This past weekend found me again questioning my unique propensity for useless and/or random knowledge. While the swirling facts and half-truths in my head have often provided for awkward moments where silence would have been preferable, I find that the space otherwise reserved for things like names and correct test answers is, for me, better occupied by the cognitive equivalent to whipped cream.
Awakening Saturday morning in Ann Arbor was something of a treat for the first time in months, the football practice fields monopolizing my balcony view reflected their natural, happy greenish hue instead of the usual sense-numbing snow-covered white.
A sign of spring? Probably not. But it was certainly enough to trigger any aimless knowledge I”ve ever acquired about Michigan football.
Now, I”d always figured that by the time graduation rolled around, most of these tidbits and meanderings would have gone unused, only to be accrued over the next four years by a football fanatic as perceptive to fluff as myself.
But this weekend”s unseasonable weather combined with the convenience of a weekly column has provided the ideal forum to pass this filler along.
Everybody on campus has surely heard one of these, and some students might even be familiar with all of them. But for those that care and even more for those that don”t a quick lesson in Things Every Michigan Football Fan Really Doesn”t Need To Know But Probably Should.
No. 1: The one. The capacity of Michigan Stadium is one hundred seven thousand five hundred and one. The extra seat is a long-standing tradition in stadium history and the one thing everybody seems to agree on is that it”s reserved for the “ghost” of a legendary former coach. Exactly which coach, however, is the matter of slight debate.
Some athletic officials have contended that the seat is set aside for the spirit of Fritz Crisler, Michigan”s coach from 1938-47. But a more widely accepted story is that “the one” is reserved for Fielding H. Yost, the coach that lobbied for and oversaw construction of the stadium. Upon its completion in 1927, Michigan Stadium”s capacity was 84,401, lending more credibility to the Yost edition of the tale.
No. 2: Champions of the West? This famous lyric has been the source of subtle confusion for many fans. “The Victors,” Michigan”s well-known march, was written in 1898 immediately after a heroic 12-11 victory over the University of Chicago. The dramatic win gave Michigan the Western Intercollegiate Conference crown. No, Ann Arbor is not the untamed frontier, but back in the day, teams in the Western Conference were said to play in “the West.”
No. 3: Irish times. Which is the winningest program in historic Division I football? Going by total victories, Michigan. Going on winning percentage, it”s Notre Dame. But which has more tradition? Not surprisingly, local lore has given the nod to the Wolverines rumor has it that students from Michigan actually taught undergrads from Notre Dame the rules of the early game while visiting South Bend late in the 19th Century. Two years ago, when the Irish were discussing joining the Big Ten, we found that the Golden Domers still concede. “It was a group of University of Michigan students, you may recall,” said Notre Dame president Edward Malloy, “who first taught Notre Dame students to play the game of football.”
No. 4: Wing it. Indeed, Michigan”s head gear may be the coolest in college football. But what is the significance of the winged helmets? Few dispute the case that Crisler actually introduced the design back when protection was made of leather. But what Michigan enthusiasts may not want to admit is that Crisler likely brought the pattern with him from Princeton, where he coached before coming to Michigan in 1938. While the wing may have provided extra padding, University historians have reported that Crisler felt helmet patterns helped his quarterbacks distinguish receivers from defenders. Princeton has since returned to the pattern, which in all honesty resembles a tiger much more than it does a wolverine.
No. 5: Stick to the script. The pregame “Script Ohio” is a staple of Ohio State tradition, and being the tuba player who dots the “i” is apparently an honor. But the famous routine was actually first performed by the Michigan Marching Band as a goodwill gesture before the 1932 game in Columbus. The Wolverines prevailed, 14-0, and went on to win the national title but the Buckeyes did not come away from the game empty handed.
My brain, for better or worse, has dedicated far more space to the trivial and obscure than this column can provide. By now, you likely think it”s for the better.
You”re probably right. There are a thousand things more relevant than what bounces around in my head. Plenty of people, for instance, care about the turf conditions at Michigan Stadium.
Few care that the stadium itself was built on a natural spring that until 1926 provided the campus with drinking water.
I guess spewing random facts isn”t always pointless most of the time, it”s simply useless. That always brings a spring-time smile to my face.
David Den Herder can be reached