Brandon's Blog: Honoring U-M's Greats for Years to Come
Gerald Ford

June 28, 2012

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

I was growing up in South Lyon, Mich., in the 1960s. I quickly learned about Michigan football. The winged helmet first caught my attention. It became the starting point for my interest in the Wolverines. I didn't draw a distinction between good teams and bad teams; I loved the team that wore the winged helmets!

As I got into my high school years, I followed Michigan football ever more closely. I started to recognize the names of Yearby, Anthony, Timberlake, Johnson and many more. It was only later, when I became a member of the team, that the names of Oosterbaan, Harmon and Kramer came to light for me.

Those names are among the many that have established the winningest program in the history of college football.

Today's young fan will grow up following Robinson, Roundtree, Lewan and others on Team 133. As they grow to learn and love the game and the Michigan team, hopefully the names of Howard, Woodson and Carter will come to light as past greats who helped keep this winning tradition alive.

Consider this: In 40 years, what names will become the new Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson and Anthony Carter? And if those young fans never know about some of the great players like Bennie Oosterbaan, Tom Harmon and Ron Kramer, will they understand the importance of the greats we have come to know during our generation?

We need to keep some of those names in the forefront, recognizing their contribution to our tradition.

For those who consider themselves loyal U-M football aficionados, it comes as a surprise when we learn how many of them don't know the story of Ron Kramer or they don't know the names of the Wistert Brothers (by the way, their names are Albert "Ox", Francis "Whitey" and Alvin "Moose"). As the years continue to pass, we run the risk that the names of some of our all-time greats are replaced by names from our fans' more recent memory.

To understand this better, in Jon Falk's book "If These Walls Could Talk," Jon tells the story of introducing Anthony Carter to Ron Kramer in 1979.

"Did you used to be a player?" Carter asked Kramer. Falk jumped in front of Kramer and told Carter to search for a number 87 on the Michigan football field. Carter said, "I don't see anyone wearing 87." That is when Carter first heard about Kramer's accomplishments and realized why Kramer's number was retired. Anthony Carter didn't even know about Ron Kramer!!!!

When numbers were first retired, football squads were smaller, and the decision to retire the numbers at Michigan was made by Henry Hatch, the Michigan equipment manager. Only the 87 of Ron Kramer and the 48 of Gerald Ford were retired by someone other than Hatch. (Bennie Oosterbaan retired Kramer's number at the Michigan Football Bust immediately after Ron's senior season, and director of athletics Joe Roberson was at the helm when the decision was made to announce Ford's number would be retired in 1994.) With a lack of criteria for deciding the honor, and a concern for having numbers available for the team to use, not one Michigan football player who played after 1956 has had his number retired.

It is also important to note the problems with duplicate numbers. Most every school, even U-M, has been penalized for having duplicate numbers on the field at the same time. Unless we want to expand jersey numbers to three digits, this is an ongoing issue. We have 115 student-athletes on our football team!

The move to bring back our retired numbers was not to create marketing opportunities. This was a innovative idea that was well thought out to ensure that future generations will recognize and honor players who had a dramatic impact on the Michigan legacy.

When I was named the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics at Michigan two and one-half years ago, I was besieged with requests to retire numbers in many of our sports, particularly football. I announced early on it was one of my priorities to set a consistent standard for honoring numbers, and I created a special committee to work on a solution.

As we developed our "football legends plan" I discussed it with the Oosterbaan, Kramer and Ford families, and more recently with the Wistert family, and they were all were equally receptive. We have yet to have any discussions with the Harmon family.

This isn't just about honoring football legends; we need a consistent method of who and how we honor legends from all U-M sports.

The tradition of Michigan Athletics is important and will continue to be important in the future. Waiting 20 years to honor the number 21 of Desmond Howard was not acceptable. Handcuffing future generations as they need to honor future Michigan student-athletes is not acceptable.

Fritz Crisler once said, "Tradition is something you can't bottle. You can't buy it at the corner store, but it is there to sustain you when you need it most. I've called upon it time and time again and so have other countless athletes and coaches. There is nothing like it. I hope it never dies."

Keeping the names of our greats in the forefront is one way we can keep the Michigan tradition alive for future generations. This fall, I hope you will join me in celebrating some Michigan Football Legends who we will bring back into the Big House to be remembered in a permanent and meaningful way!

Go Blue!

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