March 12, 2012
DETROIT, Mich. -- The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame announced its 56th Induction Class at the Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Monday evening (March 12) and three University of Michigan athletic greats plus one U-M graduate were among the honorees.
Bob Chappuis, Chuck Bernard and Bill Watson were all selected by the MSHOF Task Force comprised of a statewide, blue-ribbon group of sports journalists, college and professional sports officials, and former athletes and coaches, all with an average of more than 30 years involvement in sports in Michigan. The committee was chaired by longtime media members Jerry Green of The Detroit News and Bob Becker of The Grand Rapids Press.
Also selected by the committee was another U-M graduate and football coaching legend George Allen. He earned his master's degree at Michigan in 1947.
Chappuis' college career was interrupted by World War II. He was an aerial gunner and radio operator with a B-25 bomber crew in Europe. His aircraft was shot down on Feb. 13, 1945, forcing Chappuis and two other crew members to parachute into the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. All three were rescued by an Italian family, hiding all three individuals for the final three months of the war.
When he returned in 1946, the talented halfback showed off both his athletic skills on the ground and through the air. He became the first conference player in history to rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards (1,039 yards total).
In 1947, he led the Wolverines to the Big Nine Conference title, Rose Bowl championship and the national championship. Chappuis was also a unanimous All-American selection and placed a close second to Johnny Lujack in Heisman Trophy balloting.
In his last two games as Wolverine football player, he totaled 307 yards passing and running against Ohio State and then added to his honors by setting a Rose Bowl record of 279 yards in total offense in the 49-0 win over USC.
The Toledo DeVilbiss High School graduate also lettered at Michigan as a baseball catcher and an outfielder.
He played professional football with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and with the Chicago Hornets in 1949.
Chappuis eventually retired from the Central Soya Co. in Fort Wayne in 1983 as the vice president in charge of labor relations. He later formed his own management consulting business in Ft. Wayne.
Bob and his wife Ann now reside in Ann Arbor.
Bernard was one of the great two-ways players in college football. He was an All-American at center on Michigan's back-to-back 1932 and 1933 national championship teams. Those two teams combined for a 15-0-1 overall record and outscored its opponents 154-31.
Even the great sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote about Bernard in glowing terms:
"His height, weight and physical power combined with a keen football intelligence, made him an ideal man backing up the line. He was quick at diagnosing plays and went to the right spot. He was one of football's best defenders against the forward pass and adept at intercepting passes."
In 1933, Whitey Wistert teamed with Bernard to make both the offensive and defensive lines the best in the nation.
Upon graduation, Bernard played 10 games for the Detroit Lions in 1934. He also has been known in U-M lore as the Wolverine center that President Gerald Ford played back-up to in 1932 and 1993.
His MSHOF credentials go beyond his playing days at the University of Michigan. He was named as the Outstanding Michigan High School Athlete in 1928 and 1929 while participating in sports at Benton Harbor High School.
After college, Bernard played one year of football for the NFL's Detroit Lions and he was named All-Pro. He returned to the athletic scene in the late 1940s, coaching football at Michigan Tech and Auburn before going into the business world. Bernard passed away in March 1962 at the age of 50. At the time, he was the sales manager for O'Brien Textiles in Detroit.
Watson led the University of Michigan to three consecutive (six total) Big Ten track and field indoor and outdoor championships and won three consecutive individual championships in the long jump, discus and shot put -- 12 individual Big Ten Conference championships in all. More important, "the quiet, unassuming, intelligent, high-ranking student" was also the first African-American to be selected as the captain of any University of Michigan varsity athletic team in 1939.
'Big' Bill Watson was also a great American track and field athlete. Even though media reports compared him to Jesse Owens, he could not participate in the Olympics as World War II forced cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 games. Even with that roadblock, Watson was the Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.) decathlon champion in 1940 and 1943 -- the first African-American to win the title.
Watson was using track and field to help develop his fitness for a potential boxing career, but Saginaw High School track coach Chester R. Sackhouse saw Watson in a physical education class and quickly converted him to a football, basketball and track/field star.
In high school and college, Watson was called 'the one-man track team' as he dominated each of his field events while excelling in the sprints and high hurdles.
He worked as a Detroit Police Department officer for 25 years from the early 1940s until his retirement in 1966. He passed away in 1973.
Allen was a football coach at nine different college and professional teams from 1948 to 1990 and the head coach of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
Allen was born in Detroit in 1918 and passed away in 1990.
Contact: Bruce Madej (734) 647-1756