14. August 2012 · Comments Off on It Must be the Shoe Laces! The Story of Billy Taylor’s Tricked out Pumas · Categories: 2011 · Tags: , , , , , ,

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon recently indicated that fans can expect the Wolverines to enter the Big House donning alternatively styled uniforms from time to time. Last season we witnessed a variety of uniforms tweaks, most notably the throwback styles used against Notre Dame and Michigan State, and of course the addition the numbers on the helmets, grace the gridiron.

Perhaps fans are becoming a bit numb to the changes. The unveiling of maize shoelaces (do you even remember?) during Michigan’s Spring Game/Practice/Snooze Fest in April was met with a mere whimper compared to the usual euphoria or outrage (depending on your perspective) that typically follows after such announcements.

Maize Laces from 2012 Spring Game - Credit Brad MuckenthalerMaize Laces – Thanks to Brad of Maize & Blue Nation for sharing this beauty

The tweaks to the footwear, surprising something that’s rarely discussed amongst fans, do hold a place in Michigan football lore. Early players wore what we’d consider today to be a more of a cleated leather boot (below) and this gradually evolved to the high tech shoes we see today.

With the unveiling of the maize laces – the question emerges – when, if ever, has Michigan deviated from the traditional same black shoe/white lace look that’s been in place for the past several decades?

When it comes to Wolverine uniforms—from helmets, to jerseys, all the way down to the shoes—no one fan knows the history of the gear better than lifelong fan Steve Sapardanis. I called upon “Dr. Sap” to offer some history of the footwear and to no surprise, Sap knocked it out of the park. Check out this outstanding story of no doubt the most unique pair of shoes to grace a Michigan gridiron:

A guest post by Dr. Sap

So the stodgy, conservative Michigan team was wearing maize shoe laces during the Spring game? Alert the uniform police!

When was the last time UM deviated from their black shoe/white lace look, you ask? Well, it’s not as cut and dried as you may think. Back in 1940, Team #61 wore black shoes with leather laces. That was pretty much the standard look back then. Michigan’s first Heisman winner Tom Harmon has been photographed sporting an “M” on white socks. When Bo arrived in 1969, U-M teams wore black shoes with black laces.

But Bo was not impressed with the look of the black laces. Remember, the young, detail-oriented coach was doing things his way and if you didn’t like it, don’t let the “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” sign hit you in the butt on the way out! A Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth was not enough to change Bo’s mind. In 1970, Michigan was wearing white laces on their black shoes. "Ya got that? That’s just fundamental," as The General used to say.

But in 1971, one player did something that was so shocking even the flamboyant Fielding H. Yost would have flashed his famous smile. “Touchdown” Billy Taylor wore teal blue shoes with, you guessed it – maize laces! It was in the 1972 Rose Bowl Game against Stanford, and yes, those tricked out Puma shoes have not been photoshopped:

1972 Rose Bowl BillyTaylor - Credit U-M Bentley Historical Library

Really the bigger question is how did Bo, the crew-cut donning, uber-conservative, my-way-or-the-highway coach, let this happen? Why did he let Billy Taylor deviate from the team-first mentality and wear something so individualistic?

It turns out those flashy shoes pre-dated Schembechler in Ann Arbor. They were first worn by Michigan’s great back Ron Johnson in 1968. That season Taylor was a freshman and he watched Johnson become U-M’s first 1,000 yard rusher wearing those flashy cleats. It turns out the relationship between #40 and #42 started a year earlier, back in 1967.

When Taylor, a Barberton, Ohio native, visited Ann Arbor as a high school senior, he was hosted by George Hoey, Martin (Marty) Washington, Warren (Carl) Sipp, and Johnson. The two backs connected during Taylor’s recruiting visit and that sealed the deal – Taylor was going to be a Wolverine for Coach Bump Elliott.

While eligibility rules prevented freshman from playing, Taylor and Johnson became tight off the field in 1968. They were frat brothers at UM’s Alpha Phi Alpha – the first African-American fraternity in the United States, according to Taylor. After Johnson graduated and went on to the NFL, he kept his shoes. But before the 1971 season started, the two backs re-connected.

“Hey, BT! I got a gift for you!” is the way Taylor remembered the conversation with Michigan Football’s first African-American team captain, some 41 years ago. The NFL standout decided it was time to have the size 11 ½ shoes that helped him become UM’s All-Time Leading Rusher be worn by the player who was going to break his rushing record of 2,417 yards.

Now Taylor had a dilemma on his hands. He was honored and loved the idea of wearing his frat brother’s shoes, but they were teal blue and white in color. Michigan was now coached by tough-nosed, Bo Schembechler, not Mr. Nice Guy, Bump Elliot who recruited Taylor.

“Nobody liked Bo his first year – not even me!” Taylor recalled.

We all know that Bo demanded a lot—and for the players that meant tough practices and lots of them. As he did with many players, Schembechler pulled Taylor aside in 1971. The master-motivator and coach of the Wolverines told his senior, star running back that he was going to ride him harder than the other players on the team. Taylor thought incredulously to himself, “You mean harder than you’re riding us now?!”

Bo told him that he knew he was tough and that Taylor could handle it because he was from Barberton, Ohio – the same hometown as Schembechler. “Bo knew who his guys were. He knew which players he could count on,” recalled Taylor. And that was Taylor’s “in” for wearing his funky shoes.

You see, before Rick Leach and Anthony Carter were Bo’s favorites, Billy Taylor was the first favored “son” of Bo.

“The guys on team were jealous and started calling me, ‘Bo’s son!’” laughed Taylor.

Taylor used this special relationship that he had with Bo to wear the shoes. He started working on The General early in the fall of 1971. He begged and begged Schembechler to let him wear the teal Puma spikes, but Schembechler was not easy to convince. Then Taylor hit Bo where he was weakest. Bo remembered the loss to the Buckeyes the year before, and there was no way he was going to lose to Woody at home in 1971. So if his star running back wanted to wear teal shoes, fine – as long as he could score and beat the Buckeyes wearing them, that’s all that mattered.

“If you want me to play a great game, you gotta let me wear those shoes!” professed the star running back.

Finally, before the second game of the 1971 season Taylor asked for permission once again. “Bo growled and snarled, but finally said, ‘OK’,” Taylor recalled.

His teammates razzed him about his funky looking shoes, but Taylor pointed out, “They were ok with me wearing them because I was running for 100 yards per game.” Michigan went undefeated and Taylor went on to top the 100-yard mark five times during his All-American season of 1971 wearing those teal spikes.

He broke Ron Johnson’s career rushing mark at U-M, but had one more surprise in mind for his last game against Stanford. Taylor decided that teal was not tricked out enough.

So he colored the Puma striping maize (or “wings” as Taylor called them) and changed the white laces out for maize ones just before the 1972 Rose Bowl!  

Where are those shoes today? 

“I have no idea,”  [Ed.  DAMN!] Taylor said recently with a tinge of sadness.

So while UM is honoring some former greats with jersey patches, you could say Team #133 and adidas is giving a proverbial nod to another Michigan great, “Touchdown” Billy Taylor, by wearing maize laces this year!


Check out Billy Taylor’s ‘Get Back Up’ facility and program – inspired by Bo
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[Ed: This originally appeared in GoBlueWolverine Magazine –so get yours!]

22. April 2012 · Comments Off on Director Brian Kruger discusses Black and Blue · Categories: 2011 · Tags: , , ,


[Ed.  This interview first appeared in GoBlueWolverine magazine.]

Brian Kruger and his partner Buddy Moorehouse of Detroit-based Stunt3 Multimedia are currently on a nationwide tour, screening their wonderful new documentary, Black and Blue. It’s the amazing but little known story of Michigan’s 1934 football game against Georgia Tech, and the circumstances that led to the benching of Willis Ward, an African American football and track star at U-M. The backdrop of the tale involves Ward’s friend and future president Gerald Ford, and it follows how the incident shaped their lives after college.

Brian, the director the film, was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss this project and much more.

MVictors: When did you and Moorehouse first hear about this story, and at what point did you know it was a project worth taking on?

Kruger: We first heard about it when President Bush eulogized Gerald Ford [when Bush discussed the relationship between Ford and Ward]. I called Buddy after seeing that, and Buddy was once the sports editor for The Michigan Daily. I said, ‘Buddy, have you ever heard about that?’, and he said, ‘Not really.’ So the first thing we did was spend time looking around to see if anybody had done a movie on it. At that time we were thinking about creating a film company and I was looking to change careers. We looked around and found it was mentioned in a couple of books but nobody had done anything further with it. We became more and more astounded that very few people knew about this story. So that’s why we said, ‘We need to do this.’

We were going to make it the first part of a ten part series called, ‘The Victors’. The idea was to tell lesser known stories about Michigan football, and this was going to be the second one. The first was going to be the Ron Kramer story but then he passed away and we started on the Willis Ward story.

MVictors: How has the documentary evolved from the initial cut?

Kruger: This is our fifth film, and usually when we make a film we do something called the screener. It’s not a rough cut, but it’s what we want to show people to see what the reaction is. That film was an hour and eleven minutes and the reaction was overwhelming, people thought it was fantastic. We were excited about that. Many people told us that we should get the film on PBS. We looked into that and were told that if we want to get it on PBS we need to get the film down to 56 minutes and 44 seconds. So we made that cut, and that’s the cut that’s been showing around the country. There’s actually a third cut that’s going to be made this summer called the director’s cut, and it’s because so much information has come to our attention since the release. And the other big thing is that we’d like to get it in consideration for an Academy Award.

MVictors: I understand someone contacted you claiming to actually have the game football from the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game?

Kruger: What happened was, we were looking for the game ball. I think we asked you at one point if anyone had the ball, and we figured if anyone knew if that ball was around it would be you [laughs]. That was last year. Anyway, a few weeks ago a woman called me. She said her father was John Regeczi, who played on the teams with Gerald Ford and Willis Ward, those three years. She was very excited about that and she was telling me some stories. After about ten minutes I figured the conversation would wind down, and she said, ‘Oh and by the way, we have the game ball.’ [laughs] I was like, ‘What?’. I asked her to email me photos right away. It’s the real thing – it has the score Michigan 9, Georgia Tech 2 and has 1934 on it, and there appear to some signatures on it. It will be interesting to see if Ward’s signature is on it either way. I’m looking forward to looking at it closely.

MVictors: So where’s the ball today?

Kruger: That’s a good question, too. I was assuming the ball was in Ann Arbor at somewhere like Barton Hills or something. I told her I wanted to check it out and she invited me to come see it. So I asked where she lived and she said, ‘Southern California’. [laughs] She said it’s been in the family for 77 years.

MVictors: I saw the screening at the Alumni Association building in February. One thing that stuck out was the gasp when it was mentioned that Ward once beat Jesse Owens in a race. Do you plan to go further into Owens and his relationship with Ward in upcoming releases?

Kruger: We actually do, and that’s what’s spurring what I call a complementary piece that we’ve tentatively titled A Race in Time. It’s the untold story of Willis Ward. It was going to be the untold story of Ward and Owens, but there’s a lot more with the Ward story. As far as their head-to-head races, they were a big deal. On March 2, 1935 Ward and Owens raced against each other, Ward wins twice, Owens wins once, and Ward set the world record in the 60 yard dash at 6.2 seconds. On March 9th, one week later at the Big Ten Championship, they raced again and Owens won both times, and Owens reset the World record at 6.1 seconds. They met again on March 24 at the Butler relays in Indianapolis and they raced again in the 60 yard dash and Owens won it. That all went down 77 years ago this March.

MVictors: So speaking of memorializing former athletes, I understand you recently addressed the U-M Board of Regents to discuss honoring Ward in some way?

Kruger: Yes, we passed out a copy of the film to the Regents and we told them we’re not sure what we can do or what the process is, but we really do need to have a permanent marker, something on campus that recognizes what this man did. We got applause and everything else. Afterwards, we had a far more off-the-cuff discussion, and I told them that we’ve been screening it around the country and that it’s been really well received and we need to do something for Willis Ward. I also told them that I think a copy of this film should be given to every incoming student. We got a really good reaction from a couple of the regents afterwards and in fact Regent White, who was not there, chimed in over the teleconference and told the rest of the group that she’d seen the film and thought it was wonderful, and that something should be done for Ward. At that point a motion was made to do something for Ward and it was seconded. We’re just not sure what it is at this point.

MVictors: While it’s not in any way theme of the film, you’ve got George Bush (who eulogizes Ward at the start of the film) and of course of Gerald Ford, and Ward himself who were all Republicans. In this election year, have any viewers or potential donors had an issue with the film because they feel there’s a political bent to the story?

Kruger: Not quite like that. I did get one potential donor who said that if that if I would remove the references of George Bush from the film that they would then consider becoming financially involved. That’s the first time I ever thought of this film being political. Gerald Ford is kind of frowned upon by conservatives. He was the first Republican to sign onto the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and all that can be traced back to his relationship with Ward. But I can’t take George Bush out of the film. It was not only how I found out about the story, it was how the rest of the country really learned of the story as well–when the sitting president eulogizes a fallen president.

MVictors: How critical were the archives at the Bentley Library in creating this piece?

Kruger: Absolutely invaluable. When doing a documentary, using images like letters and photos from companies like Corbis and Getty can make story a like this cost prohibitive. I mean to the point where it could be another 77 years before it could be told, because documentaries don’t make a lot of money. This story doesn’t get told unless somebody like the Bentley Library rubber stamps the approval on all of the rights management of all those photos. Ironically a lot of that material comes from the Fielding H. Yost collection that was donated to the Bentley in 1970.

MVictors: Yost is effectively the villain in the story, with albeit a bit of redemption at the end–do you think the film will change how Michigan fans feel about Yost?

Kruger: I don’t know. But this is the way I look at it. I’m not at all prepared to demonize the man that revolutionized college football and the man who left the legacy that did. All of us have faults. Yost clearly had his faults too. Unfortunately his are being dug up by a couple guys long after he’s dead to tell this story about Willis Ward. I’m not apologetic about that at all, but I’m also not in any mood to say that this guy needs to be tucked away and never talked about again, and knock the stone off of Yost Field House and call it Ward Field House, which I heard someone say that other day. That’s insane. It’s Fielding H. Yost, the man is iconic. I’d say look at the whole legacy, don’t just look at 1934.


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29. January 2011 · Comments Off on Happy Days Are Here Again (Radio, Print, Mag) · Categories: Archive 2010 · Tags: , , , , , ,


A dash of MVictors-elsewhere:

1.  Radio:  Last night I spent a few minutes discussing the wonderful victory over the Spartans at Breslin with Hondo Carpenter of Spartan Nation on SN Radio.  If you missed it, here’s the audio:

2. Observer:  Check me out ‘Up Front’ in the current Ann Arbor Observer.  I wrote the short piece on the frat booze raids of 1931.   You might recall this eBay Watch feature from December that has much more on the police action that nabbed football captain James Simrall.

3. GoBlueWolverine Mag:  In the current issue I talk a little on the early days of Michigan hockey–much of it extracted from John U. Bacon’s wonderful Blue Ice.  In the next issue check out a little more depth on those Michigan clans!  Unite the Clans!


I’ve been trying to catch Sam Webb for an interview for quite a while now and recently I finally had the chance to sit down with him.  

He co-hosts ‘The Michigan Insider’ daily radio show on WTKA 1050AM in Ann Arbor with Ira Weintraub each morning. Webb also writes a column for the Detroit News covering recruiting. The balance of the time for the 32-year-old Flint native is gathering and publishing information on recruits as managing editor for GoBlueWolverine.com. He’s a busy man, so busy in fact that he was recently instructed by a doctor to take on a new job: getting a full night of sleep.

We chatted for about two hours about radio, how he got started in recruiting, his rivals at The Wolverine, coach Rodriguez, his patented ‘gut feelings’ and much more.  I’ll publish some of the interview here and the rest will hopefully be found soon over at GoBlueWolverine and in GBW magazine. 

MVictors:  Fans seem to dwell on the star ratings of prospects.  Do you have any say in the star ratings?
Sam Webb: No. No say. The regional guys get together and come up with the rankings.

MVictors: It seems like that’s kind of a big deal.
Sam Webb: It is on paper, but in practice, I don’t think there’s a big difference between a three and a four star.   It is all opinion and some of it politically influenced. Some networks are more SEC conference based. Some analysts are more tied to particular schools, so their recruits are rated more favorably. Notre Dame has benefitted from that. Michigan has benefitted from that in the past, not as much anymore [laughs]. There’s a lot in play when it comes to the rankings.

I tell people to not take the rankings, or recruiting in general, so seriously. It’s a guide and it gives you a picture of what things look like and it gives you a glimpse at what kind of athlete a guy may be. But a recruiting analyst is never going to have as much information on kids as coaches, so what you have to do when it comes to recruiting classes is trust the scouting ability of your coaches and wait to see if they prove worthy of that trust. You’ll see that eventually on the field.

MVictors: Is player rating something you’d like to be a part of?
Sam Webb:  I wouldn’t do rankings even if they gave me the opportunity. You’ll notice that when I write in the Detroit News, I never ever make player evaluations. I always use the analysts for that and part it is because the News is a different medium and you are supposed to attack that job in a more unbiased way. I don’t give people an avenue to say, ‘He’s just ranking this kid higher because he’s going to Michigan.’ I always use the analysts to avoid that sort of perception.

MVictors: Are you able to share information with the Michigan coaching staff? And the other way around, because I’m sure they have information that you’d like to have, and you have information that they’d like to have.
Sam Webb: You can volunteer information to Michigan, they just can’t reciprocate. They can’t tell you to call recruits. They can’t do interviews on recruits. They can’t do anything or any sort of dealings with you. There are a few questions they can answer about recruiting and they are very, very broad questions and there are a limited number of them.

MVictors: Do you talk to the Michigan coaches and tell them what’s going on?
Sam Webb: I’ll email information and say, ‘This is report on this guy’, or ‘this is what I got on that guy’. We’ll volunteer information, but we can’t go beyond sending out reports like that.

MVictors: Looking back, what are some of the names of recruits that you just knew after seeing them that they’d be stars.  And who are a few of the guys that didn’t make it that really shocked you?
Sam Webb:  I’ll start off with some of the guys that didn’t make it, because that’s easier. Kelly Baraka for sure. I thought he was going to be unbelievable. Antonio Bass I thought was going to be phenomenal and he’s a guy who didn’t make it for another reason. I thought Justin Fargas was going to be a superstar here.

As far as guys that made it, I knew Chad Henne was going to be good. When I saw Lamar Woodley in high school I knew he’d be special. I tell you what, when I saw Vernon Gholston I knew that guy would be really good. When I saw Reggie Bush I knew there would be no question. Same with Adrian Peterson, no question.  And Tim Tebow.  When I saw him his junior year he was spectacular. Ted Ginn is another one.  He had fantastic speed but I knew he wouldn’t make it as a corner, and he was originally recruited as a cornerback.

There are a few guys I feel about that right now. I think [USC commit] Kyle Prater will be an absolute monster as a college football player. I think Seantrel Henderson will be an unbelievable college football player, I don’t think there’s any question about it.

MVictors: What is your feeling about other sites, like blogs, that will see a breaking story on a premium site and share it on their site in a post or a forum?
Sam Webb: I haven’t really talked to anyone about protocol but if you’re asking me how I’d like to see it handled, if a premium story is on GoBlueWolverine and five seconds later it is regurgitated on say a blog site, that certainly isn’t the fairest of practices.  I’d like to see, if they have to mention it, that they write something like, ‘Big news on X site, click this link’ but realistically that isn’t happening. What happens is someone writes that this is the story, and mentions that it came from a pay site.

What that does is compromise the ability to get those stories. For Scout and Rivals, it really doesn’t have much impact right now but eventually you’ll get to the point, and I guess it’s the slippery slope argument, where you won’t have any information gatherers. You tap it so dry that no one will pay for that service anymore.

MVictors: What the biggest difference in the recruiting experience between Coach Carr and Coach Rodriguez?
Sam Webb: I think both place a lot of value on recruiting players that they’ve seen in camp. I think both coaches had the majority of the coaches recruiting in the state of Michigan, then they fan out in the area with a focus on Ohio and Pennsylvania. When Carr was coach, they did a lot in California, and Kentucky, and a lot in New Jersey. With Rich, he’s got a large focus in Florida but no as much in California.

MVictors: What about the experience of the kids?
Sam Webb: They both espouse the virtues of Michigan, and did so in a way that is appealing to players. With Lloyd, it was more from a standpoint of having been part of that history. With Rich, it’s more with about a reverence of history. Lloyd was speaking more first person, ‘I was with Bo Schembechler,’ and ‘This is what we did and what it meant.’ Whereas when Rich talks to kids, the reverence when talking about someone like Bo Schembechler is almost from the same standpoint that the kid might have. He’s selling it and he feels it, but he’s talking about in a different way than Lloyd would talk about it.  I don’t think that puts lesser value on it; it’s just different.

When you spoke to Lloyd, he was bigger than you and I don’t mean that in a bad way. You’d see him and it was like, ‘That’s Lloyd Carr”. When he spoke you felt like it was almost part of Michigan history talking. When you speak to Rich, you feel more like you’re talking to your neighbor. It’s more of an eye-level rapport. He comes off more as a guy you’d actually hang out with. Not that you couldn’t hang out with Lloyd, but you get what I mean. Lloyd was bigger than the room, so to speak. I hope this come off in a denigrating way, either way, for both guys. But that’s a difference between these guys.