Archive for December, 2013
The last part of the Countdown to the 2014 NHL Winter Classic has to do with the University of Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors.” You know the tune. You know the lyrics. But if you don’t know both, well, you just might be living under a rock.
The story of how “The Victors” became the fight song of the University of Michigan began in 1898. Michigan began its season with four straight shutouts of Michigan State Normal School (now known as Eastern Michigan University), Kenyon College, Michigan Agricultural College (now known as Michigan State University), and Western Reserve University. Then the Wolverines beat Case Scientific School and Notre Dame. Michigan was undefeated headed into inter-conference play. They beat Northwestern 6-5, and then beat Illinois in a game held at the Detroit Athletic Club. After beating Beloit College, the Western Conference (now Big Ten Conference) championship would be decided in a game in Chicago against Amos Alonzo Stagg’s Chicago Maroons. The game was held on Thanksgiving in brutal conditions, and in their toughest game of the year, Michigan beat Chicago, 12-11, to cap off an undefeated season and win the school’s first conference championship. Louis Elbel, a student enrolled in the University of Michigan School of Music, started to write a song after Michigan’s victory over Chicago. Here’s the story in Elbel’s own words:
We were crazed with joy. We paraded in the dark. We yelled and followed our UM Band, singing to the tune of “Hot Time in the Old Town.” It struck me quite suddenly that such an epic should be dignified by something more elevating, for this was not ordinary victory. My spirits were so uplifted that I was clear off the earth, and that is when “The Victors” was inspired. I put in a lot of “hails” and I knew the fellows would get them in with the proper emphasis. Through them, the title suggested itself, and I dedicated it to the Michigan team of 1898.
The King of the March, composer John Philip Sousa once said “The Victors” was “the greatest college fight song ever written.” And why not? For over 100 years, the Michigan faithful have clapped and raised their fists in the air whenever “The Victors” is played. The song is as iconic as the stadium the team plays in. I want to wrap this countdown up by showing you this clip from ESPN’s College GameDay from 2005. Nick Lachey, renowned singer and current host of NBC’s The Sing-Off, contributed to this segment giving an inside look into the history of “The Victors”. The catch to this segment was…GameDay was emanating from Ohio Stadium that day as the Buckeyes took on Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns.
And that wraps up the Countdown to the 2014 NHL Winter Classic.
Located on the southwest end of Michigan Stadium (Gate 4) is the American Eagle memorial. The idea of the memorial came when Fielding Yost declined a petition to rename Michigan Stadium in his honor. Sculpted by Birmingham, Michigan artist Marshall Fredericks, the Art Deco sculpture of a bald eagle with a twelve-foot wingspan depositing a wreath to the Michigan dead was built a war memorial to honor the university’s men and women who gave their lives for the country. The cost of the stone base was estimated to be $6,000, while the eagle sculpture was priced at $10,000. The base is engraved with the words:
In memory of the men and women of the University of Michigan who gave their lives for their country— MCMXLVIII
Though the base sculpture was dated 1948, the memorial was not officially dedicated until 1950. Five years later, Fredericks would go on to sculpt one of the most iconic sculptures in the Motor City: The Spirit of Detroit.
Ever wonder how the University of Michigan got its nickname, the Wolverines? Well, as early as 1861, UM students and alumni began referring to themselves as “Wolverines.” But how the ferocious animal came be associated with the state and adopted as the university nickname remains a bit of a mystery, but there are several theories.
- The first theory for the wolverine nickname would be that the animal was abundant in Michigan at some time. However, all the evidence points otherwise, as there has never been a verified trapping of a wolverine inside the state’s borders, nor have the skeletal remains of a wolverine been found within the state’s 96,705 square miles, until February 2004, when there was a wild wolverine found in Ubly, a small village located about 90 miles north of Detroit. It was the first sighting of a wild wolverine in 200 years.
- Legendary football coach Fielding Yost had a theory for the nickname, which he wrote about in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 1944. He felt that the reason for the nickname concerned the trading of wolverine pelts which occurred at Sault Ste. Marie for many years. The trading station served as an exchange between the Indians, other trappers and fur traders, who would eventually ship the products off to the Eastern United States. Because many of the furs were actual wolverine pelts, the traders may have referred to them as “Michigan wolverines.”
- Albert H. Marckwardt presented another theory for the “wolverine” name eight years after Yost’s theory was published in the Michigan Quarterly Review in. His reasoning was based on the fact that Michigan was first settled by the French in the late 1700s. The appetites of the French were judged to be gluttonous or “wolverine-like.”
- The last theory derives from the border dispute between Michigan and Ohio in 1803 aka the Toledo War. While the two sides argued over the proper setting of the state line, Michiganders were called wolverines. It is unclear, however, whether the Michigan natives pinned this name upon themselves to show their tenacity and strength, or whether Ohioans chose the name in reference to the gluttonous, aggressive, habits of the wolverine. From then on, Michigan was labeled the “Wolverine state” and when the University of Michigan was founded, it simply adopted the nickname of the state it represented.
It was most likely the Toledo War gave birth to the greatest rivalry in the history college football, Michigan vs. Ohio State.
Well, here it is: the final Coach’s Corner segment for 2013.
The most iconic part of a Michigan football uniform is the “winged” football helmet. Fritz Crisler brought the design with him from his previous tenure as head coach at Princeton University. There’s a reason why Crisler used his rationale for the design of the winged helmet: The distinctive helmet would also have practical advantages on the field. Crisler figured the helmet would help his halfbacks find receivers downfield. “There was a tendency to use different colored helmets just for receivers in those days, but I always thought that would be as helpful for the defense as for the offense.” The new helmet made its successful debut in the 1938 season opener against Michigan State. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 14-0 behind two touchdown runs by sophomore Paul Kromer to gain their first win over Michigan State in four years. Since then, this helmet design has been synonymous with Michigan athletics. The only other teams to use the “winged helmet” in Division I are Princeton and Delaware. Even the design of the helmet has branched out to other sports. If the sport has a helmet, it has the same design as the football helmet, be it hockey, baseball, softball, or lacrosse. During Red Berenson’s fourth year as head coach of the Michigan men’s hockey team, he decided to switch the players’ solid white hockey helmets to the winged helmet design before their best-of-three playoff series against Bowling Green. Like Crisler, the switch of headgear stopped their opponent dead in their track. Eventually, Bowling Green won the series, 2-1.
After World War II, plans were drawn up to increase the size of Michigan Stadium in 1949. While the most ambitious of the plans called for the addition of a top deck entirely around the stadium, increasing capacity from 85,000 to 125,300, a more modest plan was adopted to install permanent steel stands around the stadium concourse, where Yost’s temporary bleachers stood. The thirteen rows of additional seats increased stadium seating to 97,239. In its first game in the enlarged stadium, Michigan drew a then-record capacity crowd to the contest against Michigan State. In the first season of official NCAA attendance records, the final tally showed Michigan leading the nation in average home attendance with 93,894. Seven years would pass before the capacity of Michigan Stadium was raised again with the building of the Michigan Sports Communications Center (press box). Built at a cost of $700,000, the new structure provided a host of resources, including a press area, a photo deck, darkrooms and various other amenities. Dedicated on September 22, 1956, the press box and the additional seating constructed along with it raised the capacity of Michigan Stadium to 101,001. The 3,762 new seats came from a variety of sources:
- 542 seats in the new Communications Center
- 1,274 seats beneath the press box
- 156 seats by rearrangement of box seats, chairs were replaced with benches and an extra row was obtained
- 1,790 seats by realignment of seats in the corners of the bowl. (Fritz Crisler’s staff had discovered that many corner seats exceeded the standard 18 inches in width. So the widths were made uniform and a couple of seats were gained in each row.)
According to a newspaper article quoting a Michigan Athletic Department staff member, “Fritz wanted to end up with a figure of 100,001, but he came up with a thousand seats too many. But he still got that 001 at the end.” This began a tradition of ending all official Michigan Stadium capacity numbers with the digit 1. The final seat was later said to be reserved in honor of Crisler. On October 6, 1956 Michigan Stadium hosted over 100,000 people for the first time. The capacity crowd saw the Michigan State Spartans defeat the Wolverines 9-0.
During this period, major changes and renovations to the stadium continued. In 1965, the wooden benches were covered in blue fiberglass to prevent weathering and discoloration of the seats. It was then that the yellow “Block M” was created on the east bleachers of the stadium; a design done by former UM player Dan Dworsky. In August 1968, at a cost of $75,000, the original scoreboards at the north and south end of the stadium were replaced by new scoreboards, which added the number of time outs left for each team as well as the spot the ball was on these scoreboards, measuring 41 feet by 16 feet, would remain in use through the 1997 season.
Based on evidence that artificial turf could withstand any type of weather and required less maintenance than grass, University Regents approved installation of artificial turf at The Big House. In July 1969, 88,285 feet of Tartan Turf was installed at a cost of $250,000. In its first game on the new surface, Michigan defeated Vanderbilt, 42-14. However, the Wolverines would drop their next home contest, 40-17, to the Missouri Tigers on October 4, 1969. After this defeat, Michigan would not lose at home again until November. 22, 1975 – a span of 41 games. However, the artificial turf would be replaced in 1991 with a much more natural prescription athletic turf (PAT) surface. The Wolverines’ home record on artificial turf from 1969-1990 was an impressive 120-17-3.
In the summer of 1973, renovation plans called for the removal of many of the rails in the stadium and replacement of the box seats in the first three rows with bleacher seats. This change allowed for 600 more seats in the stadium, and capacity was increased 101,701. Starting with Michigan’s shutout of the Purdue Boilermakers on November 8, 1975, the Wolverines have played before a crowd of more than 100,000 fans – a streak of 251 consecutive games…and counting.
In May of 1991, 87,000 square feet of PAT was installed as part of a comprehensive renovation of Michigan Stadium. While the playing surface was torn up, the field was lowered by three and a half feet to facilitate sight-lines in the lower rows. This allowed for the addition of two rows to the lower seating area of the stadium, raising capacity to 102,501. The bill for these improvements came to $2.25 Million.
In November 1997, the Board of Regents approved the Athletic Department plan to increase seating by over 5,000. In conjunction with the expansion, major improvements to the stadium’s infrastructure were planned. Those changes included installation of new restroom facilities, doubling seating for the disabled, and increasing the width of the exterior concourse walkway from forty to sixty feet to improve crowd movement.
The architectural firm of Venturi, Scott-Brown and Associates, which was also working on campus-wide design and planning issues, was selected to design the stadium expansion. As part of the renovation, the Athletic Department completed The Plaza of Champions and the brick and iron fence around the stadium. Six rows of seats were added around the top of the stadium, except for the east side and the area occupied by the press box. The new seating area was surrounded by a yellow parapet bearing familiar Michigan icons, including the winged helmet, university seal, and words from Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors.” The parapet consisted of 1,732 linear feet of trim made of 18-gauge painted steel panels.
The total cost of the new seating and upgrading of other facilities came to $6 million. The net cost of the parapet was $500,000. All of the funding came from the Athletic Department.
Just as Michigan was a pioneer when electric scoreboards were first installed in 1930, the renovated stadium included new, state-of-the-art scoreboards and advanced sound and video systems. The scoreboards at the north and south ends of the stadium measure 40′ by 78′ each and weigh about 50,000 pounds a piece. They are each set on four columns and footings, weighing together about another 100,000 pounds. The scoreboards contain color video screens of approximately 24 by 32 feet. The scoreboards would operate until the 2010 season.
On September 12, 1998, the Wolverines inaugurated the Big House before 111,012 fans in a game against Syracuse University.
However, in the early 2000s, the PAT surface became problematic, as the field’s below-surface location near the water table made it difficult for grass to permanently take root. In 2003, the PAT surface was replaced by FieldTurf.
On June 21, 2007, the Board of Regents approved a $226 million renovation and expansion project for Michigan Stadium. Improvements included:
- Wider seats and aisles with handrails to make it easier for fans to move in the aisles.
- New elevated concourses with additional restrooms and concessions along both sidelines.
- More seating for individuals with mobility problems along the sidelines.
- Two new buildings on the north end of the stadium that will house additional restrooms, concessions and public safety services.
- A new building on the south end of the stadium that will offer additional concessions and restrooms.
- A new press box.
- Refurbished restroom facilities.
- 650+ new chairback seats on the west side.
- 47 suites in the west side structure (36 suites located on the first level and 11 suites on the second level).
- 1,900+ outdoor club seats and stadium lounge on the first level of the east side structure. (now known as the Jack Roth Stadium Club)
- 250+ indoor club seats and 850+ covered outdoor club seats and stadium lounge on the second level of the east side structure.
- 36 suites on the third level of the east side structure.
- Four towers, one at the end of each sideline structure, which will have elevators and wide stairways to bring patrons to the new concourses and premium seating areas.
- A total capacity of more than 108,000.
Due to renovations in 2008, Michigan’s commencement ceremony, which is usually held inside The Big House, was moved to The Diag for that year. The recent renovations/expansions were completed prior to the start of the 2010 season, bringing the capacity up to 109,901. 113,901 attended the rededicated Michigan Stadium and saw the Wolverines beat the Connecticut Huskies, 30-10. A few days after the rededication, the Board of Regents approved a plan to add a permanent lighting system to the stadium at a cost of $1.8 million. The lights were first used at the only other hockey game held Michigan Stadium: the Big Chill at The Big House. The first night game at The Big House saw a then-record 114,804 people witness a classic between the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, in which a last-minute touchdown saw the Wolverines beat the Irish, 35-31. That game also saw the unveiling of the new end zone scoreboards. Designed by TS Solutions, the new high-definition video screens measures 47 feet by 85 feet and is 40% larger than the previous scoreboard. The most recent meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame set an NCAA record crowd of at The Big House with the Wolverines dispatching the Irish under the lights, 41-30.
In its 87 years of operation, Michigan Stadium has seen a lot of players grace its ground. From Gerald Ford, Tom Harmon, and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, to Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson and Tom Brady, they all have made the run through the tunnel, touched the “M Go Blue” banner as the marching band “The Victors”, and made their mark on the program. And on the first day of 2014, when the world will bear witness to the biggest game, not just in the NHL, but the biggest game in the history of hockey.
Two years ago, I had a series of entries called “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic”, showcasing some tidbits hockey fans might not know about the host venue or the traditions of the host team. Here’s part one of this year’s countdown, giving you an introduction to The Big House.
The 1920s began a golden age of college stadium building. Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis, Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh, Husky Stadium in Seattle, Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, and Ryan Field in Evanston were some prime examples of university-built sports stadiums that had a capacity of at least 50,000-plus built in the first half of the decade. With the spectacular rise in football’s popularity after World War I, Michigan football coach and athletic director Fielding Yost was determined that Michigan should have a stadium that was second to none. After all, their home field at the time, Ferry Field (current home of Michigan Track & Field), would seat at least 42,000, with every game selling out and demand for tickets far exceeding what was available.
In the spring of 1924, Yost prepared an ambitious plan for the development of Michigan’s intercollegiate and intramural athletic and physical education programs. Couched in the middle of his list of eight “immediate and pressing needs” was “increased seating capacity of football stands.” Instead of remodeling and completing the concrete stands at Ferry Field, Yost had in mind was the construction of a new stadium with a capacity of at least 80,000. The new stadium was the key element in a plan of “Athletics for All.” The increased ticket revenue would pay for the stadium and finance the rest of his proposal; including a new gymnasium (Yost Ice Arena), 50 tennis courts, an improved intramural athletic field, improvements in women’s athletic facilities, and the building of the UM golf course.
The stadium construction proposal was presented to the University Senate in May 1925. To Yost’s dismay, the Senate tabled the proposal and instead recommended appointment of a committee to make a thorough study of all aspects of the athletic situation. In January 1926, the “Report on University Athletics” aka the Day Report was released. The Day Report is probably the most significant single document in the development of Michigan’s modern athletic program. The document incorporated much of Yost’s 1924 proposal but went much further in developing plans for intra-mural athletics and physical education and in reforming the structure of athletic administration. The report called for construction of a stadium designed with “the utmost simplicity. No attempt should be made to give it the form of a monument or memorial.” Yost agreed with the Day Report’s call for a simple design, but there was some dispute over how big it should be. The report projected a stadium seating of 70-75,000, while Yost argued for a much larger facility, foreseeing a day when crowds of 125,000 to 150,000 would need to be accommodated. After much argument over the university’s obligation “to provide accommodation for all who wish to attend the games and are willing to pay a reasonable price of admission,” the plan was approved by University Regents, which included Yost’s proposal that the stadium’s footings be constructed to permit future expansion to over 100,000 seating capacity.
At its July 1926 meeting the Board in Control of Athletics appointed a Stadium Building Committee consisted of Professor Ralph Aigler (Law and chairman of the Board in Control), Professor Clarence T. Johnson (Geology) and Yost. The committee was empowered “to appoint the General Engineer for the building of the stadium and to let contracts for the excavation, placing of abutments, drainage, etc., so that work may proceed immediately.” The Osborn Engineering Company of Cleveland, Ohio was selected to design the stadium with, Bernard Green (UM Eng. 1891) as chief architect. Osborn Engineering had designed some of the most iconic stadiums in sports history, such as the original Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Braves Park in Boston, Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and the original Comiskey Park in Chicago. Osborn had also designed Michie Stadium in West Point, Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis, the original Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia, Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, and McLean Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky. Yost and Green had been exploring stadium designs, early on agreeing that a bowl type stadium, devoted exclusively to football would provide the largest capacity at the least cost.
The site of where Michigan Stadium would be built across the railroad track from Ferry Field. The site formed a gentle slope from the valley of the old Allen’s Creek (long since diverted underground) rising to the level of South Main Street. The area had a very high water table and much of the low-lying ground was swampy, necessitating extensive drainage works. The plan approved by the Regents called for Michigan Stadium took advantage of the natural characteristics of the site. Three sides of the stadium would be completely below grade, with the playing surface fifty feet below grade. On the west, north and south sides, the entrance to the stadium at the top row of seats would be at street level. Though modeled in part on the Yale Bowl, Michigan Stadium would not be a true oval. Instead, the seating along the sidelines would be parallel to the playing field, bringing the fans as close as possible to the action. The stadium would consist of 44 sections with 72 rows seating 72,000. A cement concourse would ring the stadium. The first concrete was poured in sections 22 and 23 on May 9, 1927. The last of over 11,000 yards of concrete were poured September 1 on the concourse surrounding the stadium. Some 440 tons of reinforcing steel and 31,000 square feet of wire mesh were used to build the concrete bowl. In early June the first of more. than 22 miles worth of redwood plank seats was installed. Sodding of the field began on June 3. A four-leaf clover is supposed to have been planted in the 360 x 160 foot playing surface.
With completion of the press box and locker rooms and the painting and numbering of the seats, Michigan Stadium was ready for opening on October 1, 1927. A less than capacity crowd of 17,483 braved a heavy rainstorm to witness the Wolverines 33-0 victory over Ohio Wesleyan. If opening day was disappointing, it didn’t shake Yost’s faith. In anticipation of the game against Ohio State that year, Yost had secured approval for construction of wooden bleachers on the stadium concourse seating 10,000 more fans. Construction began after the first game and was completed for the dedication game October 22. A crowd of 84,401 packed the stadium for the dedication game against Ohio State, a 21-0 Michigan victory. Navy drew 83,650 and the first homecoming game in the new stadium, a game against Minnesota, attracted 84,243.
Due in large part to Yost’s attention to every detail of construction, the stadium was finished on time and within budget. Overall, Aigler calculated the total cost of building The Big House was estimated at over $1.1 Million.