The Michigan football team had easily made its way to the red zone, but the touchdown was eluding them. All it took was fullback Jack Weisenburger to push his way through for the one-yard score to give the Wolverines the lead.

It was the first of seven unanswered touchdowns en route to Michigan defeating Southern California, 49-0, in the 1948 Rose Bowl to claim the 1947 National Championship.

It was the Wolverines’ game to win from the beginning. They had been perfect the entire season, going undefeated overall and in Big Nine play. And while the Trojans were an impressive team, the 1947 Michigan squad was special.

College football looked very different back then, but the Wolverines took a big step that season toward how football is played today. Michigan was the first team to have players specialize in offense or defense, as opposed to playing both sides of the ball. At the time, this was such an unbelievable practice that the media dubbed the team ‘Mad Magicians.’

Time Magazine even went as far to write a feature article on this new era of football and said, “Michigan’s sleight-of-hand repertory is a baffling assortment of double reverses, buck-reverse laterals, crisscrosses, quick-hits and spins from seven different formations. Sometimes, watching from the side lines, even Coach (Fritz) Crisler isn’t sure which Michigan man has the ball.

Michigan plays one team on offense, one on defense … Whenever Michigan’s defensive team regains the ball, Crisler orders: ‘Offense unit, up and out,’ and nine men pour onto the field at once.”

Clearly the tactic paid off for the Wolverines.

Weisenburger went on to score two more touchdowns in the game — both one-yard runs. He wasn’t the only one who had scoring opportunities, though. 

The stars of the 1947 team, halfbacks Bob Chappuis and Bump Elliott, combined for a touchdown of their own with Chappuis throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Elliott. Chappuis received a handoff and, running out of time, quickly tossed the ball over the defensive line to Elliott as he cut across the field before tumbling into the end zone.

The Wolverines would enter the half leading, 21-0.

After adding only one more touchdown in the third quarter, Michigan didn’t let up in the final quarter. The most impressive play of the game was a 45-yard touchdown pass from halfback Hank Fonde. After receiving the handoff, he broke a Southern California tackle to give him time to make the throw. Without hesitation, he looked up and sent a perfectly placed ball to quarterback Gene Derricotte running down the right sideline.

The final Trojan safety dove to stop Derricotte, but he was already gone.

The final touchdown of the game was meaningless in terms of the game’s winner, but tied the record for most points scored and largest margin of victory in a Rose Bowl — both records Michigan had set in the inaugural Rose Bowl.

The Wolverines had dominated the entire game, even the entire season, but almost wasn’t awarded the national title. Notre Dame had finished atop the Associated Press Poll at the end of the regular season, and normally they would have been the National Champions. But after pressure from the public for another poll, the Associated Press created the first ever post-bowl poll.

Michigan edged out Notre Dame, 266 votes to 119.

In the grand scheme of the season, the Rose Bowl victory was just another notch on the Wolverines’ belt.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *