Ed. Who knows the Bo era better than Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis? NOOOOBBBOODY. Here’s another great story from Sap:
The first three games of the 1985 season brought about some major changes to the Michigan football uniform, some thirty years ago.
In Game #3 against Maryland, the helmet manufacturer “BIKE” no longer appeared on the front of the Wolverine helmets. “MICHIGAN” was now stickered on the front nosebumper of the maize and blue’s headgear.
Game #2 at South Carolina brought a smile to my face, as the helmet stickers/decals returned to the Michigan helmets after a plain-and-boring-helmet-looking two year absence in 1983 & 1984.
While these changes were somewhat cosmetic, the most impactful and most important change happened in Game #1 against Notre Dame. The wristbands changed for the quarterbacks. No, this wasn’t a cosmetic or color change, it was much more than that. The wristbands had the offensive plays listed on them. Not only did the quarterbacks wear the wristband playsheets, Cam Cameron, the Michigan Receivers Coach, did as well. (see pics below)
No longer would they be used to dab sweat or look cool – the QB wristbands were now a strategic weapon in the Michigan Football arsenal.
Think that is overstating their significance and impact on the Michigan offense? Well, in 1983 and 1984 the Michigan offense averaged just over 130 yards passing per game. In 1985, that number jumped to 176.3 yards – the second highest average in Michigan football history at the time which was only topped by the 1947 Mad Magicians with 178.8 yards passing per game.
Worn on their non-throwing wrist, the playsheet would contain play numbers and play nomenclature. They would contain all the passing and running plays that the team had practiced for their upcoming opponent that week. Invariably, that would mean there were anywhere from 50 to 250 plays on that little wristband.
When I asked Coach Jerry Hanlon where they got the idea to use the wristband playsheet he didn’t recall it as being a big deal. “We probably stole it from another school,” he joked to me. “You talk with all these other coaches about things – what has been working, what hasn’t been working – so that’s probably where the idea came from.”
First used in the NFL in 1965 by Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts and as early as 1961 in the college ranks at Alabama with Bear Bryant, the QB Wristband Playsheet had been around for a while – just not at Michigan.
In the 1970’s, Bo would talk on the phone with Hanlon who was upstairs in the press box. After asking, “What do you want, Jerry?” Bo sent in the plays with offensive guards that rotated in and out of the game. It looked and sounded like this:
While Hanlon, who coached the Michigan QBs in 1985, didn’t remember all the details surrounding its introduction, he did recall that its primary purpose was to speed up the playcalling in some situations.
“It was easier to call or signal play number “12” as opposed to “Z53 DRAG T X1,” Hanlon told me.
The “Z53” and the “DRAG T” were passing terms and that’s why and when things became a mouthful. More receivers meant more terminology. “Passing plays were more complex in nomenclature than running plays,” said Hanlon. Clearly the Hanlon loved him some good old-fashioned option football.
Running play terminology was more simplistic and straightforward. For instance, “Rip Dark 26” was a favorite of Bo and Jerry’s in the 1970’s. Rip Dark was the formation and 26 was the hole and direction or side the play was to be run. Plays that ran to the left side of the offensive line had odd numbers attached to them while the mirror-image or “flip” of the play would have an even numbered designation. The complement or flip to Rip Dark 26 to the right, was Rip Dark 25 to the left.
This methodology certainly followed the KISS Rule: Keep it simple, stupid.
In 1985, the Wolverines and quarterback Jim Harbaugh would end up having a hugely successful year. While they didn’t win the Big Ten Title, the maize and blue finished the season ranked #2 in the country in the final polls – the highest ever for a Schembechler-coached team – and Harbaugh was the nation’s most efficient passer – the first Michigan QB to do so.
Just to prove that the wristband playsheets weren’t a one-year-wonder, the 1986 Wolverines won the Big Ten Title, Harbaugh was the nation’s 2nd most efficient passer. Today, almost every team at every level of football uses some variant of the QB wristband.
But what about the jump in passing stats from 1984 to 1985? Wasn’t that all attributed to the wristband playsheet?
“The most important thing is the ARM of the quarterback and not what’s ON the arm of the quarterback,” Coach Hanlon reminded me.
Of course it is!
P.S. Speaking of Bo, my fellers at The Bo Store continue to kill it: