Sept. 7, 2011
By Bruce Madej
When the 1971 football team returns to Ann Arbor for its 40th year reunion on Saturday, it will be the eighth reunion this team has had since leaving Ann Arbor. While most teams return every 10 years, the 1971 and 1969 teams are two squads that come back for reunions every five years. Chairing the committee that is organizing this Saturday's reunion is team co-captain Frank Gusich (1969-71).
"For me, it works out great since I played on both the '69 and '71 teams," said Gusich. "It means I have an opportunity to get back to Ann Arbor every second or third year to see my teammates. The frequency of these get-togethers is an important factor in why both of these teams remain so close after all these years."
For Gusich, coming back to the Big House has to be a planned event. The Gusichs now live in New Orleans. Frank is the executive vice president of M/G Transport, an inland river transportation company, which was once owned by the Midland Company, for whom he worked ever since he graduated from U-M in 1972.
The Cleveland St. Ignatius High School football star didn't grow up bleeding Maize and Blue, but after his career at U-M was completed, the Michigan experience has turned out to be a very significant building block in his life.
Not only did he meet his wife, Linda, in Angell Hall during their sophomore year, but the CEO of the Midland Company was Joe Hayden, a close friend of Bo Schembechler.
It could have been different, too. Out of high school, Gusich was being recruited by a number of schools.
"When I looked at the recruiting process, I broke it down into two segments -- smaller schools and larger schools," said Gusich. "The smaller schools were Villanova and William & Mary, along with Boston College and Virginia, which at that time I considered to be mid-sized schools.
"Interestingly, when I was recruited by William & Mary, their head coach was Marv Levy, who eventually went on to coach the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls."
The larger schools recruiting Gusich were Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. "When I was recruited by Ohio State, the coach who recruited Cleveland was offensive backfield coach Larry Catuzzi," said Gusich. "A few days before my visit to Columbus he left to take the head coaching job at Williams College, and Woody Hayes quickly hired his replacement, who was none other than Lou Holtz. I ended up being Lou's first recruiting assignment in his new job at Ohio State.
"I will never forget when he came to my house to talk with me and my mother. He sat down with a map and drew two big red circles around Cleveland and Columbus, then drew a line between the two cities and said, 'Look how close you are to Columbus; you have to come here.'"
When Gusich made his recruiting trip to Nebraska, the excitement level moved up one notch. "Travel was quite a bit different back then. Airplane travel wasn't like it is today," said Gusich. "In fact, I had never before in my life been on an airplane until the recruiting process began."
Flying was new and fun, but on his trip home from Nebraska, Gusich found it to be even a little more exciting. Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney boarded the outbound flight (a four-prop plane) from Lincoln to Chicago with Gusich. Devaney was headed to Milwaukee to see a quarterback recruit named Jerry Tagge, who eventually led the Cornhuskers to the national championship in 1970 and 1971.
"Coach Devaney and I are sitting together and eating breakfast during the flight on Sunday morning when the pilot of the plane gets on the intercom and says, 'If you look out of your window on the left side of the plane, you'll notice one of the props has died. He then joked, one down, three to go! After about five minutes of silence on the aircraft, the pilot came back on the intercom and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want you to worry about us losing another one of our propellers. After all, we can still afford to lose a second prop and still make it safely to Chicago without any problem,'" said Gusich.
"He then hesitated for about 10 seconds and said, 'Just as long as we don't lose that second prop on the left side of the plane!' I think Coach Devaney almost spit out his coffee.
"The plane ended up making an emergency landing at an airport near a cornfield outside of Moline where we switched planes before heading for the scheduled destination of Chicago."
But it was Ann Arbor and coach Bump Elliott that convinced Gusich to come to Michigan. The Wolverine position coach who recruited Gusich in Cleveland was Don James, who eventually became the head coach at Washington.
"When Bump Elliott and Don James visited our home in Cleveland, all I can say is that I was very impressed," said Gusich. "When you combine these two first-class gentlemen with the great academic reputation of the University of Michigan, an opportunity to play big time college football and the proximity of Cleveland to Ann Arbor, my decision to attend Michigan was not very difficult."
At Christmas break of Gusich's freshman year, however, Elliott retired from coaching and became assistant athletic director, and Don Canham hired Bo Schembechler, who had been the head coach of Miami (Ohio). In time, Gusich developed a great admiration for and loyalty to Bo. Finally, after being around Bo for three and a half years and being voted co-captain of the 1971 team in his senior year, Gusich was about to play his final game at Michigan Stadium against Ohio State. At bed-check at the Campus Inn the night before the game, he got up enough gumption to ask Bo why Miami (when Bo was the head coach) didn't recruit him and yet Michigan and Ohio State did. Bo, always looking for a mental edge and wanting to motivate his players, chuckled and said, "It was probably because Michigan needed to fill a recruiting quota by taking a player from Cleveland, and you just happened to be there." Said Gusich, "All he was trying to do was motivate me to play harder the next day."
Gusich's mild-mannered off-the-field demeanor and his hard-hitting play on the field earned him the right to be called "Superman" in a Nov. 16, 1970, Sports Illustrated article. But it was his work ethic, love for the game and love for Michigan that earned him the honor of being named co-captain, along with Guy Murdock, of the 1971 Wolverines, a team that was undefeated for 11 games, 59 minutes and 48 seconds, until Stanford kicked a field goal with 12 seconds left on the clock and beat Michigan 13-12 in the Rose Bowl to bring the Wolverines' overall record to 11-1. It was truly a heartbreaking way to close out his playing days for the Maize and Blue.
He has overcome open heart surgery and works out six to seven times a week. Frank and Linda have been married for 39 years, and their two boys, Mike, who played safety for Illinois, and Brad, who played cornerback for Penn's lightweight team, followed in their dad's footsteps doing well in life and business. Mike is in the real estate investment business with Everest Holdings in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Brad lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif., and is an industrial engineer with Raytheon in nearby El Segundo.
"Linda and I have traveled a lot around the country, and when people ask where we live and we tell them New Orleans, they always say, 'Ohhh, New Orleans,'" said Gusich. "There seems to be such a genuine fascination for this city. I call it a diverse, soulful, funky town. It is a fun place to live and we really enjoy it."
Fortunately, his travels today, like his travels during his recruiting process, will bring him back to Ann Arbor. Gusich is still mild-mannered. His hard-hitting toughness has been replaced by his love for life, his love for his family and his love for Michigan.