The tremendous boredom of the summer months has reached its apex, and I am left to come up with content when there is little to nothing going on in the Michigan sports scene. Luckily, U-M has an amazing database of historical content. The Bentley Historical Library is an incredible resource on Wolverine history, and also a bona-fide time-waster. I love looking through the old team photos … it’s basically like checking out your parents’ high school yearbooks, except with more famous people and without the stigma of looking through your parents’ high school yearbooks. Every once in a while, I’ll highlight a year, a player group, or something awesome about these old team photos and post it up.
In case you can’t tell from the earlier posts in this series, I’m a big fan of ridiculous facial hair. Well, I decided to go through every team photo on record and find the best/worst facial hair (it’s a very fine line). I chose one photo per decade, starting with the 1880s and going through the 1980s (the more recent photos don’t blow up to a large resolution, and facial hair is pretty boring these days anyway), although there are no photos between the 1910s and the 1960s, presumably because there was a facial hair ban during those decades. After I showcase the best facial hair of each decade, I’ll leave up to you to decide who has the best facial hair in Michigan history. Without further ado, let’s start the show:
1880-1889: Unknown, 1885
Unfortunately, the 1885 team photo does not have player/coach names to go with the picture, so for now this man is completely unidentifiable. However, it is impossible to give the 1880s title to anybody else, as this unnamed hero manages to combine a handlebar mustache with the Rollie Fingers wax job. Bonus points, of course, must be given for the bowtie, top hat, and cane.
1890-1899: Charles T. Griffin, 1892
This one takes the prize for sheer bushiness. I mean, it looks like two squirrels are trying to escape from his nostrils. The very noticeable gap in the middle only serves to accentuate just how ridiculous this mustache is. I’m not sure if Charles T. Griffin had much luck with the ladies while sporting enough lip hair to sweep Crisler Arena, but he certainly deserves the respect of every man who has ever tried to grow a mustache.
1900-1909: Graduate director Charles Baird, 1904
Apparently “Charles” is a great name to have if you wish to grow a magnificent mustache. Baird’s ‘stache may not be flashy, but it simply gets the job done. Again, extra points must be given for sporting the bowtie.
1910-1958: The Dark Ages — not a single mustache or beard to be found.
1959: Bennie McRae
It may not be much, but after nearly a half-century of no facial hair, Bennie McRae brings the ‘stache back to Michigan football. Remember: you can’t spell “Michigan Wolverines football” without “facial hair”. Even if McRae’s mustache was wispy, pencil-thin, and generally unexciting, he is worthy of a spot on this list for his historical impact. A tip of the cap to you, Mr. McRae.
1960-1969: Tom Goss, 1968
Yes, that is the Tom Goss, Michigan athletic director from 1997-2000. The 1960s, admittedly, didn’t bring much in the way of facial hair, so Goss will have to do as his decade’s representative. He does earn credit for keeping his mustache long after his playing career.
Bonus: Jim Betts, 1969
It really doesn’t look like much, but Jim Betts’ mustache is the centerpiece of one of my favorite Michigan football stories ever. I’m quoting from pages 32-33 of Bo’s Lasting Lessons, written by Bo Schembechler and John U. Bacon, a book you really should have if you don’t already:
I made only one exception for the black players. The day after my first team meeting, when I told everyone they’d better shave, Jim Betts came into my office to talk to me. “Coach, you’ve got to understand, for the black players, the mustache represents part of our heritage.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“No, Coach, I’m sincere.”
We went back and forth a few times, but Jimmy wasn’t budging — and what the hell did I know? I was from Barberton, Ohio.
The next day, I met with the team again. “It has come to my attention that the black players on this team feel they cannot with a good conscience shave their mustaches, because they feel it is part of their heritage.”
I let that sink in.
“So, I am allowing them to keep their mustaches. But as for you white players — you have no heritage! So shave ’em off!”
That broke the tension in the room.
Now, get this. For years I kept asking Betts, “Honestly, were you pulling my leg?”
Finally, twenty years later, he said, “Coach, I have to confess: I’d just grown that mustache, I was proud of it, and I had to think of some reason you’d let me keep it.”
For being the ‘stache behind the story, Jim Betts gets an honorable mention as best facial hair of the 1960s.
1970-1979: Tim Davis, 1975
Now this is a mustache. You have to love any ‘stache that gets wider the farther it gets from the nose, and Davis’ almost meets back again at the chin. I don’t want to influence any votes, but this may be my personal favorite.
1980-1989: Dave Nicolau, 1980
Sometimes it isn’t the ‘stache itself, but how you carry it. Dave Nicolau holds his mustache high, letting the world know he is proud of the facial hair that makes him look like he should be in a low-budget adult film. More power to you, Dave.