After Desmond Howard’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame — and his subsequent call to have his own and Charles Woodson’s jerseys retired at Michigan — the subject of retiring uniform numbers has been a hot topic in Ann Arbor. Last Friday, I called for Howard (as well as Woodson, but the argument centered on Howard) to be honored in some fashion, and given that Michigan’s other Heisman winner, Tom Harmon, has his No. 98 retired, it makes sense for the same to happen for No. 21 and No. 2.
Of course, Michigan football has been around for quite a long time, and I expect will be for much longer. With only single- and double-digit numbers to work with and a roster full of 85 scholarship players and a large number of walk-ons, there’s a pretty blatant issue here — there’s only so many numbers to go around, and a great deal of deserving candidates to have their jerseys hung in the proverbial rafters. Brian has a second issue with the custom, and proposes a solution used by such schools as Florida and Miami (FL) that was made famous by the Dallas Cowboys:
I’m not a fan of retiring numbers. I like seeing a guy out there rocking the #2 or #21 and being reminded of Howard or Woodson (and usually how much less good at football the current guy is than Howard or Woodson). I wouldn’t mind a Ring Of Honor bit where they have the names in the stadium. With the boxes there’s even a place to put them.
This seems like the most logical way to honor the past without causing some major issues in the present, but then comes the next question: who makes the cut for a Wolverine Ring of Honor? Here’s my criteria, followed by who I think should make the hypothetical ring:
- The honor would be based entirely on a Wolverine’s collegiate playing career. This eliminates coaches — we have large buildings for honoring the greats — and, well, Gerald Ford, who had a very fine career with Michigan but whose No. 48 jersey is retired in large part because he went on to become the President of the United States. Ford has the School of Public Policy named after him and will live on in every American history book because, again, he was a freakin’ president. If the school decides they absolutely must find some way of honoring him for his football career, put up a large display in his honor in the shiny new concourse.
- Because of the rich history of Michigan football, there are a ton of players who would likely earn Ring of Honor status at other schools — just check out m1jjb00’s diary on this very subject over at MGoBlog, and how many players make the list. It’s simply too many if you want to make the thing meaningful, as well as an aesthetic nightmare if you’re trying to prominently display the names inside the stadium, an idea which I very much like. So, for this honor, it’s only the best of the best — I’m looking for a player who either defines an era or transcends it.
Without further ado, here’s my personal Ring of Honor:
Willie Heston, HB, 1901-04: The defining player of Fielding Yost’s “point-a-minute” squads, Heston was an All-American in both 1903 and 1904 and was the team captain as a senior. From the Bentley Historical Library:
During Heston’s four year career, 1901-1904, Yost’s “point-a-minute” teams compiled a 43-0-1 record and were credited with four national championships. Heston re-wrote the Michigan record book, his 72 career touchdowns is still tops on the list and his 170 yards rushing in the 1902 tournament of Roses game (the first Rose Bowl) stood for 59 years.
Football may have been a very different game at the turn of the 20th century, but that doesn’t discount Heston’s greatness, nor the national titles he helped produce. An easy choice, in my opinion.
Benny Friedman, QB, 1924-26: You won’t find Friedman’s name in the modern record books, but after taking over as the starting quarterback midway through his sophomore season, he revolutionized the passing game. Friedman earned All-American honors in 1925 and was both the Big Ten MVP and a consensus All-American the following year. In each of his final two seasons, Friedman led the Wolverines to a 7-1 record and the Western Conference (later Big Ten) title.
If you have any doubts about Friedman’s prodigious — and perhaps unprecedented — talent at quarterback, consider that after a poor finish in 1928, New York Giants owner Tim Mara bought the entire Detroit Wolverines professional team and merged the two squads, largely because Detroit had Friedman at quarterback. The Giants improved from a 4-7-2 finish in 1928 to 13-1-1 with Friedman at the helm of the offense in ’29, and he led the league with an unheard-of 20 touchdown passes that season. Nice purchase, Mr. Mara.
Bennie Oosterbaan, End, 1925-27: Friedman and Oosterbaan are inextricably linked in Michigan history as probably the most dominant passing duo of the age in college football. Oosterbaan was an incredible athlete, as he was not only a three-time All-American in football (one of only two in Michigan history), but an All-American and Big Ten scoring champion in basketball and, in his one season on the team, the conference batting champion in baseball in 1928, despite the fact that he did not play baseball in high school. Oosterbaan, of course, would later go on to coach the Wolverines, but his incredible exploits as a player are more than enough to earn him a place among the all-time greats.
Tom Harmon, HB, 1938-40: “Old 98” needs no introduction as Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner. A small sampling of his exploits: Two-time All-American (1939, 1940), Big Ten MVP (1940), two-time national scoring champion (1939, 1940 — a feat that has gone unmatched in college football history), a career average of 9.9 points per game (an NCAA record for ten seasons), and one of the greatest final performances in collegiate history against Ohio State, when he rushed for three touchdowns, passed for two more, kicked four extra points, intercepted three passes, and punted three times with an average of 50 yards, earning a standing ovation in Ohio Stadium after Michigan’s 40-0 victory. Anyone who can get the Buckeye faithful to stand and applaud a Wolverine after The Game deserves a spot here.
Bob Chappuis, HB, 1942, 1946-47: Hi, everyone, meet Bob Chappuis:
Need more convincing? I can do no better justice than the Time article from the issue pictured above, but I’ll quickly note that he returned from serving his country in World War II — including getting shot down over Italy on his 21st mission and remarkably surviving — to lead the famed “Mad Magicians” backfield in 1946 and 1947, winning the national title in ’47 while garnering All-America honors and setting the school single-season passing efficiency mark that still stands to this day. Seriously, just read the article if you’re still skeptical.
The Wistert Brothers, Tackle: The three Wistert brothers — Francis (aka “Whitey” — 1933), Albert (1942), and Alvin (1948, 1949) — all were named All-Americans at tackle during their Wolverine careers, all wearing the same No. 11 that is currently retired by the program. They are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame and won a combined four national titles at Michigan. I don’t know how better to honor such a unique and remarkable set of accomplishments than simply placing the name “Wistert” aside the No. 11 along the boxes atop Michigan Stadium.
Dan Dierdorf, Tackle, 1968-70: A Michigan Ring of Honor just wouldn’t be complete without a member of the famed 1969 squad, and although the late, great Jim Mandich certainly deserves consideration, Dierdorf was simply an incredible player. Dierdorf was a consensus All-American in his senior season, twice earned All-Big Ten honors, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. In his three years as a starter, the last two under new coach Bo Schembechler, Dierdorf’s Wolverines went 25-6 and won the conference title in ’69.
Anthony Carter, WR, 1979-82: Michigan’s other three-time All-American is a no-brainer, if not solely by virtue of eliciting the greatest call in Bob Ufer’s storied career, then because of the incredible list of accolades and broken records he racked up as a Wolverine:
Called the most dominant player at his position in college football, he also became just the eighth three-time All American in Big Ten history (the first in 36 years) and the first receiver to surpass 3,000 yards in pass receptions. Voted captain of the 1982 team, he was the Wolverines’ Most Valuable Player twice (1980-1982). Just 5 feet, 11 inches, and 160 pounds, but having outstanding quickness he shattered virtually every Michigan career pass receptions, kick return and scoring record, including touchdowns (40), points (244), receptions (161), yards (3,076), and touchdown catches (37), also a Big Ten record. His 14 touchdown receptions set a single season Michigan record. He compiled the highest yard average for all-purpose running in NCAA history (17.4) and his 33 touchdown receptions during regular season games is the second best total in NCAA history. He ranked fourth in the 1982 Heisman Trophy balloting, receiving more votes than any player other than running backs and quarterbacks. Carter capped his career by being voted the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player in 1982.
But seriously, Bo Schembechler had John Wangler throw a post route to a freshman receiver from the 45-yard line with six seconds left in a tie game. That’s all you need to know about AC.
Desmond Howard, WR, 1989-91:
We’re done here.
Charles Woodson, CB, 1995-97:
We’re done here, too.
So there you have it, my 12-man Michigan Ring of Honor: Heston, Friedman, Oosterbaan, Harmon, Wistert, Wistert, Wistert, Chappuis, Dierdorf, Carter, Howard, and Woodson. I’m sure may of you will have your disagreements, especially with a class this small, so please leave your thoughts as to which Wolverines are deserving in the comments.