Brandon's Blog: Remembering Bill Yearby

Dec. 29, 2010

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

It almost went unnoticed. It seems like the death of Bill Yearby was almost overlooked. There was no obituary, there were no notices, and there was not even a word of his untimely passing on Dec. 20 until just recently.

There were some great players on that 1964 team but it was Bill Yearby and John Rowser that were integral to the success of the Wolverines according to Michigan history.

It has been noted that U-M head football coach Bump Elliott said that if he could get John Rouser and Bill Yearby from Detroit Eastern High School, he would win a Big Ten championship. And that he did. The team won the 1964 Big Ten title and went on to win the Rose Bowl against Oregon State on Jan. 1, 1965.

Yearby had been suffering for some time before his death. Heart problems, strokes and dementia had been setting the big man back year after year.

Yearby was a one-of-a-kind player. He played tight end at Eastern High, and when he arrived at Michigan he was moved to the line -- both offensive and defensive. He was one of the last "single platoon" players to wear the Maize and Blue.

He also played freshman basketball at U-M with the likes of Oliver Darden and Cazzie Russell. After football, he was a teacher at East Catholic High School and went on to work as a health specialist for Wayne County. When he wasn't working, he used his influence to help African-American youth within the city of Detroit.

He was a modest man and he was a leader. He didn't pound his chest and tell everyone he was an All-American at Michigan. He didn't make mention that he was a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets, one year after Joe Namath was selected. A serious knee injury put an early end to his football career.

According to his college roommate, U-M teammate and his close friend Bill Hardy, Yearby didn't like the histrionics we see today after touchdowns or big plays either. He felt when you were successful on the field, it was simply what was expected of you. Save the theatrics!

He was a calming influence. He was leader on and off the field. And he was loved by his teammates.

I remember Yearby and the '64 team quite well and I have a special place in my heart for this group. Today's memorial service for this great athlete came too soon for all of us. May he rest in peace.

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