’s fullback and captain Bob Wiese left for military service no doubt related to the V-12. Obviously there were bigger priorities than college football back then. The final AP poll slotted the Wolverines at #8, with the great Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis giving Army (which “rolled through the 1944 season like Patton through Europe” according to InfoPlease.com) a national title.