Stories indexed with the term ‘University of Michigan football’

Column: Michigan Delivers Big in Big House

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last weekend, for the first time in the history of Michigan football, they scheduled a night game, and invited Notre Dame to join the party.

But what if you had a night game, and nobody came? Well, that wasn’t the problem. The game attracted more than 114,000 people, another NCAA record.

To commemorate the event, Michigan wore “throwback jerseys” – which went back all the way to September 10, 2011. (Ask your grandparents.) Michigan’s jerseys have never had stripes – and when you saw them Saturday night, you appreciated just how wise Michigan’s founders had been. It was less about tradition than it was about trade.

But what if you invited the entire nation to watch your big game, and you laid an egg? In the first half, Michigan couldn’t have looked worse, trailing Notre Dame in first downs, 15-3. The only stat that was even close was the only one that mattered: the score. Notre Dame had completely dominated the Wolverines, but led only 17-7.

If lightning had been sighted near the end of the third quarter, with Notre Dame ahead 24-7, you could make a case for calling this game early, too. [Full Story]

Main Street to Close Near Football Stadium

On Saturday, Sept. 10, Main Street in Ann Arbor will be closed between Pauline and Stadium Boulevard from 5 p.m. until the conclusion of the football game at Michigan Stadium. A press release issued Friday morning by the city of Ann Arbor cited security concerns due to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks coinciding with the University of Michigan’s first night football game, to be played against Notre Dame.

Starting at 5 p.m. on Saturday, northbound Main Street traffic will be detoured from Stadium Boulevard to 7th Street, and from 7th to Pauline, then back to Main. Southbound Main Street traffic will be detoured from Pauline to 7th Street, and 7th to Stadium, then back to Main. Main Street … [Full Story]

Column: Michigan Football Brings Us Together

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Editor’s note: On the eve of the first night game in the 132-year history of University of Michigan football – to be played Saturday against Notre Dame – columnist John U. Bacon reflects on the game’s history and continuing hold on college campuses.

George Will recently wrote that when archeologists excavate American ruins centuries from now, they may be mystified by the Big House in Ann Arbor. “How did this huge football emporium come to be connected to an institution of higher education? Or was the connection the other way?”

It’s a fair question, one I’ve pondered myself many times. When I try to explain to foreigners why an esteemed university owns the largest stadium in the country, their expressions tell me it’s – well, a truly a foreign concept.

Ken Burns said our national parks are “America’s best idea.” If so, then our state universities must be a close second. They’re why we have more college graduates per capita than any nation in the world. And also why we have college towns rising out of cornfields – another uniquely American phenomenon. But when you put thousands of young men in one place, all that testosterone has to go somewhere. That’s why football grew not in the cities like baseball or in the YMCAs like basketball, but on college campuses.

The students loved it as much as the presidents hated it – and almost as much as they hated the binge drinking that was turning Ann Arbor into a “place of revelry and intoxication,” as one president complained, back in 1871.

University officials hoped football would give the students something else to do. And that’s why there’s no drinking on campuses today. Can you imagine what college would be like if football hadn’t ended drinking on campus? I shudder at the thought. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor to UM: Football Traffic Controls?

At its Aug. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a resolution stating that no traffic controls for University of Michigan home football games will be provided starting this season, unless the university reimburses the city for costs associated with erecting barricades and changing traffic signals to facilitate efficient movement of traffic. The cost of providing these signs and signal services is around $100,000 per year. The university already reimburses the city for police and fire services associated with home football games.

From the resolution: “Resolved that the City Administrator shall not provide Signs and Signals services to UM for Special UM Events unless: UM and the City execute a contract prior to August 26, 2011, that provides for the full reimbursement to the City of all direct and allocable costs associated with the provision of Signs and Signals services to UM for Special UM Events.”

Michigan’s home opener this year, against Western Michigan, falls on Sept. 3.

The issue is a persistent point of frustration on the city council, because traffic control for football games is a dollar cost to the city, but the city has limited leverage with the university to extract payment. That’s due in part to the fact that traffic control is seen not as merely a matter of convenience, but rather of public safety.

From a March 2010 city council budget work session report: “Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked how much of [football traffic control] was an issue of convenience versus public safety. Chief of police Barnett Jones stated that it was all safety-related. Without the combination of cars, barricades and signals, he said, ‘it would be a major malfunction.’”

From a January 2011 city council budget retreat report: “Some councilmembers seemed to suggest that concessions from the university could be won by withholding city consent when the university wanted something from the city. The university’s desire to include Monroe Street as part of the UM Law School campus was cited as a specific example. [City administrator Roger] Fraser, though, counseled that each situation should be evaluated unto itself. He pointed to the planned Fuller Road Station as an example of the importance of that principle.”

From a March 2011 city council budget work session report: “Responding to councilmember questions, [public services area administrator Sue] McCormick said the city did not send the university invoices for the regular home football games, because the university has made it clear that it will not pay. McCormick said when she’d notified UM of the city’s intention of invoicing for the Big Chill, the response she gotten was, ‘We really don’t know how we’ll fund that.’ There was little recourse for the city to take, she said, and in the end the city would have to write it off.”

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Column: Desmond Howard’s Unlikely Legacy

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Desmond Howard stands about 5-foot-8 – I don’t care what the program said. When Bo Schembechler moved the Cleveland native from tailback to receiver, it virtually eliminated any chance Howard had to win the Heisman Trophy. In its first 55 years, only one receiver had ever taken it home.

But then, just playing at Michigan practically knocked Howard out of the running in the first place. Only one Wolverine, Tom Harmon, had ever won the award – and that was back in 1940.

Schembechler never promoted any player for any award – Heisman or otherwise. Because, as he often said, “Nothing comes before The Team, The Team, The Team.” When Bo stepped down in 1990, Gary Moeller took over, and followed the exact same policy.

In the modern era – when Notre Dame’s Joe Theismann started pronouncing his name as Theismann to rhyme with Heisman, and Oregon paid big money to put a huge poster of Joey Harrington on the side of a Manhattan building – Michigan’s policy was positively anachronistic.

Bo didn’t care. “That is not how a Michigan man earns his hardware.” After all, he promised, “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions,” not, “Those Who Stay Will Get Their Faces Painted On New York City Skyscrapers.” [Full Story]

Column: Remembering Jim Mandich

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Tuesday, the Michigan football family lost another beloved son, Jim Mandich, who died of cancer at age 62.

Regular readers of this space know I’ve had to write a few elegies already this year, and I’m not sure if we can bear another one right now.

I’m not sure Mandich would want any more, either, beyond his funeral. As he told Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News last fall, after he was diagnosed with cancer, “I said to myself, ‘No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You’ve lived a damned good life. You’ve got a lot to be thankful for.’”

And he did, including a great NFL career and three grown sons – good guys, good friends. But I’m sure he’d like to be remembered – don’t we all? – and I thought you might enjoy a story or two about an unusually talented and charismatic man. [Full Story]

Column: A Life Lived Fully

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

If you’re not a Michigan football fan, you probably haven’t heard of Vada Murray, but you might have seen his picture. It’s one of those iconic images of Michigan football, along with Tom Harmon standing in his mud-soaked, torn-apart jersey, and Desmond Howard diving to catch a touchdown pass against Notre Dame.

But the photo I’m talking about shows Vada Murray and Tripp Welborne soaring skyward to block a field goal. They were a kicker’s nightmare. But even when they got a hand on the ball, it simply denied their opponent three points. That’s not the kind of thing that wins you a Heisman Trophy or an NFL contract. They don’t even keep records of those things.

But more than two decades later, something about that photo still resonates. Maybe it’s because it captures their effort, their intensity, their passion – all of it spent just to give their teammates a slightly better chance for success. There is something noble in that. And we recognize it – which is why they’ve been selling that photo at the frame store on Ann Arbor’s Main Street for years, right along side the legendary poses of Harmon and Howard. [Full Story]

Column: A Banner Tradition

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Whenever you see a TV spot promoting college football, you can be sure they’ll include a shot of the Wolverines running out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel to jump up and touch the “M Go Blue” banner. It’s one of the sport’s truly iconic images.

But like most traditions – most of the good ones, anyway – this one started organically and quietly before becoming a public pillar of Michigan football.

Fifty years ago, Michigan’s head coach was a guy named Chalmers Elliott – which might explain why his friends called him “Bump.” As a player, he’d been an All-American and national champion, but coaching was tougher.

In 1962, the Wolverines lost five of their first six games, including four straight Big Ten losses – three of them, shutouts.

The head hockey coach, Al Renfrew, had been a classmate of Elliott’s, and the two had remained good friends. So Renfrew and his wife Marjorie decided to do something to help boost the football team’s morale. Marjorie went to work in her sewing room, stitching a yellow block “M” on a blue sheet, about six feet across. [Full Story]

Column: A Real Michigan Man

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The University of Michigan’s athletic department just completed its $226 million renovation, on time and on budget. To celebrate, last Saturday Michigan rededicated its iconic stadium in grand style, including fancy receptions, programs, pins and not one but two flyovers, all followed by a big win over Connecticut.

But the show-stopper wasn’t a world-class pilot or an All-American athlete – just some guy who walked out to mid-field.

In 2007, on Christmas Eve, 23-year-old Brock Mealer was riding home from their cousin’s house with his family and his brother’s girlfriend. It was a wonderful evening, full of appreciation and promise.

Brock’s brother Elliott had just accepted a scholarship to play football at Michigan, and Elliot and his girlfriend seemed headed for the altar.

But on the way home, a 90-year-old driver named H. Edward Johnson ran a stop sign and struck the Mealers’ SUV. Elliott’s girlfriend Hollis Richer and the Mealers’ father, Dave, were killed instantly. Brock was paralyzed from the waist down. [Full Story]

Column: The Rivalry

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Ten years ago, ESPN viewers voted the Michigan-Ohio State football game the best rivalry in the nation. Not just in college football, or football in general, but in all sports. Since 1935, it’s held a privileged spot as the last game of the Big Ten season. More college football fans have seen this rivalry, in person and on TV, than any other.

HBO has produced dozens of sports documentaries, but only one on college football: the Michigan-Ohio State game. They titled it simply, “The Rivalry.” They did not feel they had to explain it.

But when the Big Ten added Nebraska, everything seemed up in the air, including the Michigan-Ohio State game. Next fall the Big Ten will have 12 teams, playing in two divisions, culminating in a title game – all new.

So that raised a few possibilities – not to mention plenty of rumors and fears. [Full Story]

Column: Only in America

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The wonderfully named Zoltan Mesko was born and raised in Timisoara, Romania, right on the Hungarian border. Like his parents, Mihai and Elizabeta, Zoltan speaks both languages fluently.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, life improved dramatically for most people living behind the Iron Curtain – but not much for Romanians. His parents, both engineers, could not leave the country until they won Romania’s Green Card lottery – yes, they had one – in 1997, when Zoltan was ten.

They quickly discovered Hollywood’s depiction of America didn’t quite match their apartment in Queens. It was dirty and cramped – even for just three people – and too expensive, so they moved to Twinsburg, Ohio, right outside Cleveland.

Zoltan learned English in about two months. His parents took two years, but understanding American culture took a little longer. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan-Ohio Rivalry Runs Deep

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Michigan plays Ohio State tomorrow, for the 106th time. The Buckeyes have already wrapped up the Rose Bowl, while the Wolverines are fighting to secure a bowl bid. But ESPN viewers still consider this rivalry the greatest in American sports. What most sports fans don’t know is, this one goes back before football even existed.

In 1833, Michigan was still a territory, while Ohio had already been a state for three decades. When Michigan started making its pitch for statehood, the surveyors had to figure out exactly where Michigan ended, and Ohio began. They soon discovered they’d gotten it wrong the first time: Toledo should have belonged to Michigan all along.

No big deal, you say? Well, don’t forget: at that time, the main thoroughfare between the Northeast and the Midwest was the Erie Canal – and Toledo was a major stop.

When Michigan claimed it for its own, Ohio blocked Michigan’s bid for statehood. Former president John Adams, who had returned to Congress, wrote, “Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right was so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other.” [Full Story]

Column: The Legacy of “Raeder’s Raiders”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Fifty years ago, Michigan football looked a lot different from what you see today. Most Saturdays, the stadium was half-empty. Freshmen were not allowed to play, and sophomores rarely did. The starting players on offense also served as the back-ups on defense, and vice versa. So, most of the better players got tuckered out pretty fast.

Michigan started the ‘59 season right where it left off the last one, by losing two games to extend their losing streak to six. The last of those was an embarrassing loss to Michigan State, 34 to 8.

Desperate, head coach Bump Elliott took a chance: he created a “third unit” of young back-up players to give the older guys an occasional rest. Elliott had no idea what he had created. [Full Story]

Column: Bill Martin’s Legacy

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, Bill Martin announced he would step down as Michigan’s athletic director, effective right before next fall’s first football game.

I was a little surprised Martin announced his retirement in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the football season. But, as surprises go, it wasn’t much of one. Martin has already put in a decade as the Wolverines’ athletic director, which is about average by contemporary standards. And he’s accomplished more during that time than anyone could have reasonably expected – perhaps including himself.

The big surprises happened years ago. [Full Story]

Column: Big House Luxury Boxes?

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

At the dedication game of Michigan’s new 84,401-seat stadium in 1927, the Wolverines sent new rival Ohio State home with a 21-0 thumping. In that informal era, it was perfectly natural for athletic director Fielding Yost to walk back to campus with the game’s star, Bennie Oosterbaan.

“Mr. Yost was feeling pretty good,” Oosterbaan told author Al Slote. “We’d won, and the stadium was completely filled. He turned to me and said, ‘Bennie, do you know what the best thing about that new stadium is? Eighty-five thousand people paid five dollars apiece for their seats – and Bennie, they had to leave the seats there!‘”

While no one can be certain what Yost would think of the luxury boxes that are going up right now (and no matter what the university is calling them, that’s clearly what they are), the record suggests he would approve it – and for the very reasons he pushed to build the Big House in the first place. [Full Story]

Column: Sibling Rivalry

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

In their century-old rivalry, Michigan holds a commanding advantage over Michigan State. But since 1950, the margin is much closer. Michigan has won 34 games, and the Spartans 23.

The rivalry is special not just because of the many Big Ten titles it’s determined or the national coverage it attracts. What sets it apart from other long-running feuds is the relationship between the schools, which fuels this duel with more emotion than any other.

The Spartans will tell you it’s their biggest game of the year. The Wolverines will tell you no loss is more painful. Unlike Michigan’s other rivalries against Notre Dame and Ohio State, this duel depends not on the teams’ records but on a constant regional turf war. It is a sibling rivalry, not subject to change. That’s why, even when one team is down, the tension is still high. [Full Story]

Column: The Greatest Play I’ve Ever Heard

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Let’s be honest: the Michigan-Indiana rivalry is no rivalry at all. Of the 59 games they’ve played, Michigan has won fully 50 of them, including all but one since 1967.

But 30 years ago, this game produced one of the most memorable plays in Michigan history.

The Wolverines entered the Indiana game ranked tenth, with six victories and only one defeat – to Notre Dame, on a last-second field goal. They knew if they kept winning, they’d get another chance at a national title.

But in the last minute of Michigan’s homecoming game – which had been as dreary as the weather – the Hoosiers did the unthinkable, and tied the game at 21.

A few plays later, the Wolverines found themselves with only six seconds left, enough time to run just one more play – but they were still 45 yards away from the endzone, too far for a field goal. They had no choice but to try one last gasp at a touchdown. [Full Story]

Column: Counting Hours

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last Sunday, the Detroit Free Press ran a front-page story on the Michigan football team that created a national stir. The newspaper said Michigan football players exceed the NCAA rules on the amount of time student-athletes can work at their sport. It prompted Michigan to launch an internal investigation, but it leaves some important questions unanswered.

But before I try to answer those questions, I want to tell you in the interest of full disclosure that I teach at the University of Michigan, and I write books about their teams. I’m not involved in this story, but I’m close to the people who are.

The story quotes 10 players, most of them former, and most of them anonymous. They all agree that Michigan football players put in a lot of time and effort. Some boast about it, others complain. But the important thing to understand is what constitutes an NCAA violation, and what doesn’t. [Full Story]