Inside 125 years of Michigan sports history

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 11:58am

125 years of Michigan athletics history

The history of Michigan athletics is told through moments.

People remember where they were when the Michigan football team outlasted Notre Dame under the lights at Michigan Stadium in 2013, one of the greatest games in Michigan Stadium’s storied history. They remember watching as the Fab Five rose to prominence in the early 1990s, captivating the nation in the process. They even remember tragedy, like the day legendary football coach Bo Schembechler passed away on the eve of the historic matchup between No. 2 Michigan and No. 1 Ohio State in 2006.

Bob Ufer’s radio call of John Wangler to Anthony Carter in 1979 still rings through people’s minds. Photos of Charles Woodson’s No. 1 salute in the 1998 Rose Bowl hang on walls throughout America. Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose during the 1991 Michigan-Ohio State game is a fixture on college football highlight reels even today.

These moments have filled the pages of The Michigan Daily for 125 years now. Hundreds of Daily sports writers have been inside all the action in all that history.

Arguably, nowhere is that tradition more important than Michigan. This is a school that holds onto memories of past glory as a standard for the future. It cherishes the connections forged between teammates and coaches over the years. It even measures current success in relation to the past, most notably by comparing football coaches to Schembechler, the program’s patriarch.

Over the years, Michigan has laid a foundation of remarkable consistency. At present, three varsity coaches are in their 32nd year at the University: hockey’s Red Berenson, softball’s Carol Hutchins and women’s track and field’s James Henry. From 1921 until 1988, Michigan had just three total Athletic Directors — Fielding H. Yost, Fritz Crisler and Don Canham. The Daily provided consistent coverage of their rise to the stature they occupy today.

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The University’s athletic history predates even the Daily’s by a quarter-century. This year, Michigan Athletics will celebrate its 150th anniversary while the Daily celebrates its 125th.

But the Daily has documented sports from its outset. It covered Yost’s famous “point-a-minute” teams in the early 1900s, back when a printing press below the newsroom was used to set type. A Nov. 12, 1905 story headlined “SUBSTITUTES SCORE FORTY POINTS ON OHIO STATE” details one of Yost’s teams’ victory.

“The most brilliant run ever seen on Ferry Field and the longest run ever made anywhere … was the one feature of yesterday’s game with Ohio State,” the Daily wrote about a long touchdown run by Al Barlow. “Two forty-yard runs for touchdowns made by Garrels complete what was undoubtedly the most spectacular game ever seen in Ann Arbor.” 

Circumstances have changed immeasurably since then. Football is different, the Daily is different, the writing style is different, and the University is different. But the concept of recording the highs and lows of Michigan athletics has remained constant.

Many more stories since Yost’s teams have garnered much more attention as the media and the sports landscape have expanded. One of the highest-profile stories was the rise of the Fab Five and their success during a two-year run from 1991 to 1993. In their second year together, they started the season ranked No. 1 in the country and took opponents by storm.

“It was one of those situations where their experience just whipped our behinds,” legendary Purdue coach Gene Keady said after the Wolverines beat his ninth-ranked Boilermakers on Jan. 8, 1993.

“I would not under any circumstances want to play Michigan again if they were playing like that,” said another legendary coach from the same state, Bob Knight, after his top-ranked Hoosiers squeaked past Michigan a month later.

The Fab Five rolled into the NCAA Tournament and past Kentucky in the Final Four. “A-MAIZE-ING,” read the headline on the front of the SportsMonday section on April 5, 1993, with a photo of Chris Webber embracing Jalen Rose after the game. 

The next day, the headline read “TIME TO LOSE,” with Leon Derricks consoling Webber after the star tried to call a timeout in the final seconds of the National Championship Game.

So it has gone for the Daily’s coverage of Michigan’s triumphs and struggles every day for 125 years.

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The Fab Five era was a momentous period in the University’s history, but the moments extend to many different ages, sports and issues.

There have been moments of pride. In 1989, near the end of the men’s basketball season, Schembechler fired coach Bill Frieder for agreeing to become the head coach at Arizona State after the season. “A Michigan man will coach Michigan!” Schembechler said.

There have been moments of change. In 1934, Michigan had scheduled a football game at Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets refused to compete if the Wolverines played Willis Ward, a black player on the team. Michigan forced Ward to stay home and traveled to Atlanta for the game, sparking outrage on campus.

There have been moments of redemption. In 1968, Ohio State routed Michigan, 50-14, when Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes opted for the two-point conversion late in a 48-14 game. He said he did it “because I couldn’t go for three!” The next year, Schembechler’s team stunned No. 1 Ohio State to win the Big Ten and make the Rose Bowl.

The rest of Schembechler’s tenure went down in history just like the beginning, as he went 194-48-5 in 21 seasons and served as an icon for the Michigan program.

Those icons are all around, both the presence of current ones and the memory of past ones. The Daily has always told their stories, and will continue to do so as long as there are stories to tell.