Memories from the Press Box: Will Perry

Oct. 1, 2009

At the conclusion of the 2009 football season, the existing press box, which dates to the 1950s, will be torn down. Over the last several decades, countless memorable moments have been witnessed from the nerve center of the stadium.

In honor of this last season with the proud, old press box, an on-going feature called "Memories From the Press Box" will run on and in each U-M football game program. Written by the individuals who witnessed these moments from above, "Memories" will offer a different perspective of the events many of us remember after seeing them in person or watching them on TV. In some cases, it's describing pre-game rituals, in many cases, it's a specific game or play that took their breath away. Sportscasters, former coaches, athletic department staff, University President Mary Sue Coleman, they are but a few of the contributors who will be featured weekly. We hope you enjoy it! Echoes of the Old "Box"

By Will Perry -- Former U-M Sports Information Director

The University of Michigan traditions of nearly two centuries were woven with many threads. Somewhere amid her proud academic heritage and unmatched success in college football stands a Saturday staple with its own unique prominence -- now simply called the "Press Box."

Opened in 1927 with the dedication of Michigan Stadium, the "box" was designed as the communications center, and rightly so. The management of 100,000 plus people flows from this three-tiered structure. Emergency calls, safety and security are now as important a function as services offered by sportswriters, radio and television announcers and photographers. The control point is the nerve center where all communications are filtered and decisions are made. Art Parker has worked the `hot spot' for nearly 50 years for every sports information director from Les Etter, the first full-time SID in the nation, to the present, under Bruce Madej.

The control point is where the Ann Arbor police captain, about an hour before kickoff one Saturday, came to report a bomb threat in the north stands. These were turbulent times in the early 1970s when crises were the norm. We tried to reach Athletic Director Don Canham to no avail. The chief of police was summoned to the control point and we made the decision not to evacuate, but to intensify the search. No bomb was found and the game went on as scheduled.

Bombs come in many shapes and forms and one I had to defuse early in my career as sports information director involved the policy "no women in the press box," except, of course, the women who operated the Western Union teletype machines that sent reports of the Michigan football game to newspapers nationwide.

The Michigan Daily, the student newspaper where I was a brief member as an undergraduate, applied for a press credential for a young woman on the sports staff. They arrived at my office three or four strong, ready for a battle, if this ban was to continue. My question to them was, "Is she a regular staffer and will she be writing about the game?" The sports editor answered "Yes." Thus Michigan's press box had its "first" female sportswriter, Robin Wright. She was a treat to have covering Michigan football and went on to become a national journalist, focusing on mid-east governments (writing for the likes of The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, The Sunday Times of London).

Soon after, a Daily photographer requested a press pass through the UPI news service in Detroit. This took a little more time for me to be convinced she would work shoulder-to shoulder with pro photographers. Sara Krulwich, who reminded me of this meeting just a few years ago and showed me the note I had written her, became the first female photographer to receive a photographer's pass for Michigan football. I sent her a note of apology for my "dogmatic approach" and wished her well. She has gone on to become an outstanding staff photographer for The New York Times. I believe she was the first female sports photographer at the Michigan Daily.

Traditions were breaking down on other fronts. Female cheerleaders on the football field were introduced at Michigan and women earned positions in the Michigan Marching Band. Title IX was challenging intercollegiate athletics nationally in the '70s and I was glad our press box was ahead of the curve. No longer did those in charge of the athletic programs think "gender equity" was a mutual fund.

The history of Michigan's press box is mostly a history of people, creative writers, flashy egos, humorists, down-and-out "homers" and other assorted characters. Ring Lardner set the tone in the 1920s when authentic sports heroes abounded. When asked if he ever talked to the loquacious Fielding H. Yost, the legendary sportswriter replied, "No, my father told me never to interrupt anyone."

Grantland Rice, the press box poet, gave us the "Galloping Ghost" to impart everlasting fame on Red Grange, after he scored five touchdowns against Michigan. Radio broadcaster Bob Ufer, a local hero, pumped his General Patton horn after every Wolverine touchdown. Detroit Free Press writer Joe Falls once described a 35-0 win over Minnesota as "dull and boring." All characters and many more who enlivened college football.

Keith Jackson was a constant visitor to the "Big House." His college football telecasts were unique as he brought to life the "Big Uglies" and the long touchdown runs with "Whoa Nellie!" It was special to watch 100,000 plus fans stand and cheer the retiring ABC TV announcer on his last visit to Michigan Stadium as Bo Schembechler introduced Keith on the photo deck.

A new press box is in the making for Michigan Stadium, but the echoes of the old box will remain undisturbed.

Past Memories from the Press Box: Dick Gaskill (9/24/09) | Jim Meyer (9/17/09) | Frank Beckmann (9/10/2009) | John Borton (9/3/2009)

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