How I Won the Michigan-Minnesota Game

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It’s football season again and time for the rational, composed, mature person that I am to lose it completely. This Saturday afternoon, when the University of Michigan-Notre Dame game is televised nationally, my wife will leave the house, taking our cat with her. Neither of them can stand what will be the incessant replaying of “The Victors” (Michigan’s fight song) on our DVD player, the cheering and loud, sometimes-obscene shouts that will emanate uncontrollably from me at crucial moments in the game. I have an excuse for my behavior. You see, it stems from a fall day in 1949 when I and I alone was responsible for Michigan’s winning a Big Ten game against Minnesota.

       It was in my freshman year in Ann Arbor that I got my first look at the Michigan Stadium. The game had already started, and as I approached the gate and presented my ticket, all I could see was the press box looming over the rim of the stadium. Running up the ramp I reached the top, looked down and gasped. Below me, on a beautiful fall day, was a colorfully dressed crowd of 79,000 standing and roaring. (The “Big House,” as it’s called today, now seats 107,500). Michigan, in its maize and blue uniforms, and Indiana, in red and white, were cavorting on the still-untrammeled, emerald-green turf. It was sheer spectacle, and I was immediately hooked.

     That year, after a modest start, Michigan began a winning streak that included two undefeated seasons, a national championship and 25 straight victories. A feeling of invincibility — and football fanaticism — pervaded the campus until early in the 1949 season, when an Army team, its ranks still swollen with talented draftees, eked out a victory over Michigan. Crestfallen, I wrote an editorial in the Michigan Daily, reminding students of the fabulous record our team had compiled, and promising that another streak would soon begin.

       A Detroit Free Press sports writer named Lyall Smith had another view. The Army game, he wrote, showed that Michigan didn’t have it that year. And, he noted, the Minnesota Gophers were coming to town the next week with a line that averaged 300 pounds and would certainly smear Michigan. On the Saturday of the Minnesota game, the student body converged on the stadium, muttering imprecations against Smith and hopeful that he would be forced to eat his words.

       But Minnesota was indeed loaded that year, and late in the third quarter was ahead of Michigan by a touchdown and again driving toward the Wolverine goal line. Reaching the 18-yard line, the Gophers huddled, then lined up. The stadium was deathly quiet. The tension, as they say, was palpable. Sitting nervously in the student section, I could stand it no longer. Leaping to my feet, I shouted, “Fumble, you baaastards!” My voice echoed around the silent stadium. The ball was snapped and the Gopher running back, who I insist was unnerved by my raucous cry, actually fumbled, allowing Michigan to recover. I was picked up and passed around the cheering student section, and Michigan went on to win the game. We’ve all had high points in our lives, and that was mine.

      At the end of the season, I sent a note to the University Athletic Department saying, in effect, that because of my contribution to the victory over Minnesota, I at the very least deserved an athletic letter. Strangely enough, I never got an answer.