August 14, 2019
Michigan historian Dr. Sap and I have started a new podcast on the lore of Michigan football. For this one we invited in author and 3,000-year-old Druid Craig Ross, who wrote about this team in HTTV 2015. We also did a segment with Bennie Oosterbaan's godson, Bennie McCready.
Previously: 1980, 1999, 1901, 1964, 1976
It is sponsored by HomeSure Lending. If you're buying or refinancing your home, this is the guy to talk to. He'll work on your loan directly and walk you through a process that can get really confusing really fast. I used him. Brian used him. Everyone else who used him is glad they did.
1. BENNY, BENNIE AND BENNIE
(starts at 1:00)
We introduce this team by talking to Bennie McCready, whose mom grew up next door to the Oosterbaans and grew up immersed in the lore of the team Fielding Yost called his best.
2. FOOTBALL IN THE 1920s
(starts at 16:42)
Meet single-wing football, when players played both ways, when the rivals were Minnesota and Chicago, when Michigan's 47,000-seat stadium wasn't half of what they could fill, what with boom town Detroit churning out cars and the middle class fans who could drive them to a game. Meanwhile most of the country was lucky to draw 10,000. The history of forward passes, and the rules and ball shape that governed it. Yost's fallout with Notre Dame legend Knute Rockne over a 1923 track meet, and Yost's incredible building projects: recently completed Yost Field House, and his new dream, Michigan Stadium. We also get into Fielding Yost's first retirement in 1924, what happened with George Little and Benny Friedman, and why Yost came back with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
3. THE TEAM
(starts at 55:19)
Single-Wing football, playing both ways (click for big):
Michigan's a spread team (after one year under a Brady Hoke offense) that's running what we call "Bash" today which Yost invented back in 1909 and called "Old 83".
We'll get to Benny and Bennie last because there are some more dudes to get to. Center/MLB Bob Brown was thick-built and tough as hell. RG/Nose Tom Edwards was their "big" lineman at 5'11"/180 but was a stalwart in the middle of the line. RT/SDE Harry Hawkins is probably the next-best player after the Bens, the guy at the point of attack on most plays. Great backfield that's very scat-backlike. FB/SAM Bo Molenda is a natural runner. TB/CB Louis Gilbert is the running back-ish scatback, WB/CB Bruce Gregory the H-receiver-ish scatback. TE/WDE William Flora was a great blocker and really big for his era. And then you have Oosterbaan, a freak athlete who wouldn't be out of place on any team today.
And a lot of Friedman, the game's first passing quarterback, and a good pick for greatest football player in the history of the game. He was the Babe Ruth of football, except instead of home runs he was transforming offense (and was a vastly underrated defensive player early in his career). Look at his motion:
…now think about how guys back then often threw the ball end over end.
4. THE GAMES
(starts at 1:29:02)
Start with a MAC cupcake. Really realize they're good against Indiana, who thought they were going to have a great season. Wisconsin versus former HC George Little is billed as the best game in the country that year: Benny scores on the second play from scrimmage, Wisconsin decides to kick off (you can still do this) and Friedman returns that for a TD.
Friedman's kickoff return [UM Bentley Library]
Illinois game is payback against #77, Red Grange, and Michigan shuts him down, thanks Old 83, Benny Friedman's defense, and Michigan going to a "Diamond" defense that uses Benny as a box safety still responsible for deep balls (we forgot to mention this but this defense ultimately inspired the 46 Bear defense).
Benny vs Illinois [Bentley]
Defenestration of Navy proves the East's football isn't actually that good—Michigan's players are just faster. And then there's the BS: Northwestern should cancel for weather but instead takes the opportunity to play in five-foot-deep mud and cold and wind because it's the only way they ever beat Michigan. The 3 points Northwestern got from a turnover on M's three are the only scores on Michigan all year, and Michigan's 2 points from Northwestern's safety got the rule changed because back then if you took a safety you got the ball on your own 30 with a fresh set of downs, and run out the clock. Two rules (safeties and weather cancellations) are changed because of it. Ohio State is a stiffer test of football, shutting down the passing game but still losing 10-0. Big Minnesota rivalry game proves we need a Big House as half of the people who showed up were turned away.
(starts at 2:23:23)
Yost gives out Big Ten Champions charms and Northwestern's captain writes to Michigan to disavow any claim to a tie to the championship. Northwestern fans riot, burn down a fraternity house, cut the firemen's firehoses, beat up the cops, then try to burn down their stadium. Benny Friedman goes on to prove the NFL is better than college (this was under debate) but has a sad later life. The Washington-Alabama Rose Bowl that puts Southern football on the map. Yost's legacy, and a little discussion on whether he was racist.
The 1925 team in front of Ferry Field [UM Bentley Library]
- "Yes, Sir! That's My Baby"—Lee Morse
- "Sweet Georgia Brown"—Ben Bernie
- "Hot Feet"—Wendell Hall
- "Lady Be Good"—Fred Astaire
- "Muskrat Ramble"—Louis Armstrong
- “Across 110th Street”
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