Entertainment Section

Column: Rite of Passage in UM’s Weight Room

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

While I was writing “Three and Out,” the Michigan football players challenged me to join their workouts in the weight room. They were surprised when I was actually game – one of the dumbest decisions of my life.

I’d heard so much about these modern gladiators and their weight room heroics that I wanted to find out for myself just how much harder it really is compared to what the average weekend warrior puts himself through just to avoid buying “relaxed fit” jeans.

The plan was simple: I would work out with these guys three times a week, for six weeks – “if you last that long,” said Mike Barwis, Michigan’s former strength coach, in his famously raspy voice. But before I even started, there were four signs that I shouldn’t be doing this.

When I asked Barwis if I should prepare by lifting weights, he said, “No, it’s too late for that!” Well, that’s one sign.

“Okay,” I asked, “what’s it NOT too late for?”


“Why running? We’re not going to run.”

“Because your heart is going to give out before your muscles do.” [Full Story]

Column: Thank You, Mr. Wallace

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Everybody knows Mike Wallace was one of the best journalists of his time – and his time spanned nearly a century.

But he also had a great love for his alma mater, the University of Michigan, where he wrote for the Michigan Daily, and got his first taste of broadcasting. Back then, that meant working for the student radio station.

Sadly, Michigan cut its department of journalism in 1979. But it was survived by something called the Michigan Journalism Fellows – a program that brings a dozen mid-career journalists to Michigan’s campus for a year to give them a fresh start. Basically, you’re a glorified grad student, but they pay you, and you have no tests, no papers and no grades – and you share the year with a fraternity of people in your field.  Yeah, it’s that cool.

It’s a great idea – one shared by Harvard and Stanford – but Michigan’s program seemed to be entering its death rattle when Charles Eisendrath took it over in 1986. The program was down to a mere $30,000, with no place to call home. The fellows met twice a week in a campus classroom. The future wasn’t bright.

Eisendrath had a vision for the program, but he knew he needed help – and he knew where to go, too. Mike Wallace didn’t hesitate. He gave his money – one million dollars, for starters – but he also gave his time, his energy, and his unequaled influence. When Mike Wallace told you Michigan had a first-class journalism fellowship worthy of your support, you probably were not inclined to argue. [Full Story]

Column: Farewell to the Parthenon

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Ann Arbor’s Parthenon Restaurant closed last week after almost 40 years at the corner of Main and Liberty. For me and my friends, it marked more than the passing of a favorite spot, but the end of a time-honored ritual.

On our last visit, we filed in, and walked to our favorite table in the back. A little warmer, and we’d sit outside, but it was still March, so whatya gonna do? The owners and waiters nodded. They’ve seen us more than a hundred times. When I needed to sell ads for the Huron Hockey program to help fund the team, the Parthenon signed up every time – something the chain coffee shop across the street would never consider.

BW and I started coming here in the fall of our sophomore year in high school. We both ran cross-country – a near-death experience – but that meant we could eat anything, and not gain a pound. For us, that meant a jumbo coke, a basket of fries, and two gyros – each.

We’ve since added a few friends from our high school days: Scotty, a hockey teammate of mine; TP, the tennis captain; Sevvie, a soccer star; and Barney, whom I was nice enough to drive to practice every day, so he could take my job. I was cool like that. [Full Story]

Column: Shawn Hunwick’s Impossible Dream

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Two years ago, Michigan’s hockey team was in danger of snapping its record 19-straight NCAA tournament bids. They finished seventh in their league – unheard of, for Michigan. So, the only way to keep the streak alive was to win six straight league playoff games to get an automatic NCAA bid.

Oh, and they had to do it with a back-up goalie named Shawn Hunwick, a 5-foot-6 walk-on who had never started a college game until that week.

It didn’t look good.

But the kid caught fire. Michigan won all six games, stretched its streak to 20 straight NCAA tournaments, and Hunwick won the league tournament MVP.

This never happens.

The next season, head coach Red Berenson alternated goalies until he had to pick one to play in the Big Chill game at Michigan’s football stadium – which was going to be the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game, anywhere. He picked Bryan Hogan, but in warm ups, Hogan pulled a muscle, so Berenson put Hunwick in the net at the last minute. The kid beat Michigan State, 5-0, and a star was re-born. [Full Story]

Column: The Other Side of Fielding Yost

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Two weeks ago, I wrote about one of the University of Michigan’s lowest moments, when athletic director Fielding H. Yost scheduled Georgia Tech for a football game in 1934, which required Michigan to sit out its star player, Willis Ward, because Southern teams would not take the field against African-Americans.

The attention Yost’s decision received surprised and embarrassed him. In his limited view of the situation, Yost thought he was simply providing a courtesy for a friend, not making a racial stand. National newspapers, radio programs and even Time magazine featured the controversy prominently. It also sparked bitter debate among students, and created a morale problem on the team. By all accounts the players felt Ward was intelligent, hard-working and well-liked.

That was the bad news – very bad news. The good news, as I wrote, is that the press, the alums, the students, and particularly Willis Ward and his roommate on the road, Gerald Ford, had the courage of their convictions, and derived lasting change from the incident.

But I feel it necessary to fill out this story, to give it more depth, and perspective. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Thanks Buckeyes – For Now

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Big Ten basketball experts knew exactly what was going to happen this season before it even started. Michigan State would battle for another title, while Michigan would be stuck in the middle, fighting for a tournament bid.

And that’s exactly how it started. The Spartans jumped out to first place, and had it all to themselves with just two games left. The Wolverines spent most of the season in the middle of the pack.

The experts were looking pretty smart – until Michigan started mastering head coach John Beilein’s unconventional system. The Wolverines beat Michigan State at home by a single point, then knocked off sixth-ranked Ohio State – just two of Michigan’s 15 straight home victories. With just a week left in the regular season, the Wolverines had a chance to win their first Big Ten title since 1986 – the longest drought in school history. [Full Story]

Column: When Ward, Ford Played Ball for UM

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The University of Michigan can boast 19 highly ranked schools and colleges, a couple dozen nationally recognized teams and countless famous graduates. And on matters of social justice, Michigan has often led the nation, not followed it.

But one Saturday, 78 years ago, Michigan took a sad step backward.

When Ann Arbor’s own George Jewett – who has a street named after him in his home town – earned his third varsity letter on Michigan’s football team in 1892, he could not have imagined it would take four decades for another African-American player to follow him.

The biggest reason was Michigan’s head coach from 1901 to 1926, Fielding H. Yost. He invented the no-huddle offense and the position of linebacker and popularized the forward pass. He built Yost Fieldhouse, the Intramural Building and the Big House. He had boundless energy, ambition and ego, and six national titles to back it all up.

You could argue that most of Yost’s faults were benign flaws, maybe even necessary evils. But one of Yost’s blind spots had no redeeming qualities: He was a racist. [Full Story]

Column: Gender on the Ice

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Michigan women’s club hockey team beat the #1 ranked Michigan State women’s team twice down the stretch to finish second in the league, and earn a spot in the national tournament. Hats off to them.

Although I’ve coached high school boy’s hockey teams for almost a decade, a few years ago, I spent two years helping out the very same Michigan women’s hockey team – and I learned a lot more than they did.

It’s worth noting that I’m comparing only high school boys and college women, based solely on my observations of two hockey teams. Your mileage may vary.

My education started on day one. I dumped a bucket of pucks at center ice, grabbed one for myself, then stickhandled the puck around the rink. But something seemed strange, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. [Full Story]

Column: Super Bowl Reflections

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It’s been five days since the Super Bowl, just enough time to give us a little perspective on the whole thing. Was it a football game? A concert? A competition for the Clio Award? Or some bizarrely American combination of all three?

Let’s start with the least important: The football game. You might have caught bits of it, squeezed between the ads and the show. How could you tell when the game was on? Those were the people who ran really fast, and wore clothes.

For the Super Bowl’s first 30 years, most of the games were boring blowouts. I suspect even the players can’t recall the scores of those snoozers.

But the ads and the halftime shows were hard to forget, and often featured a member of the Jackson family having his hair ignited or her wardrobe mysteriously malfunction.

But lately, it’s been the other way around. Ten of the past 16 games have been barn burners – and the rest of the stuff is putting us to sleep. [Full Story]

Column: Signing Day Insanity

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The most important day of the year for a college football coach is not the home opener, the big rivalry game or even a bowl game. It’s national signing day, which falls on the first Wednesday in February.

On signing day, the end zone is not grass or Astroturf, but a fax machine tray. Only when a signed National Letter of Intent breaks the plane of that tray does it count.

Sounds pretty simple, right? A couple years ago I got a chance to see the sausage get made at close range – and it’s a lot crazier than you imagined.

The coaches start by collecting information on more than a thousand players years in advance. Then they watch hundreds of hours of film, and make dozens of trips across the country – from Pasadena to Pahokee – to meet with hundreds of high school players, their parents and their coaches. They follow that up with thousands of calls, emails and text messages – all in the hopes of getting the 25 players they think will help them win a title a few years later.

That’s bad enough, but now, thanks to ESPN and the Internet, recruiting has become a full-blown season in its own right. It lasts all year – and it’s harder on the coaches than the actual football season is. [Full Story]

Photos: Local Faces in Obama’s UM Crowd

When the president of the United States comes to town to give a major speech on college affordability, it’s not something we’d want to miss.

Barack Obama

U.S. president Barack Obama, speaking at the University of Michigan’s Al Glick Fieldhouse on Friday morning, Jan. 27. His remarks focused on the issue of education and college affordability. (Photos by Mary Morgan.)

Also not wanting to miss Barack Obama’s appearance at the University of Michigan – a return visit after delivering the commencement address in May of 2010 – were dozens of other national, state and local media. Attention is heightened even more during this election year, and Friday morning’s speech was just one of many stops as Obama hit the road following Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

There will be countless reports and opinions offered on the Jan. 27 speech at UM, but we’d encourage you to approach it unfiltered, at least initially. You can watch the roughly 40-minute speech in its entirety online, or read a transcript of it here.

For Obama’s remarks almost two years ago at the 2010 UM commencement, we provided a bit of our own analysis, along with photos by Myra Klarman.

This time, we went with an eye for recording the community connections we could see at the event. And there were many – not surprisingly for a Democratic stronghold like Ann Arbor. Politicians were easy to spot, of course, but there were also educators, business owners, government workers and many others.

Over 3,000 people attended Friday morning’s speech. Here are a few of those we encountered there. [Full Story]

Column: Finally, a Real Rivalry

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State in football is one of the best in the country. But it obscures the fact that, in just about every other sport, Michigan’s main rival is Michigan State.

In men’s basketball, there’s no team either school would rather beat than the other. The problem is, for a rivalry to really catch on, both sides need to be at the top of their game. Think of Bo versus Woody, Borg-McEnroe and, of course, Ali-Frazier, which required three death-defying fights just to determine that one of them might have been slightly better than the other.

The Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry, in contrast, usually consists of at least one lightweight. When Michigan got to the NCAA final in 1976, Michigan State had not been to the tournament in 17 years.

When Michigan State won the NCAA title in 1979, Michigan finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten.

When Michigan won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1985 and ‘86, State wasn’t close. And when State rolled up four straight Big Ten titles under Tom Izzo, Michigan was headed for probation, and yet another coach.

Around that time, Izzo told me there was no reason, given the basketball talent in this state, that this rivalry could not be every bit as good as Duke and North Carolina. But for more than a decade, it was anything but. Izzo owned Michigan, winning 18 of 21 games through 2010.

But Michigan managed to sweep State last year for the first time in 13 years. And on Tuesday night, for only the fifth time in the rivalry’s long history, Michigan and Michigan State both entered their contest ranked in the top 20.

This was it. The rivalry finally looked like a rivalry. [Full Story]

Column: Who Wins with College Bowl Games?

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The college football bowl season has always been a little crazy – but most of that used to be fun crazy. Lately, though, it’s been turning bad crazy – and fast. Here’s why.

Michigan played in the first ever bowl game against Stanford on New Year’s Day in 1902. The Wolverines won, 49-0 – but didn’t play another bowl game for 46 years.

Pasadena didn’t host another game until 1916, and no other bowl games even existed until 1935, when the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Sun Bowl all started, followed two years later by the Cotton Bowl. But the games were just glorified exhibitions, created to reward a few teams with a nice trip, and promote southern cities.

That started to change in 1948, when Michigan’s Fritz Crisler played matchmaker between the current Big Ten and the Pac-12, who started sending their league champions to play each other at the Rose Bowl every New Year’s Day. If you were second place, you only got to play in a bowl if your league champion repeated, because the university presidents didn’t want their teams to go to a bowl game two years in a row.

Bowl games were considered so insignificant that Notre Dame didn’t bother to go to any bowl games from 1926 until 1970 – and still won seven national titles during that stretch.

But when Michigan’s undefeated, fourth-ranked 1973 team tied top-ranked Ohio State, and was denied a trip to Pasadena by a vote of athletic directors, the Big Ten ended its 25-year-old ban, and let any team in the league go to any bowl game that would have them. [Full Story]

Column: Redemption at the Sugar Bowl

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Big Ten is still considered one of the nation’s top leagues, despite its frequent belly flops in bowl games. This year, the Big Ten placed a record 10 teams in bowl games – then watched them drop, one by one. And not just in the storied Rose Bowl, but in games like the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and the Insight Bowl. When Iowa got whipped 31-14, I wonder just how much insight they had gained.

Until Monday, Big Ten teams had managed to win only two games: the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, over Western Michigan, and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, over a team that had a losing record and no coach. In non-food based bowls, the Big Ten had no luck at all.

Then, Michigan State came to the rescue. The Spartans beat Michigan during the regular season, they won their division, and they seemed poised to win the Big Ten’s first conference championship game until one of their players was called for “roughing the punter.” This is on a par with giving the class nerd noogies– and about as serious. But it cost them the game.

Their reward for all this? An invitation to a less prestigious bowl game than Michigan received. The Spartans were ticked off – and rightly so.

After Georgia jumped out to a 16-0 lead at the half, the Spartans came back to tie the game in the final seconds. And that’s when things got really nutty. In the first overtime, the Georgia kicker missed a chance at a game-winning field goal. Then, in the third overtime, the Spartans blocked his kick to win. Small wonder college coaches knock back Rolaids like Chiclets.

Michigan’s road to redemption was even crazier – and far longer. [Full Story]

Column: Rounding Out the Year in Sports

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

But this year, the sports page had plenty of both. Sad to say, bad news tends to travel faster.

So let’s start with some good news. In men’s tennis, the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, already one of the best in tennis history, was joined by a man named Novak Djokovic, who won three major titles this year on a gluten-free diet – no joke. We might be watching the sport’s greatest era. Even better, all three players are true sportsmen, resorting to none of the ranting and raving of past greats.

Today, the spoiled brats are on the first tee, led by Tiger Woods, whose petulant tantrums on the course were eclipsed by his behavior off it. Now he’s trying to reassemble his knee, his swing and his life all at once. His opponents don’t like him, but they have to pull for him to return, along with their big paychecks.

The Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs for their 20th consecutive year – an incredible accomplishment of consistency in the modern era of parity and free agency. If you’re in college, you cannot recall when they were so bad we called them the “Dead Things.” General manager Ken Holland is the best in sports. Period.

The Tigers, meanwhile, stretched their playoff streak to one. Justin Verlander starts the game throwing 95-miles per hour, and ends it throwing over 100. He is the most dominant Detroit pitcher in four decades. Take your kids to see him now, so years later they can tell their grandkids. [Full Story]

Column: An Important Win for Michigan

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Just a few years ago, ESPN’s viewers called the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry the best. Not just in college football, or all football. But in all sports. Period.

Everyone knew this year’s game wouldn’t go down as one of the best. Michigan entered the game with a 9-2 record and a No. 17 ranking, but the Buckeyes hobbled into their annual finale dragging a 6-5 record behind them, their worst record since the 1990s.

But that just made the stakes for Michigan that much higher.

The Wolverines hadn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2003, but the Buckeyes entered last week’s game reeling from just about every problem a major program can have – from an ongoing NCAA investigation, to coach Jim Tressel being fired last spring in disgrace, to their star quarterback Terrelle Pryor departing a year early for the NFL.

This Buckeye team was led by a freshman quarterback, Braxton Miller, and an interim coach named Luke Fickell. Making matters worse for the Buckeyes, just days before the game, reports surfaced that Urban Meyer would be named the permanent head coach after the game – which he was.

All this only put more pressure on the Wolverines. If they couldn’t beat the Buckeyes at their baddest, when could they? [Full Story]

Thanksgiving Funnies: Totter Toons


Editor’s note: Thanksgiving is all about leftovers. This cartoon originally appeared in The Chronicle on Thanksgiving in 2009. We’ve kept it in the freezer since then and are thawing it out for you today. Enjoy!

turkeytoon1 [Full Story]

Column: Tribute to One of Michigan’s Finest

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Michigan football has produced a lot of big name coaches and players, but one of the finest men who played and coached for Michigan deserves to be a little bigger.

At last week’s homecoming game, Michigan had planned to honor one of its great alums, a man named Chalmers Elliott – which might explain why he goes by “Bump.” He was an All-American football player and a Big Ten champion coach, but earned greater fame as the athletic director at Iowa, Michigan’s opponent this weekend. Pneumonia kept the 86-year old legend from making it, however, so I’m going to honor him today.

He was born in Detroit in 1925, and served in the Marines during World War II. He returned to star for Michigan as a halfback alongside his younger brother Pete, who played quarterback. Their offense was so dazzling, seven players could touch the ball on a single play. That earned them the nickname, the Mad Magicians, plus the national title in 1947 – the same year the conference named Bump Elliott the MVP. [Full Story]

Halloween 2011: Main Street Spooks, Sprites

Editor’s note: Myra Klarman, a professional photographer based in Ann Arbor, has been documenting Halloween cuteness for The Chronicle since 2008, capturing images from the annual Main Street Halloween Treat Parade. [Take a look at her images from 20102009, and 2008 Halloween festivities as well.] We hope you enjoy these little spooks and sprites as much as we do – Happy Halloween!

Little cow

Who ever said, Halloween should be scary? It always includes, a serving of dairy.

[Full Story]

Column: Taking Stock of “Three and Out”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

In the summer of 2008, Rich Rodriguez granted me unfettered access to the Michigan football program so I could write a book. Three years later the book is finished, and like just about everybody else connected to Michigan football the past three years, I had no idea what I was getting into.

During my three years following the Michigan football team, the working title of the book changed from “All or Nothing,” to “All In,” to “Third and Long,” before Rodriguez’s last season, and after he was fired, to “Three and Out.”

At first, I thought I was watching the football version of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Then, maybe “Shawshank Redemption.” Guy gets dumped on, but comes through. Then, I finally realized I was watching “Titanic.” The unsinkable ship goes down. The hottest coach in America takes over the winningest program in the nation – and the marriage seemingly made in heaven ends in an ugly divorce. [Full Story]