History of Michigan Wolverines football in the Crisler years

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Michigan Wolverines football
Fritz Crisler.png
Athletic director Fielding H. Yost
Fritz Crisler
Head coach Fritz Crisler
10 season, 71–16–3 (.806)
Stadium Michigan Stadium
Year built 1927
Field surface Grass
Location Ann Arbor, Michigan
Conference Big Ten Conference
Bowl record 1–0 (1.000)
Claimed nat'l titles 1
Conference titles 2
Heisman winners 1
Colors Maize and Blue[1]
Fight song "The Victors"
Marching band Michigan Marching Band

The History of Michigan Wolverines football in the Crisler years covers the history of the University of Michigan Wolverines football program during the period from the hiring of Fritz Crisler as head coach in 1938 through his retirement as head coach after winning the 1948 Rose Bowl. Michigan was a member of the Big Ten Conference during the Crisler years and played its home games at Michigan Stadium.

During the 10 years in which Crisler served as head football coach, Michigan compiled a record of 71–16–3 (.806). Tom Harmon played for the Wolverines from 1938 to 1940 and in 1940 became the first Michigan player to win the Heisman Trophy. 1947 Michigan team, sometimes known as the "Mad Magicians", compiled a perfect 10–0 record, outscored its opponents 394–53, defeated the USC Trojans 49–0 in the 1948 Rose Bowl game, and were selected as the nation's No. 1 team by a 226–119 margin over Notre Dame in an unprecedented AP Poll taken after the bowl games. Bob Chappuis finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1947.

Ten players from the Crisler years have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. They are Chappuis, Bump Elliott, Pete Elliott, Harmon, Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, David M. Nelson (inducted as coach), Tubby Raymond (inducted as coach), and Bob Westfall, Albert "Ox" Wistert, and Alvin "Moose" Wistert. Two have also been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame—Hirsch and Len Ford. Three members of the coaching staff have also been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. They are Crisler, Clarence "Biggie" Munn, and Bennie Oosterbaan (inducted as player).

Year-by-year results[edit]

Season Head coach Conference Place Record PF PA
1938 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten Conference 2nd 6–1–1 131 40
1939 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 3rd 6–2 219 94
1940 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 2nd 7–1 196 34
1941 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 2nd 6–1–1 147 41
1942 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 3rd 7–3 221 134
1943 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 1st (tie) 8–1 302 73
1944 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 2nd 8–2 204 91
1945 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 2nd 7–3 187 99
1946 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 2nd 6–2–1 233 73
1947 team Fritz Crisler Big Ten 1st 10–0 394 53

Overview of the Crisler years[edit]

Harmon years[edit]

War years[edit]

Mad Magicians[edit]


Michigan State[edit]

Crisler is the only head coach in Michigan football history who served for more than two years and maintained an undefeated record in the Michigan – Michigan State football rivalry. Crisler compiled a perfect 8–0 record against the Spartans, including four shutouts in 1938 (14–0), 1942 (20–0), 1945 (40–0), and 1946 (55–0).[2] Biggie Munn, who was an assistant coach under Crisler from 1938 to 1945, served as head coach at Michigan State from 1947 to 1953 and as athletic director from 1954 to 1971.


During the Crisler years, Michigan compiled a 5-5 record in its annual Little Brown Jug rivalry game with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.[3] Minnesota defeated Michigan five straight years in the first half of the Crisler years. Under head coach Bernie Bierman, Minnesota compiled a nine-game winning streak over Michigan extending from 1934 to 1942. By the mid-1940s, with Bierman gone as head coach, the Golden Gophers fell from the top tier of teams, and Michigan concluded the Crisler years with five consecutive victories from 1943 to 1947.[4]

During the Crisler years, the Little Brown Jug games often took on national significance, as the two teams came into several games ranked among the top teams in the country. Significant games include the following:

  • In 1938, Minnesota was responsible for Michigan's only loss in the first season under Crisler. The Golden Gophers won a close game by a score of 7 to 6. Minnesota and Michigan ended the 1938 season ranked #10 and #16 in the final AP poll.
  • In 1940, Michigan and Minnesota were undefeated and ranked #2 and #3 in the AP poll before the game. Michigan took the lead on a touchdown pass from Tom Harmon to Forest Evashevski, but Harmon's kick for the extra point went wide. Minnesota responded with its own touchdown and converted its extra point attempt to win the game by a 7-6 score.[5] Minnesota finished the 1940 season undefeated and with a national championship. Michigan was ranked #3 in the final AP Poll of 1940.
  • In 1941, the teams were again undefeated heading into the game. Minnesota won the game 7-0. Minnesota went on to claim its second consecutive national championship, and Michigan was ranked #5 in the final AP poll.
  • In 1947, the Wolverines were ranked #1 in the country and had averaged 55 points in the first four games of the season. The Golden Gophers gave the Wolverines the toughest game of the season. Michigan's star back Bob Chappuis was held to 26 rushing yards, less than two yards per carry.[6] While the Wolverines won, 13 to 6, the close score resulted in Notre Dame moving ahead of Michigan to claim the #1 spot in the AP Poll.

Notre Dame[edit]

After a 30-year hiatus in the Michigan–Notre Dame football rivalry from 1910 through 1941, the two teams met in 1942 and 1943.

  • In 1942, Notre Dame came into the game ranked #4 in the AP Poll, and Michigan was ranked #6. Michigan won the game, 32-20, in front of a capacity crowd of 57,500 at Notre Dame Stadium. Michigan's total of 32 points was the most scored against a Notre Dame team since 1905. Michigan's first touchdown came on a quarterback sneak by George Ceithaml from the one-yard line. Don Robinson ran for Michigan's second touchdown on a fake field goal attempt, and Tom Kuzma scored two touchdowns in the second half.[7]
  • In 1943, the teams came into the game with undefeated records and ranked #1 and #2 in the AP Poll. The highly anticipated game broke the Michigan Stadium attendance records with a crowd of 85,688.[8] The previous record was a crowd of 85,088 that attended the 1929 Michigan-Ohio State game.[9] Notre Dame won the game, 35-12. According to the United Press game account, the passing by Angelo Bertelli (1943 Heisman Trophy winner) "caught the Wolverine secondary flatfooted and out of position repeatedly to make the rout complete."[10] The third quarter was marked by a malfunction of the electric clock, resulting in a third quarter that lasted 23 minutes. Notre Dame outscored Michigan 14-0 in the long third quarter. After nine plays had been run in the fourth quarter, the timing error was discovered, and an announcement was made over the stadium's public address system that only two-and-a-half minutes remained in the game, as the fourth quarter was shortened to seven minutes. The only points in the short fourth quarter came on the last play of the game as Elroy Hirsch threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Paul White.[11] Dame went on to win the 1943 national championship.

After the 1943 game, the programs did not meet again until 1978.[12]

Ohio State[edit]

During the Crisler years, Michigan compiled a 6-2-1 record in the Michigan–Ohio State football rivalry.[13] Significant games during the Crisler years include:

  • In 1939, Ohio State came into the game ranked #6 in the country with Michigan unranked and having two losses. The Wolverines upset the Buckeyes, 21-14.
  • In 1940, the game marked the final college football game to be played by Tom Harmon after three brilliant years for the Wolverines. Michigan defeated Ohio State 40-0. Harmon ran for three touchdowns, threw two touchdown passes, and converted four PATs. He also averaged 50 yards per punt on three punts. When Harmon left the field with 38 seconds remaining, the crowd in Columbus gave a standing ovation to a Michigan football player.[14]
  • In 1942, the teams came into the game ranked #4 and #5 in the AP poll. The Buckeyes won the game, 21 to 7, in Ann Arbor.[15] The victory over the Wolverines helped propel Ohio State to the #1 spot in the final AP Poll, as Ohio State won its first national championship.
  • In 1944, Ohio State came into the game ranked #3 and undefeated. Michigan was ranked #6 and had one loss. The Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines, 18–14, in Columbus. Ohio State narrowly missed its second national championship, being ranked #2 in the final AP Poll.
  • In 1945, both teams were ranked among the top ten in the AP Poll, and Michigan won, 7-3.

Coaching staff and administration[edit]

Assistant coaches[edit]

  • William Barclay – assistant coach, 1943–1945
  • Jack Blott – assistant coach, 1924–1933, 1946–1958 (head football coach at Wesleyan, 1934–1940)
  • George Ceithaml – assistant coach, 1947–1952
  • Campbell Dickson – assistant coach, 1938–1939
  • Ray Fisher – assistant coach, 1921–1928, 1934–1936, 1943–1945 (also Michigan's head baseball coach, 1921–1958)
  • Forrest Jordan – assistant coach, 1946–1947
  • Cliff Keen – assistant coach 1926–1930, 1932–1936, 1941, 1946–1958 (also Michigan's wrestling coach, 1925–1970)
  • Archie Kodros – player, 1937–1939; assistant coach, 1940–1941 (later head football coach at Whitman, 1949–1950, and Hawaii, 1951)
  • Earl Martineau – assistant coach, 1938–1945 (head coach at Western Michigan, 1924–1928)
  • Ernie McCoy, 1940–1942, 1945–1951 (also Michigan's head basketball coach, 1948–1952; athletic director at Penn State, 1952–1970)
  • Clarence "Biggie" Munn – assistant coach, 1938–1945 (later head coach at Syracuse, 1946, and Michigan State, 1947–1953)
  • Bennie Oosterbaan – assistant coach, 1928–1947 (also Michigan's head basketball coach, 1938–1946, and head football coach, 1948–1958)
  • Hercules Renda – halfback, 1937–1939; assistant coach, 1940–1941
  • Arthur Valpey – end, 1935–1937; assistant coach, 1943–1947 (later head coach at Harvard, 1948–1949, and Connecticut, 1950–1951)
  • Wally Weber – assistant coach, 1931–1958


  • Ralph W. Aigler – chairman of Michigan's Faculty Board in Control of Athletics, 1917–1942, faculty representative to the Big Ten Conference, 1917–1955
  • Charles B. Hoyt – trainer, 1941–1942
  • Jim Hunt – trainer, 1947–1967
  • Ray Roberts – trainer, 1930–1940, 1943–1946


Name Start Year Last Year Position(s) Notes
John Brennan 1936 1938 Guard Voted "queen" of UM's 1939 ice festival; played for the Green Bay Packers (1939).
Jim Brieske 1942 1947 Placekicker, center Set collegiate, Big Ten, Rose Bowl, and Michigan placekicking records
Jerry Burns 1947 1950 Quarterback Served as coach at Iowa (assistant, 1954–1960, head coach, 1961–1965) and for the Minnesota Vikings (assistant, 1968–1985, head coach, 1986–1991)
Bob Callahan 1945 1946 Center, Tackle Played for the Buffalo Bills (AAFC) (1948)
Jack Carpenter 1946 1946 Tackle Played for the Buffalo Bills (AAFC)(1947–1949), San Francisco 49ers (1949), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1950–1951) Toronto Argonauts (1952–1954).
George Ceithaml 1940 1942 Quarterback All-Big Ten quarterback, 1942; Crisler called him "the smartest player he ever taught"; served as an assistant coach at Michigan and USC
Bob Chappuis 1946 1947 Halfback Shot down over Italy in World War II; All-American and 2nd in Heisman Trophy voting (1947); played for Brooklyn Dodgers (AAFC) (1948) and Chicago Hornets (1949)
Bill Daley 1943 1943 Fullback All-American, 1943; Played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (AAFC) (1946), Miami Seahawks (1946), Chicago Rockets (1947), and New York Yankees (AAFC) (1948)
Fred Dawley 1939 1941 Fullback Played for the Detroit Lions (1944) and Los Angeles Bulldogs (1945)
Robert Derleth 1942 1946 Tackle Played for the Detroit Lions (1947)
Gene Derricotte 1946 1948 Halfback, Quarterback Served as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II; holds Michigan's single season record for punt return average
Wally Dreyer 1943 1943 Halfback Played for Chicago Bears (1949) and Green Bay Packers (1950); head football coach for the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Panthers.
Dan Dworsky 1945 1948 Fullback, Center, Quarterback Played for the Los Angeles Dons (1949); later became an architect and designed Crisler Arena and Drake Stadium (UCLA).
Bump Elliott 1946 1947 Halfback Michigan's head coach, 1959–1968; inducted into College Football Hall of Fame, 1989
Pete Elliott 1945 1948 Quarterback, Halfback Later served as head football coach at Nebraska(1956), California (1957–59), Illinois(1960–66), and Miami (1973–74); inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, 1994
Forest Evashevski 1938 1940 Quarterback All-Big Ten quarterback three straight years; head football coach at Iowa 1952–1960; inducted into College Football Hall of Fame in 2000
Henry Fonde 1945 1947 Halfback Threw a 47-yard touchdown pass in 1948 Rose Bowl; Head coach at Ann Arbor Pioneer HS for 10 years; Asst. coach at Michigan for 10 years
Len Ford 1945 1947 End Played 11 years in the AAFC and NFL with the Dons, Browns and Packers; inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1976
Julius Franks 1941 1942 Guard First-team All-American 1942; Michigan's first African-American All-American
Ralph Fritz 1939 1940 Guard Played 1 year in the NFL for the Eagles
Ed Frutig 1938 1940 End First-team All-American 1940; Played 3 years in the NFL with the Packers and Lions
Elmer Gedeon 1936 1938 End Played baseball for the Washington Senators; one of two MLB players killed in action during World War II after being shot down while piloting a B-26 bomber in 1944
John Ghindia 1947 1949 Quarterback, Fullback, Halfback Starting quarterback on the 1949 Michigan Wolverines football team that finished the season ranked No. 7 in the country; later served as a high school football and tennis coach in Wyandotte and Ecorse, Michigan.
John Greene 1940 1943 Tackle, Quarterback Later played 7 years in the NFL with the Lions
Tom Harmon 1938 1940 Halfback 1940 Heisman Trophy winner
Ralph Heikkinen 1936 1938 Guard All-American 1939; MVP of the 1937 and 1938 Michigan football teams; Played 1 year in the NFL for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Bruce Hilkene 1943 1947 Tackle Captain of the undefeated 1947 Michigan team known as the "Mad Magicians"
Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch 1943 1943 Halfback Only Michigan athlete to letter in football, baseball, basketball and track in the same year; Played 12 years in AAFC and NFL for Rockets and Rams; Inducted into College (1974) and Pro Football Hall of Fame (1968).
Bob Hollway 1947 1949 End Later served as head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, 1971–1972
Robert Ingalls 1939 1941 Center Later played for the Green Bay Packers, 1942; served as the head football coach at the University of Connecticut, 1952–1963
Fred Janke 1936 1938 Tackle, Fullback Later became the president and chairman of the board of Hancock Industries; also served as the mayorJackson, Michigan, in the 1970s.
Farnham Johnson 1943 1943 End Later played with the Chicago Rockets of the All-America Football Conference in 1948.
Jack Karwales 1941 1942 End, tackle Later played professional football for theChicago Bears in 1946 and for theChicago Cardinals in 1947.
Reuben Kelto 1939 1941 Tackle MVP 1941 Michigan team; Upper Peninsula Hall of Fame
Dick Kempthorn 1947 1949 Fullback MVP 1949 Michigan team; Won Distinguished Flying Cross as a jet fighter pilot in the Korean War
Archie Kodros 1937 1939 Center Later served as head football coach at Whitman and Hawaii; assistant coach at Iowa for 14 years
Ralph Kohl 1947 1948 Tackle Later coached at Eastern Illinois and was head scout for the Minnesota Vikings
Robert Kolesar 1940 1942 Guard Played for Cleveland Browns, 1946
Paul Kromer 1938 1940 Halfback Formed the "Touchdown Twins" combination with Tom Harmon in 1938
Tom Kuzma 1941 1942 Halfback Followed Tom Harmon as Michigan's main running back; Finished 2nd in the Big Ten in total offense, 1941
Milan Lazetich 1944 1944 Tackle, Guard, Linebacker First-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American, 1944; Played 6 years in the NFL for the Rams; First-team All-NFL, 1948–1949
Don Lund 1942 1944 Fullback Played 10 years in Major League Baseball
Elmer Madar 1941 1946 End, Quarterback Part of the "Seven Oak Posts' line in 1942; played for the Baltimore Colts (1947)
Bob Mann 1944 1947 End All-Big Ten, 1947; Broke the Big Ten record for receiving yards in 1946 and again in 1947; Played 7 years in the NFL with the Lions and Packers; First African-American for both NFL teams; Led the NFL in receiving yards and yards per catch in 1949
Earl Maves 1943 1943 Fullback Later played for the Detroit Lions (1948)
Tony Momsen 1945 1950 Center Played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and washington Redskins
Vincent Mroz 1943 1943 End Served for 26 years in United States Secret Service, shot attempted assassin of Pres. Harry S. Truman in 1950
Fred Negus 1943 1943 Center Later played pro football for the Chicago Rockets and Chicago Bears
David M. Nelson 1939 1941 Halfback Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach
Bob Nussbaumer 1943 1945 Halfback Later played for theWashington Redskins (1947–48), Green Bay Packers (1946, 1951), and the Chicago Cardinals (1949–1950)
Jack Petoskey 1941 1943 End Later coached football at Hillsdale College and Western Michigan University
Joseph Ponsetto 1944 1945 Quarterback All-Big Ten quarterback, 1944
Merv Pregulman 1941 1943 Center, Tackle Played 4 years in NFL; inducted into College Football Hall of Fame
Bill Pritula 1942 1947 Tackle One of Michigan's "Seven Oak Posts" in 1942
Tubby Raymond 1946 1948 Quarterback, Linebacker Coach at Delaware, 1966–2001; inducted to College Football Hall of Fame
Russ Reader 1945 1945 Halfback Later played professional football for the Chicago Bears (1947) and Toronto Argonauts (1949)
Hercules Renda 1937 1939 Halfback Later served as assistant coach under Crisler (1940–1941_ to 1941); also as a high school football and track coach in Pontiac, Michigan; inducted into the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
Art Renner 1943 1946 End Captain of the 1946 team
Dick Rifenburg 1944 1948 End Played for the Detroit Lions, 1950
Don Robinson 1941 1946 Halfback, Quarterback Assistant football coach at Michigan, 1948–1956
Quentin Sickels 1944 1948 Guard Played on Michigan's undefeated 1947 and 1948 national championship teams
Rudy Smeja 1941 1943 End Later played three years in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles
Joe Soboleski 1945 1948 Guard, Tackle Played 4 years for Chicago Hornets, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, New York Yanks, and Dallas Texans
Milo Sukup 1938 1940 Guard Running guard and key blocker for Tom Harmon; later football coach in Grand Rapids 1942–1971
Wally Teninga 1945 1949 Halfback Played on back-to-back undefeated teams (1947–48); later became the vice chairman and chief financial officer of the Kmart Corporation
Dominic Tomasi 1945 1948 Guard Captain and Most Valuable Player of the National Champion 1948 Michigan Wolverines football team
Fred Trosko 1937 1939 Halfback Meyer Morton Award in 1937; head football coach at Eastern Michigan, 1952–64
Harold Watts 1943 1946 Center MVP 1945 Michigan team; All-Big Ten, 1945
Jack Weisenburger 1944 1947 Fullback, halfback, quarterback Starting fullback for the 1947 "Mad Magicians" team
Bob Westfall 1939 1941 Fullback All-American, 1941; Played 4 years in the NFL with the Lions; All-Pro in 1945; Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame in 1987
J. T. White 1946 1947 Center 2nd team All-American 1947; Played for Big Ten championship teams at Michigan (1947) and Ohio State (1942); Later served as an assistant coach and assistant athletic director at Penn State
Paul White 1941 1946 Halfback Played 1 year in the NFL for the Steelers
Bob Wiese 1942 1946 Fullback, Quarterback Played 2 years in the NFL with the Lions
F. Stuart Wilkins 1945 1948 Guard Founding director and chairman of the board (1984–1997) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio; Served as chairman of the board of the American Automobile Association
Jack Wink 1943 1943 Quarterback Also played at Wisconsin (1942, 1946–1947); head football coach at Wayne State (NE), Wisconsin–Stout, St. Cloud State
Al Wistert 1940 1942 Tackle All-American, 1942; MVP 1942 Michigan team; Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame, 1967; His No. 11 is 1 of 5 retired numbers at Michigan; Played 9 years in the NFL for the Steagles and Eagles; 8-time All-Pro
Alvin Wistert 1947 1949 Tackle All-American, 1948 and 1949; Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame, 1967; Oldest college football player ever selected as an All-American at age 33; His No. 11 is 1 of 5 retired numbers at Michigan
Irv Wisniewski 1946 1949 End Later coached football and basketball at Hillsdale College and the University of Delaware
Howard Yerges 1944 1947 Quarterback Played for Ohio State in 1943; Quarterback of the undefeated 1947 team known as the "Mad Magicians"; All-Big Ten 1947


  1. ^ "Style Guide: Colors". Office of Global Communications, University of Michigan. July 7, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Michigan vs Michigan St". College Football Data Warehouse. Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. 
  3. ^ Steve Snider (November 4, 1940). "Brown Jug Clash Takes Spotlight: Michigan Rates Edge Over Foe". Berkeley Daily Gazette. 
  4. ^ "Michigan vs Minnesota". College Football Data Warehouse. Archived from the original on 2014-11-12. 
  5. ^ "Wolverines Beaten: Sub Kicks Goal to Win for Gophers". Berkeley Gazette. November 9, 1940. p. 1. 
  6. ^ Walter W. Ruch (October 19, 1947). "Michigan Topples Minnesota, 13 to 6: Wolverines, Outrushed by the Gophers, Take Advantage of Breaks Before 85,000". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Michigan Sets Back Irish In Scoring Parade, 32-20". The New York Times. November 15, 1942. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  8. ^ Wilfrid Smith (October 10, 1943). "Irish Beat Michigan, 35-12, Before 85,688: Miller Sparks Notre Dame Attack; Clock Confuses Fans". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. A1. 
  9. ^ Allison Danzig (October 9, 1943). "86,000 to See Irish Engage Michigan: Notre Dame 5-6 Choice Today at Ann Arbor, Where Record Throng Is Anticipated". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Tommy Devine (October 10, 1943). "Irish Sting Michigan 35 to 12 Before 86,000". St. Petersburg Times (UP story). 
  11. ^ "Notre Dame Tops Michigan, 35-12 As Angelo Bertelli One-man Show". The Montreal Gazette (AP story). October 11, 1943. 
  12. ^ "Michigan vs Notre Dame (IN)". College Football Data Warehouse. 
  13. ^ "Michigan vs Ohio St". College Football Data Warehouse. 
  14. ^ "MICHIGAN BATTERS OHIO STATE, 40 TO 0; Harmon Makes 22 Points, Tops Grange's Big Ten Mark, in Buckeyes' Worst Defeat Long Drives Mark Game". The New York Times. November 24, 1940. Retrieved 17 January 2012. 
  15. ^ "Ohio State Checks Michigan, 21-7, Before 71,896 for Big Ten Title". The New York Times. November 22, 1942. Retrieved 14 January 2012.