This I Remember: The 1927 Michigan Stadium Dedication

Sept. 22, 2010

• Photo Galleries: 1927 Dedication | 2010 Rededication

Michigan played in the dedication game of Ohio State's new stadium in 1922, and behind the running and kicking of Harry Kipke spoiled the Buckeyes' celebration with a convincing 19-0 victory. The Ohioans came to Ann Arbor in 1927 hoping to return the favor. Michigan was undefeated and unscored on in its first three games, home victories over Ohio Wesleyan and Michigan State and a road win over Wisconsin. All-America end Bennie Oosterbaan led a potent Michigan offense that also featured elusive halfback Louis Gilbert and rugged fullback George Rich. The line was anchored by tackle Ray Baer and guard Otto Pommerening, who earned All-America in 1928.

Unlike the rainy weather that kept the crowd for the opening game against Ohio Wesleyan well below capacity, conditions on dedication day were near perfect. Temporary wooden bleachers (that, in fact, remained in place until 1949) had been erected around the top of the stadium to provide an additional 10,000 seats in anticipation of a capacity crowd.

The game had sold out well in advance, but hundreds showed up hoping to find a ticket. As the Detroit Free Press reporter told it, "To those within the field, you can add doleful hundreds outside who, a few minutes after the game started had reached the hysterical point where they were asking one another if they didn't have just one ticket to sell. ... One latecomer today was asked and paid $16 for a pair of tickets, or $10 over the printed price."

General admission tickets sold for three dollars. The 11,114 student-ticket purchasers had to pay a 50-cent surcharge on the normal $2.50 price for this and the other "big games" of the year. The box seats in the lower rows went for four and five dollars. More than 17,000 tickets were sold at Ohio State.

Nearly 1,000 Boy Scouts, from all over Michigan, plus a few from Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus, were on hand to usher the ticket holders to their seats. A crowd of nearly 85,000 was on hand as the dedication ceremonies got under way at 2 p.m.

As a football spectacle, of course, the day wholly surpassed anything in Michigan history. As the Michigan Alumnus writer noted, "Ann Arbor flung open its gates to a horde of visitors nearly triple the size of its own population - and the new stadium swallowed them by two o-clock in the afternoon." The dedication ceremony itself was simple. Michigan Governor Fred W. Green and his Ohio counterpart Vince Donahey, and Presidents C.C. Little of Michigan and George W. Rightmire of Ohio, led the massed bands of the two universities onto the field from the east tunnel. The bands paraded to the flag pole where the national ensign was raised and the vast throng stood bareheaded during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "The Yellow and Blue." The Detroit Free Press carried a particularly colorful account of the ceremonies. With the formalities completed, the Stadium was turned over to the use for which it was built.

Among those in attendance on dedication day were "Bennie" and "Biff," the two live wolverine mascots Fielding Yost had acquired after a long search. For a number of years they were brought to the stadium for all the big games. The wolverines lived for a time at a small zoo near the Natural History Museum but eventually became too vicious to remain on campus and were moved to the Detroit Zoo.

The unquestioned star of Michigan's 21-0 victory was halfback Louis Gilbert. He scored all of Michigan's touchdowns -- two on long passes from Oosterbaan featuring elaborate deception in the backfield and the third on a short run off a lateral from Oosterbaan -- and kicked the extra points. Despite the score, the Buckeyes gave the Wolverines a good game. The Michigan Daily and Michigan Alumnus accounts of the game praised Ohio's efforts. Only an outstanding defensive effort led by Oosterbaan held the powerful Ohio ground game in check.

Both of the remaining home games for 1927 were sellouts. A crowd of 83,650 saw the Wolverines defeat a tough Navy squad 27-12. In the season finale, a homecoming crowd of 84,243 looked on as Michigan dropped a 13-6 decision, and custody of the Little Brown Jug, to Minnesota.

Michigan finished the stadium's inaugural season with a 6-2 overall record; 3-2 in the conference, 4-1 in the "Big House."

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