Oct. 29, 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 MGoBlue.com 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"
A New Press Box, Just for Me
By Jerry Green / Associated Press Writer
Somehow, I floated -- floated up the hill and around Michigan Stadium, lugging this old-fashioned typewriter. The machine, vintage 1941, weighed 15 pounds or more. But nonetheless, I floated with this precious cargo and wrestled it through the press gate.
This was September of 1956, Michigan's opener vs. UCLA.
Attached to my jacket was a small yellow and blue tag, my credential, with the message: PRESSBOX. And I was about to realize the ambition of my young life.
Never blessed with sufficient talent to be a decent athlete -- I had tried, futilely -- I chose the next-best profession. I wanted to become a sportswriter. I yearned to cover games and teams and athletes and write glorious articles about them. And this would be the first major sporting event I would ever cover as the recently hired Ann Arbor correspondent of the Associated Press.
So I floated. I did not walk. And with my heavy typewriter I reached the pressbox elevator. I rode up and was dazzled by this shiny glass-enclosed piece of heaven. I looked around with awe. My skin tingled and my heart pounded.
I was in this wonderful structure.
The Michigan Stadium press box was brand new. Fritz Crisler, the athletic director, had had it rebuilt, restyled and enlarged it to transform it into a state-of-the-art press box -- 1956 model. It was part of Crisler's project to enlarge the capacity of Michigan Stadium to 101,001 seats.
"A new press box, just for me," I fantasized.
The other writers told horror tales about the previous pressbox. That it swayed. That the wind roared inside. They called it "The Icebox."
I had been the AP Ann Arbor correspondent for about three weeks. I had a desk in the corner of the city room of the Ann Arbor News. I had been forewarned: "You'll be covering more than sports. University news, research. Don't just concentrate on sports."
So what I did each weekday afternoon was drive down to Ferry Field, to football practice, behind Yost Field House. I wasn't much older than the players.
Now I did not attend Michigan. I was never inside a classroom at Michigan. And as a sportswriter, wannabe, I had been neutered. No cheering, ever. But there was Ron Kramer, All-America. And there was Tom Maentz, team captain and All-America prospect. And there was Terry Barr, tailback about to be switched to wingback. Terry Barr, changing positions from tailback to wingback, a story. Terry Barr, from Grand Rapids. "Write about guys from Michigan," I had been instructed.
We sat together for 15 minutes or longer that first day. I asked Terry the questions that I thought as a rookie writer I should be asking. He answered them, smiling, in a friendly, helpful manner.
The next day the feature story about Terry Barr, Grand Rapids senior, No. 41, ran in just about every paper in the state -- Grand Rapids, Jackson, Saginaw, Bay City, Muskegon. With my byline atop the article. I had recently finished three years of service in the United States Navy. And now a career was being created.
I would drive through the gates into Ferry Field in my 1952 Chevy convertible. I'd park on the track. I'd often write on the ancient typewriter, cradled on my lap, in the passenger seat. Each autumn day, I'd wander across the grass at Ferry Field to observe practice. The head coach's name was well-known to me. I had read and heard about the great, legendary Bennie Oosterbaan. He had been a famous three-sport athlete at Michigan three decades earlier. He had been the receiver on the Benny to Bennie passing combination -- Benny Friedman to Bennie Oosterbaan.
I'd perch on the tackling dummies. I would watch, attentively, as Kramer and Maentz and Barr and Jimmy Pace and John Herrnstein and Jim Orwig and Mike Rotunno and Jim Van Pelt and Jim Maddox drilled. I'd try to figure out what they were planning for Saturday's game.
Soon, Bennie Oosterbaan would walk back across the field and sit down next to me. We'd talk. He'd tell my why Michigan would be using the single wing this week after using the winged-T last week. Why Van Pelt had started at quarterback last week after Maddox had been the starting quarterback the game before. This was my classroom at Michigan -- on the grass, sitting atop the gray tackling dummies on the sidelines at Ferry Field. Bennie Oosterbaan taught me football. In essence he taught me how to become a sportswriter.
And he taught me more -- about character and honesty, loyalty and dignity -- what it meant to be a Michigan Man. Bennie, to this young journalist who yearned to become a sportswriter, became the embodiment of A Michigan Man.
Neutered? Ron Kramer, Tommy Maentz and Mike Shatusky from 1956 Michigan football team -- the first team I ever covered -- have been my friends for 53 years. Terry Barr -- my longtime friend who died last May -- made the longest run of the game, a 42-13 victory over UCLA.
That press box, new in 1956 when I first floated into Michigan Stadium, has aged through the years. Through the decades. Through several eras. Through the regimes of Oosterbaan, Bump Elliott and onto Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr and into the regime of Rich Rodriguez.
There was flotation -- at least for me -- every Saturday I went to Michigan Stadium, through the 53 years, through the battles against Ohio State and Michigan State. I would climb the hill from the parking lot and curl around the north end of Michigan Stadium en route to the press box. That hill eventually would seem like a mountain.
But the excitement remained -- with my own battle of locating the proper words and fighting the deadlines. Bo vs. Woody Hayes, the 10-10 tie when Michigan was rooked out of its rightful trip to the Rose Bowl. That rivalry, the two tempestuous and legendary coaches, remains vivid from my perch in the pressbox.
There are so many ironies now. That first day back in 1956 in the new pressbox, with the old typewriter and the vision, is fixed passionately in my memory. But now, that new pressbox that Fritz Crisler had built ("just for me" Sure!!!!!!) is ancient. And after the Ohio State game the wreckers are going to rip it apart and remove it from Michigan Stadium.
There'll be another dazzling press box erected inside Michigan Stadium before the 2010 Michigan football season.
Just for some rookie sportswriter floating with a dream -- lugging a lightweight computer.
After three years of service as a U.S. Naval officer, Jerry Green began his journalism career in 1956 with the Associated Press. He joined the sports department of The Detroit News in 1963 and was promoted to sports columnist in 1972. He retired from the active staff in 2004, but continues to write a weekly column for The News' website. Green is one of four sportswriters to have covered all 43 Super Bowls. He is a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award.
• Past Memories from the Press Box: Bruce Madej (11/23/2009) | Jim Wood (11/19/2009) | AMR Staff - Part 2 (11/12/2009) | AMR Staff - Part 1 (11/5/2009) | Jerry Green (10/29/2009) | Jerry Hanlon (10/22/2009) | Geoff Larcom (10/15/2009) | Pat Perry (10/9/2009) | Will Perry (10/1/2009) | Dick Gaskill (9/24/09) | Jim Meyer (9/17/09) | Frank Beckmann (9/10/2009) | John Borton (9/3/2009)