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The Loneliest Number: How five men made a jersey a tradition

By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 2, 2011

Former Michigan linebacker Jarret Irons said it best: “When great players play with certain numbers they want to give it to someone who has that type of potential.”

No one scoffs at Vincent Smith for wearing Charles Woodson’s sacred No. 2. Desmond Howard’s No. 21 is worn by another receiver, Junior Hemingway, but hell isn’t raised over it. And Desmond was kind enough to share his number with Tim Biakabutuka. History will stumble over itself like that at a place like Michigan.

Jon Falk, the Michigan equipment manager, has been around long enough to see his share of that history.

He’s just the man I’m looking for this morning. I step into his office, which is cluttered with memories. You’d figure that’d happen if you’ve been around the Michigan football team since Bo Schembechler coached.

My eyes wander, I’m looking for clues, trying to dig deeper into the mystery of one of the loneliest traditions at a school that prides itself on its past.

Why is this jersey so special? How could a singular maize digit ruin a life and complete it at the same time?

Rich Rodriguez had been nearly tarred and feathered over it.

Earlier this spring, Braylon Edwards, the last receiver to wear the No. 1, met with the new Michigan coach Brady Hoke and gave his blessing to the coach, saying it was up to Hoke to choose who was worthy of the jersey.

After he was hired, the No. 1 jersey was the first thing Hoke and Falk spoke about. It meant too much to not take precautions.

A jersey doesn’t make the player, but where would some players be without it?

Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, Tyrone Butterfield, David Terrell and Braylon Edwards may have built the legend, but it wasn’t without sacrifice. A little piece of each lives on with it. A price each one paid to wear it.

Anthony Carter was the origin. Without him, there’s no story to tell. Nearly a decade later, Derrick Alexander resurrected the jersey, just like he did his own career. Tyrone Butterfield realized how heavy the weight of the jersey could be. Nearly everyone thought he had disgraced it. Dave Terrell was handed the jersey, but Michigan wasn’t about to hand him the throne. And then there’s Braylon Edwards — the boy who needed time to understand what it truly meant to earn his dream.

Falk looks down at a white sheet of paper he had prepared. It lists every player who’s ever worn the jersey at Michigan.

“Well, as you know, the No. 1 jersey has a little bit of historical value here at Michigan,” Falks begins. “You can go through some of the names.”

Falk rattled off a few of them — a left tackle, a defensive back, a kicker, and a few others. None of whom I was looking for. And I knew Greg McMurtry had also worn the number, but he isn’t a main character.

“Now, and those were all great people,” Falk says, “but the No. 1 got to be a great deal when Anthony Carter got the No. 1…”


THE ORIGIN

Every day of his life, John Wangler wakes up with a sore knee. He can’t run on it anymore or play basketball. It’s bone on bone now, and he knows eventually it’ll need to be replaced. He’s lucky to have gotten as much out of it as he did.

During his last year at Michigan, more than 30 years ago, his knee was in no shape to run Bo’s option offense, but his arm was fine.

He had history to make, stories to tell his kids how he threw the ball to Anthony Carter, the painfully shy, 170-pound, chicken-legged, magical wide receiver that changed the way Bo Schembechler played football.

Bo always had a soft spot for Anthony. Maybe it was because the coach knew Anthony needed a special touch, so far away from his hometown in Florida. Maybe Bo was protective. Anthony left the team for three days, homesick, before his freshman year even started. His mother promptly made him go back. So Bo took care of him on the field, made him comfortable, even called him “Little Schemmy.” Like a father would.

The guys saw how Bo smiled when he yelled at Anthony. How he teased him. How he gave the No. 1 jersey to Anthony because he said he wanted the little guy to look bigger. And yet, deep down he knew Anthony was special.

In his first week of practice, Anthony ran a post route over the middle, and the pass was thrown well behind him and high in the air. Mid-stride, he jumped and spun his body back towards the ball, timing it all perfectly. It looked like he was flying. After a split second he came down, still in stride, and kept running. Everybody else on the field just stopped.

It was easy for Wangler to trust Anthony. “He really did some stuff that not a lot of people walking this earth could have done,” Wangler says.

But Anthony wouldn’t open up to just anyone. He had a few buddies he’d talk to, and that was it. Luckily, Wangler worked his way into his circle early on. Anthony trusted him because the receiver knew deep down his quarterback cared about him.

“On the field we just had a connection,” Wangler says now. “He knew where I wanted to throw the ball. He’d make the reception and it’d just work. He was just one of those guys in your life that you really sync with him from day one.”

If they were really going to change the way Michigan played football, it’d take the two of them — Bo’s favorite player and one gutsy quarterback.

***

The year was 1979. Anthony was a freshman and Wangler was the pocket-passing veteran locked in a quarterback battle with the option-quarterback wizard B.J. Dickey.

It was a battle of styles — passing the ball and the power running game versus the option offense sweeping the college football landscape— and Anthony clearly stood on one side. Through the first eight games of the season, if Wangler was in the game, most of the passing plays were designed for Anthony, who was the team’s No. 3 receiver as a freshman. And at first, Bo just rotated quarterbacks, going with the hot hand. Anthony would go only as far as Wangler did.

But Anthony was too talented for that to last — talent took matters into its own hands on a cold and rainy afternoon against Indiana on Oct. 27, 1979. Michigan was supposed to dominate the Hoosiers and Dickey had started the game, but he was injured in the second quarter. So Wangler had his shot.

Unexpectedly, the score was tied, 21-21, with 1:31 left. The stage was set — Wangler had the ball at the 45-yard line, with Michigan’s 7-1 record on the line.

Anthony brought the play into the huddle. It had him running his favorite route, a post, right over the middle. For some reason linebackers and safeties could never get a good angle on him — Wangler always thought it was because Anthony ran just as fast sideways as he did forward. Now he would have to score or the game would end in a tie.

“Throw me the ball,” Anthony said confidently as they broke the huddle.

“You better get open,” Wangler snapped back.

Bo took off his blue cap and ran his fingers through his hair before the snap.

Wangler dropped back, faked the handoff, stepped up and threw a spiral to Anthony, who caught the ball at the 20-yard line. Two Hoosiers collided behind him as he kept his balance like he always did, and he scooted up field. His chicken legs — the ones everyone said were too skinny for the Big Ten — carried him past a diving defender and into the endzone.

27-21. Anthony was mobbed by his teammates. The crowd was delirious.

On the sidelines, Bo jumped up and down, pumping his fists like a little kid.

***

The score read: Michigan 7, Washington 6, but Bo was furious at halftime of the 1981 Rose Bowl. This was Bo’s fourth Rose Bowl in five years, but he had never won the big game. That monkey on his back was getting bigger. This was his chance to beat a West Coast team, win the damn thing. And Wangler wasn’t getting Anthony the ball.

“You’ve got to get the ball in the air to Anthony,” Bo pleaded with his quarterback.

“He’s been covered, you don’t want me to force it in?” Wangler argued. He had a point — Anthony had been double teamed for the majority of the first half. But Bo wasn’t having any of it. No excuse was good enough for why Anthony had zero catches at halftime.

“Force the ball to Anthony, will you please?” Bo said. “He’ll do the rest.”

Had Bo really just begged Wangler to air it out?

So much had changed that season. But how did he end up here, at the Rose Bowl?

At first it looked like another quarterback was destined to share the spotlight with Anthony. After the miracle against Indiana, Wangler was in and out of Bo’s good graces due to the quarterback’s inconsistent play. Then Lawrence Taylor tore nearly every ligament in Wangler’s knee in the Gator Bowl, right at the end of Anthony’s freshman season.

Wangler knew that Bo, in his heart of hearts, still wanted to run the option. With Wangler out of the picture that spring, another option quarterback, Rich Hewlett, ran the offense just the way Bo liked.

Bo thought Wangler’s career was finished anyway. He offered Wangler a spot as a graduate assistant and the quarterback shrugged him off. That type of knee injury usually took a year-and-a-half to recover from in those days, but Wangler was going to play.

Then that summer, Wangler and Little Schemmy worked for Jon Falk. In their free time, they’d play catch.

Bo ultimately gave Wangler a chance in the second game that season against Notre Dame, and he made a game of it before Michigan lost. The next week Wangler quarterbacked another close loss against South Carolina, 17-14. That was a new low — Michigan had lost five of its last six games.

“Everybody thought Rome was crumbling, the dynasty, the whole deal,” Wangler says. “Everyone was questioning Michigan football, Bo, everybody. It was a mess.”

What Bo did next fixed everything: he rested his offense squarely on the shoulders of a young, spry Anthony Carter.

One up-and-coming defensive backs’ coach saw the transition unfold from his seat high above the action in the press box.

“If there was a pass thrown in (Anthony’s) direction, everyone in the stands stood up,” says Lloyd Carr, “because they knew there was a good chance something exciting was really about to happen.”

Before Anthony, when a quarterback would enter the huddle Bo would essentially have him call two plays: a run to the left and an audible to run to the right, if the QB didn’t like what he saw at the line.

Something shifted inside Bo after that South Carolina loss. Wangler sensed it: “We have Anthony. We have receivers. We’re committed to going this direction.”

And Wangler was the key to unleashing Anthony — with him in the game, the coach grew comfortable with the veteran checking the defense at the line of scrimmage and airing it out when opponents stacked the box. Heck, Bo was still coaching the team, so they’d still pound the ball with Butch Woolfolk and Stan Edwards. But, this, this was just a smart move.

“If you’ve got eight men defending the run and three defending the pass, that’s not very good odds against Anthony,” Carr says.

Bo stuck with Wangler the rest of the season and Michigan won out, riding the Wangler-to-Anthony connection all the way to the Rose Bowl.

Now, Bo was in Wangler’s face, with the Rose Bowl on the line. How dare he not get the ball to Anthony. For the first time all season he had to make a point of it. Wangler obliged.

“Look at the legs,” a TV announcer marveled. “His thighs are about as big as his calves. What a move!”

The guy whose jersey draped off his frame like a curtain was torturing the secondary. Then, with the ball placed on the seven-yard line, it appeared there was some confusion on Michigan’s sidelines as to what play to run.

Anthony stood next to Bo until Bo finally uttered a few words to him, grabbed his pads and pushed him onto the field as if to say, Just go take care of this for me, okay?

The No. 1 jersey streaked across the endzone, through Washington’s zone, unguarded, running that post route it loved so much. Wangler hit Anthony in stride for an easy touchdown.

Butch Woolfolk ran for 182 yards that day, but it was Little Schemmy that opened the game for everyone. His stats read: five catches, 68 yards, one touchdown and four rushes for another 33 yards, and one defense scared silly. He proved the perfect weapon, capping his first of an unimaginable three-straight All-America seasons.

As the sun set on the picturesque scene at the Rose Bowl, sitting on the sidelines with his team ahead 23-6, Wangler finally allowed himself to reminisce. Wangler-to-Carter accounted for 12 touchdowns that season and half of all of Wangler’s 1,500-plus passing yards.

Wangler’s last shot, Bo’s Rose Bowl ring, it all wouldn’t have been possible without Anthony, Wangler thought.

“I’m really glad you came back when you were a freshman,” Wangler said to Anthony, “because I don’t know if anyone would’ve known my name if you didn’t.”


RESURRECTED

Lying there on the field, Derrick Alexander did all he could to fight a truth he’d never had to face.

Desmond and Derrick. Derrick and Desmond. Oh man, this was supposed to be our year. No, no, no, this couldn’t be happening. The pain shooting through my knee — pain I’ve never felt before — it didn’t hurt that bad. Right? I’ll just sit out the Notre Dame game and be back to play against Florida State. Yeah, I’ll be back.

“It was the first game of the year (in 1991),” Alexander says. “We’re juniors now and Desmond and I are supposed to be the best receivers in the country. We’re on the road, at Boston College, and we’re doing good. We start off the game great. I think I had a few catches already. Desmond had a few. They’re kicking the ball off to us, and I’m running the kick back. This is another opportunity to make a play….”

Another chance to show off his gift; everything had always come so easy to him.

“It’s hard for me to understand how some people can’t do certain things,” he says now. “I always thought that I could do anything, and I usually could.”

When he ran, his teammates said it looked like the 6-foot-3 receiver was gliding. He wore his skin like a fine leather jacket, always comfortable and confident. They’d call him aloof, his personality was so laid back. This is why he never got rattled — his great self-confidence wouldn’t allow it.

Like the time in high school when Derrick took flight and slammed home a thunderous dunk on an opponent’s 7-footer, with Bo Schembechler and soon-to-be-coach Gary Moeller in the stands.

Heck, you know what? I felt good enough to play right now. Jogging up and down the sidelines, everything felt fine. Right? Coach, put me back in the game, I’m ready. What had even happened?

“I don’t know I made a cut, and nobody even touches me and my knee is gone,” he recalls. “I’m like, ‘Ah man, I’m in pain.’ ”

The truth began to poison his mind, ruin his fantasy. This wasn’t how they planned it.

He had decided to come to Michigan, the school he grew up watching on TV, to be a part of a new passing revolution. That’s what Moeller promised him.

He met his antithesis freshman year — the short and loud Desmond Howard — and they took a liking to one another. He’ll never forget the time he starred in Desmond’s commercial for a class. Desmond filmed while Derrick flew across the screen, dunking in the CCRB, doing his best to be Desmond’s Michael Jordan. They both thought of each other as stars.

On the field, Derrick was starting to make noise. The coaches had drilled routes into him until the routes felt as comfortable as he was. By his sophomore year, he wore the No. 1 jersey, the one he grew up watching Anthony Carter don, the one Moeller made him earn after he wore the No. 40 his freshman year. This was his chance to define himself and resurrect, re-invigorate, the jersey Anthony made famous.

Well, he earned it, and to top it all off, his position coach, Cam Cameron, made the game even easier for him, if that were at all possible.

“Cam was a great coach to where when we would watch film and go over things during the week, it would be exactly — like if he would say if this guy is standing in a certain place, they’re going to run this defense,” Derrick said. “It would be that way and all we had to do was look at the guy and we’d know exactly what they were doing.

“It just became so easy for me to go out there and just play, where I didn’t have to worry about what I think the defense was going to do because we already basically knew. Then it was really easy.”

Two years in, there were no more excuses. The plan was set: Desmond and Derrick were going to dominate the offensive game plan because they were the only experienced receivers returning. They were both going to return kicks. Desmond would handle the punts. The big plays were up for grabs.

What if the kickoff had gone to Desmond?

The trainers wouldn’t let Derrick back in the game, and his knee swelled like a balloon on the plane ride back from Boston.

The next day, he cried sitting in the hospital when the doctors shattered his world with the truth. He tore his ACL. His season was over. This wasn’t so easy.

***

After the surgery, Derrick stayed in the hospital for six days. Desmond visited on a daily basis.

But Desmond wasn’t there when Derrick watched Michigan play Notre Dame the next Saturday. The nurses tried to turn the game off, but Derrick refused. He watched helplessly, sitting in that hospital bed as Desmond made one of his first memorable plays of what was about to be a magical 1991 season. Elvis Grbac dropped back on fourth-and-1, as Desmond sprinted downfield past two defenders.

“Grbac to fire for it,” the announcer exclaimed. “He went for it all!”

Desmond dove, arms outstretched in the back of the endzone.

“A diving catch for a touchdown! HOLY COW!” the screen blared.

Derrick’s thoughts raced. His career may have ended right there on the field in Boston.

Desmond was just following the script. All of the passes that would’ve gone to Derrick were sent to Desmond, and he took off like a rocket.

“He had a lot more opportunity,” Derrick says now. “Moeller kind of changed the game plan a little bit so Desmond, he was all over the field. He played every position. I’m not taking anything away from Desmond. He did everything he had to do and he made every play he had to make. … I just think the situation gave him just so much more opportunity to have a chance at those plays.

“He was the punt returner. He was the (top) receiver. He was the reverse runner. He got it all.”

Desmond caught 62 passes for 985 yards and 19 touchdowns, with Derrick watching from the press box.

Derrick spent two months on crutches and when he could walk under his own power, his workout regimen began — slowly climbing stairs, working out in a pool, stretching.

He started jogging and running — slowly, his deceptively fast long strides quickened.

By 1992, his redshirt junior year, Derrick felt like himself again. A large brace and a big scar were the only reminders of the first time in his life he had really been injured. Desmond was gone now. He left for the NFL, Heisman Trophy in tow.

“I was like, ‘Okay, now it’s my turn,’ ” Derrick says. “We ran some plays for me and I was just feeling great. That (1992) season was probably the best season I had my whole career, when I came back. We were doing a lot of things that Desmond was doing — they basically did with me the next year.

“I kinda had that same opportunity, but the other guys were a year older. They got more chances. Amani (Toomer) ended up being a great receiver, Mercury Hayes (too). We had a great trio of receivers.”

Despite the crowd, Derrick still lived up to the No. 1. Now he was the one making the spectacular catches, and the No. 1 jersey was running up and down the field like it was racing in its own personal track meet.

That year, as the team’s top receiver and punt returner, he was an All-American, catching 50 passes for 740 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned two punts for scores, in Desmond-like fashion. His encore included another first-team All-Big Ten selection, as he racked up 621 yards and averaged nearly 18 yards per catch in 1993.

The 6-foot-3-prototype receiver left Michigan as the first in a long-line of modern-day receivers who made it look so easy. And eventually, for his own sake, he came to peace over the 1991 season.

“I don’t think I was jealous,” Alexander said. “Desmond is a great player. And if I had that chance, if he had been the one that had gotten hurt, I would’ve taken full advantage.

“So there’s no jealously, no animosity. Whenever I see Desmond now, there’s not even really a question: He just had a great chance and he took full advantage.”


DISGRACED

The name on the front of the jersey said Tennessee State, but this felt more like the island of misfit toys. Tyrone Butterfield looked around. Upwards of 18 former Division-I athletes stared back. Unwanted or upset, they took refuge here together. Everyone had a story. They would ask Tyrone about his.

“Man, we used to see you out there and they gave you the No. 1 and they used to always talk about you on TV. We thought you were going to be one of the go-to guys,” they’d tell him.

Where should he begin? How do you tell someone you thought you wasted the past three years of your life? Or about how the world was at your fingertips, and through no fault of your own, you thought, it was gone?

There was no doubt it started in his home in Miami where Cam Cameron looked Tyrone square in the eye and told him he’d be the next Desmond Howard.

Oh, that sounded mighty fine to the 5-foot-8 Butterfield. Brainwashed like many kids growing up in Miami, all Tyrone had known was Hurricane football, until he caught a glimpse of Howard one Saturday afternoon. He fell in love with Howard’s game — the punt returns, the explosiveness — he was watching the high school version of himself dancing around defenders wearing a winged-tipped helmet.

That was the way Cameron sold it to Tyrone — he’d get to do everything Desmond did. They were going to feature him: punt and kick returns, reverses. He’d be the top guy, just like in high school. Just like Desmond.

It made sense that Michigan wanted Tyrone. In Miami, a city where speed was king, Tyrone hoarded it. He wasn’t the fastest, but he was a unique blend of natural football talent and speed.

Where he grew up, he’s known as “Dorsett,” as images conjure a seven-year old running back who had “1,000 moves, just like Tony Dorsett.” He kept the moves and dominated every level of Miami football.

Now here sat Cameron, the offensive genius who created a Heisman-trophy winner out of his favorite player.

It was Cameron’s honesty that won the family over. He told Butterfield that these were uncharted waters for Michigan — coming to Florida and grabbing a top recruit — and that Butterfield would be given every opportunity to succeed, if Michigan wanted to stand a chance recruiting another Miami kid ever again. This was the start of a pipeline, he had told him.

Butterfield did eventually decide to buy into Cameron and believe the promises. He shunned the safe bets at Florida and Miami to come to Michigan to be the next Desmond.

Two weeks later, the plot thickened. Cameron took a job with the Washington Redskins. Butterfield was crushed. He started looking for a way out.

“That was like the most disappointing day of my life,” Butterfield says.

Cameron had been the only coach at Michigan he’d ever talked to. What were all those promises good for now?

His story would end at Tennessee State. What happened between the beginning and end can only be described as a mystery. A few facts, though, are believed to be indisputable.

Michigan coach Gary Moeller did call Butterfield to convince him that Cameron was the only coach leaving. Everything else would stay the same, he said. Butterfield would still be the next Desmond. Another promise.

Ultimately, his mother wouldn’t let him get out of his commitment to Michigan. So after every year he spent in Ann Arbor, Butterfield asked his mom if he could transfer — after a while, he thought about transferring every single day.

“If she had sent me a ticket to come home, I’d have left,” Butterfield says. “It never felt right to me after Cam left.”

Then he wanted to wear either the No. 5, his high school number, or No. 21, Desmond’s number. The coaching staff felt his talent warranted the No. 1 jersey.

Now the big-time recruit had a bulls-eye on his chest. The jersey had picked up quite the reputation after Anthony Carter and Derrick Alexander had worn it, and the outsider didn’t fully understand the pressure.

Butterfield redshirted his first year in Ann Arbor in 1994. But he’d still get his shot, right?

At the end of the season, Moeller was fired, and Butterfield had no more allies. Lloyd Carr took over. Butterfield had never even spoken to him.

From there, the rest of Butterfield’s story is fuzzy. The details aren’t quite clear and there seem too many theories about why it didn’t work out for him at Michigan. Only one man may know the truth, but Carr declined to comment on Butterfield’s saga, saying it was “in the past.”

In Butterfield’s mind, the reason he never lived up to the No. 1 jersey, or received what was promised to him, was for one reason alone: Carr just flat out didn’t like him.

If the two of them walked past each other in the hallway, they didn’t speak. His teammates joked, “Hey man, what’s wrong? Did you do something with the coach’s daughter?”

Butterfield was in the doghouse. He couldn’t get out, and he couldn’t explain why.

One of his most damning theories is he was clearly upset with his lack of opportunities. He was promised the world and was shown the bench, catching a measly four passes for 68 yards in two seasons. That would have been an off-week for Desmond.

“I felt I was a better player than they were giving me credit for,” Butterfield says. “Some guys’ life-long dream was to go to Michigan. That wasn’t mine. For me, I felt I could’ve chosen to go anywhere I would’ve wanted to go. And to get here and not play, and not really get an opportunity to make plays, that was like a slap in the face.”

Butterfield did see the field. But he claims, in an average game, to be involved in 40 plays and asked to block on all but two of them. If he did get to run a route, it was to get another player open.

“I thought back, you know, they gave me this No. 1 jersey, so obviously they thought something of me,” Butterfield says. “So I got there, with all of the tradition and all of the stuff I was hearing and to not get an opportunity, I don’t know how I was supposed to deal with that.”

Fans jeered. He should’ve never worn the No. 1, they’d say — frankly he didn’t care. He never wanted it in the first place. They called him “Butterfingers.”

“They didn’t even throw me the ball,” he jabbed.

One day, Butterfield had had enough and he told Carr, behind closed doors, that he didn’t like how he was being used. His honesty dug his hole deeper.

“The reality of it was, those weren’t the coaches that told me (the promises),” Butterfield says. “Those weren’t the coaches that recruited me.”

As Butterfield puts it: this was the “business” of college football. He believes now that Carr wanted “his guys” to play, and he wasn’t one of them.

This wasn’t the case of a prima donna wide receiver gone awry, says Butterfield’s former teammate and fellow wide receiver Terrence Quinn. For the most part, Quinn says, Tyrone kept his mouth shut and went about his work. A headshake here or a grumble there gave Carr fuel.

Carr was big on two things: attitude and effort. Quinn was sure Carr had caught Butterfield breaking the cardinal rules on more than one occasion. As Butterfield sank into his depressed football state, it was hard not to.

“When you throw a pass to me every three games, and I catch it, get five, six yards and it’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t make a play,’ ” Butterfield says. “And that’s kind of how I felt. It almost got to the point, where I was questioning my ability. I was like, ‘Gosh, man, can I really play?’ ”

Quinn’s theories are interesting to consider. He was a walk-on who had to earn everything he ever got at Michigan. He was the ultimate innocent bystander.

In his opinion, Butterfield had been treated just like everyone else by the coaches, but perhaps as a superstar high school athlete, Butterfield wasn’t used to being treated like everybody else. He didn’t always respond well to criticism. It didn’t help that he wasn’t a “Go-Blue guy,” either. Quinn thought there was a cultural gap that the two sides never agreed to cross. Inner-city Miami meets Ann Arbor. Maybe Carr didn’t like Butterfield because of the way Butterfield acted and treated people. And neither side was willing to understand how the other operated.

“At Michigan, one thing’s for sure, you’re going to do it Michigan’s way or you won’t do it,” Quinn says. “And he didn’t get to do it, because he didn’t do it Michigan’s way.

“He was the hottest thing in Florida, coming out of Miami. He went from being ‘The Guy’ to ‘Who’s that?’ That would’ve had an impact on anybody.”

Butterfield’s star still shone in practice. His teammates liked him. And his position coach, Soup Campbell, seemed to be on his side — Butterfield always graded out as one of the top two receivers, even if his playing time didn’t reflect it.

“When I talked to Soup about it, he could never really give me a straight answer about why I wasn’t really getting an opportunity,” Butterfield says. “Soup would say to me, ‘I fight for you every day. But I can’t make that call. It’s above my pay grade. I’m fighting for you every day.’ ”

Soup was known as a players’ coach, but this wasn’t a battle he would win. The pressure of being an expected go-to guy, wearing the go-to-guy number and not having a chance to do anything to change his status was bearing down on Butterfield. And his play slipped.

After two years under Carr, Butterfield decided he wasn’t going to sit around any longer. But the mystery continued to swirl in his head: Why didn’t Carr like him? What had he done? What if Cameron had stayed?

Even now, he holds back. There are some things about his relationship with Carr, a living legend in the Michigan community, which he won’t share. For fifteen years these conversations have been muffled behind closed doors.

There is still no clear-cut reason why Butterfield and Carr didn’t see eye-to-eye. His position coach who stood up for him all those years ago had little to say about the former No. 1 jersey owner.

“I don’t know (if there was pressure on Butterfield),” Soup said a few months ago. “I didn’t give (the No. 1) to him. I don’t know anything about Tyrone.”

***

When Butterfield finally decided to transfer after his redshirt sophomore season, the meeting with Carr lasted all of five minutes.

Butterfield had seen the coach walk with starters like Trevor Pryce around campus, trying at all costs to figure a way to keep them around, pleading with them to stay in Ann Arbor. All Butterfield got was a “Good-luck-with-whatever-you-do-in-the-future” speech.

Butterfield claims Michigan hasn’t grabbed a kid out of Miami since.

At the time, Butterfield needed to prove to himself that he could still play the game. So his story ended there, it had to end there, or he’d be haunted the rest of his life. What if?

In two years at Division-II Tennessee State, wearing the No. 2, Butterfield racked up the kind of accolades he thought he’d garner in Ann Arbor: two-time first team all conference, he was a conference player of the year in 1997 and he gained more than 2,100 yards and grabbed 18 touchdowns. No one in the school’s history has topped the 249 yards Butterfield racked up against Murray State in 1998.

A car accident shortly after his senior year derailed his workout regimen for the NFL and any possibilities there. Then, he spent his time playing in lower leagues, like the AFL and CFL, and coaching high school football. Seven years ago, he started his own construction company with a friend.

People in Florida still recognize the Butterfield name.

“That’s what a lot of people attribute to me — playing at Michigan with the No. 1 jersey,” he says.

It’s one of the perks for having his name attached to the business.

“You always want to be a part of some kind of tradition” Butterfield says. “I just regret the fact that I never had the opportunity to really live up to it. That’s always been the one thing. I mean, to this day I still feel I could’ve been one of the best players in the Big Ten at that time. … Now, I understand (the No. 1 tradition) more than when I was there.

“Maybe (the) No. 1 was kryptonite for me.”


HANDED

A few blocks away from the Big House, down East Stadium Boulevard, take a right into Woodbury Gardens. Drive past the patch of green grass, perfect for a football game, and small baseball field at Frisinger Park — past the rows and rows of houses. Every fifth townhouse looks the same. Tucked in the corner, down a side street is one particular house.

White paint fades off its bricks. Specks of red have fought through over time. The hedges are trimmed. It looks unassuming, lost among the normalcy of the neighborhood.

Twelve, fifty-five Wisteria Drive. Depending on who you ask, it could’ve been any one of Charles Woodson, Marcus Ray, Russell Shaw or DiAllo Johnson who named their sanctuary. “I’m going to the Dub-Nik,” one of them proclaimed, and a legend was born. Short for Double-Nickel — in reference to the 55 at the end of the address — Woodson owned the master bedroom the year he won the Heisman, the year the four of them won the National Championship.

This is where Marcus Ray decided to spend his time, away from the team, after his good friend Woodson bolted for the NFL. Marcus is secluded in that sense, but not because he thinks he’s better than anyone. He was just focused.

This where the preseason All-America selection invited four phenom freshmen to come live with him that summer before he tried to defend his championship: Justin Fargas, the running back; Larry Foote, the linebacker from Detroit; Marquise Walker, the No. 2 wide receiver recruit in the country; and Dave Terrell, the best high school receiver he had ever seen.

He needed them all if he had any shot at a repeat.

This was where they spent the dog days of summer, working odd jobs to put food on the table, training with each other long after their team workouts ended, hanging on every word Marcus said, making sure not a drop of wisdom was lost.

He turned every opportunity into a teaching moment. Whether it was watching the NBA Finals or reading a story of a player who made the wrong choice, everything turned into a roundtable discussion, an open conversation. What would you have done? What should you have done?

They needed his guidance. He’d been there and done that. Three times. They needed to know that being late for an 8 a.m. workout with Marcus may just piss him off, but it won’t be acceptable come training camp. They studied the playbook together. He made sure they attended summer workouts with the rest of the team. They wouldn’t miss a single one.

At midnight, after already working out, the brothers of Dub-Nik sprinted to the track, ran a mile and raced home, twice a week. It was a treat on the nights Marcus snuck them into the Big House to run the stairs. They challenged each other to be better. Everything was a competition: trivia, board games, cards.

One flame Marcus wanted to keep out is any potential jealousy between Dave and Marquise. He couldn’t remember the last time the top two receivers in the country chose the same school. Both wanted to be top dogs and Marcus knew there was room for the two of them. The Wolverines hadn’t had an impact receiver with as much talent as either of them since Derrick Alexander graduated.

But Marcus had truly never seen a freshman like Dave. His routes were so crisp already. Naturally, Dave looked like a machine, and ran like the wind. Throw in a dash of growing up in the projects of Richmond, Virginia, and you had one talented, tough son of a gun.

“He was fearless,” Marcus says. “So him going across the middle was probably like him walking out his front door, seeing a gang fight and participating in it in the eighth grade. It was nothing.

“That was the last thing on his mind when the ball was in the air, that someone was going to take his head off. It was his ball.”

The coaches promised Dave during recruiting that he could wear the No. 1 jersey. They handed him the jersey-of-all-receiver-jerseys: “What number you think I’m gonna wear?” his swagger said when big brother Marcus asked.

Marcus could feel Dave’s confidence, but he needed someone to steer him. When Marcus got Dave alone one day that summer, he asked Dave: “How great do you want to be?”

“I’m not afraid of competition, but I know these guys on the team aren’t better than me,” Dave said.

“Realistically, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t line up — no disrespect to Marcus Knight and Kevin Bryant and all those guys — you and Tai Streets should be out there,” Marcus said. “All you have to do is learn the plays, keep your mouth shut and be a freshman. Just don’t play like a freshman.”

“Marcus, I’m from Richmond, Virginia,” Dave said flatly. “I don’t know what it is to be scared of anything.

“I want to do what y’all did last year.” Win the national championship.

***

Whenever Dave would ask Marcus a question, he’d contort his face the same way every time — he’d raise his eyebrows and twitch his lips at the same time, and smile while he did it.

Marcus saw that face a lot that summer, and when training camp started, he made sure to get a glimpse of it every time they sat down to eat.

Dave’s look had a frustrated twist to it lately — he was dealing with going from the No. 1 receiving recruit in the country to No. 4 on Michigan’s depth chart, and the reason was simple: he didn’t know the plays.

Marcus told him: Meet up with Tai Streets, Marcus Knight, some of the older receivers, and Tom Brady, and learn the offense, learn the plays. Once you understand what you’re doing, you’ll play. You’ll be great.

“I don’t think he understood how to compete and go from a second-team or third-team guy,” Marcus says. “As a freshman, I don’t think he understood what that meant as far as climbing up the ladder. There were other guys that waited their turn as well.”

During his freshman year, Marcus didn’t know the plays — the other safeties hadn’t had much interest in him taking their playing time and his position coach knew he wasn’t going to play, so there was no sense in bothering.

“At Michigan, they don’t throw you into the fire unless they have to, so they don’t have to deal with (you) — they don’t want to fight the monster they helped create,” Marcus says. “That’s why a lot of talented freshmen won’t play, so they won’t become a star.”

So Dave did as he was told. He needed to learn the plays, so he approached the older wide receivers. But Dave wasn’t just any old guy, holding a number, waiting his turn. He was holding THE number.

“I don’t know if the guys he (sought) help from really wanted to give him help, because he was a better wide receiver,” Marcus says now. “And it’s kinda like, they didn’t want him to take their job. I don’t think he truly got the guidance from the receiving corps, the older receivers.

“That’s why he was a little frustrated or he didn’t know who to trust. He didn’t know who to go to, who to look up to.

“I think he probably got it more from Brady because he knew Dave was going to be one of those targets that makes a quarterback look pretty good. And that’s where I think he and Tom Brady really developed a close bond, when Dave finally went to him and said, ‘Teach me the plays. Where do I need to be?’ ”

***

Two years later, Marcus had graduated, but he still called Dave on a monthly basis, just to check in. This time, he wanted to crawl inside Dave’s head before the biggest game of his life: the 2000 Orange Bowl, Brady’s senior year. This was it.

“These are the types of games that you showcase yourself in,” Marcus said, as if he were sitting across from Dave in Dub-Nik. “And do whatever you have to do to make sure your team wins. If you want to get to this level, they rise, they perform well on these types of stages.

“Catch every pass if you can. Go to work. This is the type of the game that would put you, in your junior year, at the top of the list.”

Dave didn’t disappoint — he caught 10 passes for 150 yards and scored Michigan’s first three touchdowns of the game.

Each drive, Dave found a new way to get open.

“Terrell’s got another one!” the TV announcer exclaimed, as Dave moved Michigan down to the 20-yard line late in the third quarter. He had already caught two touchdowns by that point.

Brady went back to him on the very next play, on a curl route, and Dave muscled his way through the cornerback and ran for daylight. Touchdown, Michigan.

Brady set a Michigan bowl record that day with his 369 yards passing, as he led his team to a thrilling 35-34 win. But Dave was the Orange Bowl MVP.

Marcus watched from California. He was playing for the Raiders at the time, and he told anyone who’d listen: See Dave Terrell, right there, that’s the best wide receiver in the country.


EARNED

John Navarre found himself in this particular situation plenty of times. Whenever he was in a jam all he had to do was call an audible — he always had a way out. “I’m just going to throw it up to this dude …”

This time, Michigan was playing Purdue. He looked out wide to his guy. There was only one receiver in this set and they had press coverage on him. Navarre remembers, the audibles were run, run-check, pass-check. He cancelled all the runs and signaled a 15-yard route to the receiver. But wait a second, he thought, “We’re on the 35-yard line, (screw) this, let’s go for the endzone.”

Navarre lofted a bomb that only his guy could reach. “He went up and got it because the (cornerback) was this big,” Navarre says, motioning with his hand that the defender was half his size.

Watching from afar, the father had seen the son make this catch a million times in the yard. The son always wanted to practice the spectacular catch. The father would loft the ball high and away, just to make it difficult, and the boy would time it just right and come down with the ball, landing on a strategically placed mattress.

“He had a very freakish sense of timing,” the father says. “He never jumped too soon. He never jumped too late. The ball always arrived when he was at the peak of a jump. Always.”

The boy savored those few moments of joy he had, floating in the air, because the rest of his day would be spent doing what other kids weren’t doing to be great, what they wouldn’t do.

The father wouldn’t let the boy play football until he knew he was old enough to work at it, to train hard enough, to put in the time to run track.

But the boy loved it. He chose this route. From the Michigan practices the father took him to as a toddler, to the old game film he found on his own, the game was mesmerizing. Images flickered across the screen of his dad’s old teammate, Anthony Carter, and that smooth No. 1 jersey. Ever since he’d always wanted to be a receiver.

Now, the father would send him deep, always running “the bomb,” the Hail Mary, so the boy would get his fitness right.

There was always something on the line, too, his team trailing in the fourth quarter. Catch this ball or the game’s over, you lose.

The father knew the boy too well. He was too competitive to let that ball drop, and if he did, the workouts that followed stung that much more.

One-hundred yard dashes, six in a row, with 10 seconds to rest in between. And that was just the first set. The boy had two more, with five minutes of rest in between.

What would hurt more? Those or the 40-yard dashes he’d have to run every 15 seconds for 15 minutes, with the summer sun wrapping him in a blanket.

No son of Stan Edwards wouldn’t know how to practice, how to prepare. This, when no one’s watching — not the coach, not even the father — is when you get better.

Bo Schembechler himself had taught the father how to be tough. The father learned to practice out of fear of being yelled at. He hated to hear Bo yell. He tried his hardest on every drill, made sure everything he did was perfect, so Bo wouldn’t yell.

He can still remember that day… “Stan Edwards, please report to the gym office. Stan Edwards, please report to the gym office” …when he walked in and first laid eyes on Bo’s block ‘M.’ The coach smiled, shook his hand, kind of took him by the shoulders and spun him around.

“Can you play with us? Can you play at our level? Well we’re interested and we’re going to keep our eye on you,” Bo said.

From then, the father would do anything to not let that man down. Practices damn near killed him. In the first week, his freshman year, a walk-on fullback missed an assignment and an All-Big Ten safety took the father’s head clean off. That was practice under Bo.

They’d be the most organized, most prepared, and toughest team in the country because of Bo, the father thought. And it was because of the way they practiced.

So the father worked the son four or five days a week, so the boy could be the best, because he wanted to be.

As he grew, the son’s body didn’t always cooperate. Nature was fighting the progress the father had made with the boy, as he went through his awkward stages at the least opportune time in high school.

“Sometimes I thought he’d be pretty good and other times I’d wonder, and scratch my head — maybe not,” the father says.

That’s why relatively few schools were chasing the Rivals.com No. 49 wide receiver recruit in the country. It hadn’t helped that he played a bunch of other positions besides wide receiver, and his team didn’t throw the ball that much.

The son had grown up an Ohio State fan, but they weren’t in the mix, and Michigan State was interested in him early — they saw the raw skills he had. But entering his senior season, the father’s school hadn’t yet offered his son a scholarship.

It had felt right all these years that his son would end up there. It was unintentional, but having attended a Michigan football practice every year since he left the school, the father left a mark on his son.

“When he was four and five years old, he would stop, and pay attention and look,” Stan says. “He could hear the sound. You know, that sound. When people finally get close enough to hear a Michigan practice. To hear those shoulder pads and that flesh pounding against each other. He knew that early on. He knew.”

By the fourth game of his senior year, Michigan felt comfortable enough after having seen him at a summer camp and seeing some new tape that Braylon Edwards, the son, was Michigan-worthy. The 5-8, 140 pound freshman was now a lean, mean, 6-2, 190 pound machine.

The son asked the coaching staff if he could wear the No. 1 jersey during his recruitment, knowing full well what his father had told him about the school.

“You’ve got to earn this jersey; we don’t just give it to anybody,” they told him.

This pleased the father.

***

All of the father’s grit and determination wasn’t without reason.

He knew Lloyd Carr was a Bo disciple. Carr had coached the father. He knew what it would take to succeed, if the boy truly wanted to among the greats — if he truly wanted the number.

Anthony Carter. Derrick Alexander. David Terrell…

“Each one of those guys put in the work to get there,” Stan says. “You don’t play that way by a gift from God.

“That doesn’t happen by osmosis. Those guys decided put the work in to earn the right to wear that jersey and also play at a different level than everybody else. Everybody is not going to make that sacrifice. They say they are, but they’re not.”

Here sat Stan Edwards’ son, wearing the No. 80. The coaches said the boy had to grow up. He had to mature and begin to really work. He didn’t walk through the doors at Schembechler Hall a Michigan-made Man. For all of the hours the father spent with the boy, something was missing,

Maybe Braylon was like the rest of them, too eager to start his greatness now, frustrated by the system holding him back. Maybe Stan was too hard on Braylon — as Stan admits now — and the son thought it was time to coast when he got on his own. Maybe, just maybe, he did need to be taught a lesson in humility.

Stan paced before every game Braylon played. His palms sweat. When he arrived at the stadium, he couldn’t eat a thing. He was so nervous.

Braylon just wanted to do so well.

Deep down, Stan knew his boy wasn’t as prepared as he should be. Sometimes his routes weren’t as sharp or he wouldn’t look a pass all the way in. Little things like that tend to pop up when you don’t prepare…

After a forgettable freshman year, spent biding his time, Braylon exploded his sophomore season — posting a 1,000-yard season, something Anthony and Derrick never did. Carr knew there was no denying the boy’s talent.

Braylon figured Carr was in an especially good mood after Michigan’s 38-30 win over Florida in the Outback Bowl — Braylon had grabbed four passes for 110 yards. So he asked again for the No. 1 jersey.

Carr knew Braylon really wanted the jersey: Maybe finally wearing it could be the boy’s motivation to become great.

“I don’t want to have to take this jersey away,” Carr said to him, “so these are the things I expect of you…”

Braylon didn’t live up to the new expectations. At least, not at first, and Braylon and Carr’s relationship took a turn for the worse. Already, rumors had been swirling that Braylon wasn’t the easiest to coach. Today, Carr claims that the two never had any “major problems,” other than when Braylon was late for a few meetings at the very next training camp after being given the No. 1 jersey.

“The difficult year was his junior year, because that’s when he came late,” Carr says. That’s when — you know, by that time, I had expected him to be a leader.”

“I had to guide him a lot of times, show him the way,” says Braylon’s position coach, Soup Campbell. “Let him know what the expectations were. … When he was late for a meeting, he wasn’t going to start that game.

“We weren’t going to give him anything. He had to earn it.”

In that “rough” junior year, Braylon amassed 85 catches for 1138 yards and 11 touchdowns. He could’ve left for the NFL, but ultimately decided to stay.

He was getting it … slowly.

When Stan watched Braylon practice that spring before his senior season, he knew this year would be different for his boy.

“(Braylon) worked his butt off,” Soup says. “He knew then what it was all about. We saw a different Braylon Edwards.”

The boy dominated a triple-overtime thrilling comeback win over Michigan State, and showed up Ohio State two weeks later on his way out.

That season put the son among the greats — his 15 touchdowns were second only to Desmond’s 19; his 97 catches for 1,330 yards broke both of Marquise Walker’s single-season records; his career-total 3,541 yards and 39 touchdowns broke both of Anthony Carter’s records.

The father was finally again at ease watching the boy play.

“Man, I was laying back, my feet were up, because I knew that one time in that game he was going to take somebody,” Stan says. “I was comfortable, because he had prepared that way.”

***

What Stan is most proud of is not the yards gained, not the No. 1 jersey or how some of Braylon’s exploits became stories of legend. Stan’s most proud that Braylon loves Michigan enough to go back. Stan did it, and he brought Braylon with him.

But the mood shifts when the father talks about how the Michigan community has treated his son. Many were up in arms when Braylon made a big deal about how Rich Rodriguez handed the No. 1 jersey to a freshman defensive back, in 2008.

“A lot of people want to know: why does Braylon have a say?” Stan says.

Stan sets the story straight real quick. When Braylon established the $500,000 scholarship fund for receivers to carry on the No. 1 tradition, it was the school that brought it to him in writing: you will be consulted on who gets to wear the jersey.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Carr and Braylon had set up requirements for the jersey: no freshmen, a suitable GPA and appropriate off-the-field conduct.

That day, Braylon had been touring ESPN when he was notified of the No. 1 jersey mistake and he was caught revealing his true emotion during an online chat: “I am already mad that Rich Rod gave the No. 1 jersey to someone other than (a) wide receiver, which is breaking tradition,” Braylon wrote.

John Falk, the man who has handled the No. 1 jersey since Bo was coaching, said that “it wasn’t Rich’s fault.” It was no one’s fault, really, he says.

Falk said that because of the limited amount of jerseys available to the team, it was available and so it was assigned. He later apologized to Braylon, explaining that neither he nor Rodriguez knew all of the particulars.

Fans went bezerk. The media had a field day. The No. 1 jersey does that to people. It had that affect on Braylon. Why else would he put up with his father’s torture to get to Michigan to have a shot at his dream?

So when Stan is asked, which of the three current Michigan wide receivers — Roy Roundtree, Junior Hemingway or Darryl Stonum — deserves to wear the number his boy worked so hard to earn, he doesn’t mince his words.

“When you talk about the guys who wore the No. 1 jersey, they had superior skill level — superior,” Stan says. “And they had tremendous work ethic. They were game changers. So I don’t think that question’s for me. I don’t think it’s for Braylon. I don’t think it’s for coach Hoke.

“What David Terrell, Braylon Edwards, Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, did — none of those guys — nobody had to wonder: ‘Have you done enough to wear that jersey?’

“It spoke for itself.”