Michigan's 900 Wins and the Traditions Born

Nov. 14, 2012

By Greg Dooley

On Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, Michigan became the first college football program to tally 900 all-time victories. It was over the course of those 900 wins that the many traditions that make U-M football so special were formed. Here's a look at each 100-victory span and some of the great games and moments that helped develop Michigan's football tradition.

WINS 1-100 (1879-1901)

Tradition: The Victors

Game: Chicago, Nov. 24, 1898
Score: Michigan 12, Chicago 11

Head Coach: Gustave Ferbert

On Nov. 24, 1898, Michigan head coach Gustave Ferbert and his undefeated Wolverines traveled to Chicago to face Amos Alonzo Stagg's University of Chicago Maroons. The game proved to be one of the most memorable match-ups in Michigan lore. The defining moment came when Wolverine Charles Widman broke free on a 65-yard dash that helped seal the 12-11 victory and gave Michigan the conference championship and the title of "Champions of the West." Among the 600 or so fans in attendance was U-M music student Louis Elbel. So inspired by the victory, Elbel later put pen to paper and composed "The Victors."


Wins 101-200

WINS 101-200 (1901-15)

Tradition: The Little Brown Jug

Game: Minneapolis, Oct. 31, 1903
Score: Michigan 6, Minnesota 6

Game: at Minnesota, Nov. 20, 1909
Score: Michigan 15, Minnesota 6

Head Coach: Fielding H. Yost

The next 200 Michigan wins were managed exclusively by the great Fielding H. Yost -- and it didn't take him long to reach the next century mark. The next Wolverine tradition was hatched during this stretch: the concept of the "trophy game." At the request of Yost, U-M equipment manager Tommy Roberts purchased a five-gallon water jug prior to the 1903 battle against Minnesota. The crock was left behind after the game, and when the teams faced each other again in Minnesota in 1909 they decided to play for it. Thus the Little Brown Jug rivalry was born. Since then, dozens of rival schools have created trophies of their own and is one of college football's enduring traditions.


Wins 201-300

WINS 201-300 (1915-32)

Tradition: The Big House

Game: Ann Arbor, Oct. 22, 1927
Score: Michigan 21, Ohio State 0

Head Coach: Tad Wieman

Yost was responsible for the majority of the victories in the next stretch of 100 wins, but he wasn't the head coach when one of the most iconic athletic structures in the world was dedicated on Oct. 27, 1927. Michigan Stadium is a shrine to the game, to the teams and to the great coaches, players and fans that come to Ann Arbor each fall. Yost organized and oversaw the construction of the facility down to minute details, and fans packed the stadium when it was officially unveiled in 1927. The star of the 21-0 victory was halfback Louis Gilbert, who scored all of Michigan's touchdowns and kicked each of the extra points.


Wins 301-400

WINS 301-400 (1932-48)

Tradition: Winged Helmet

Game: Ann Arbor, Oct. 1, 1938
Score: Michigan 14, Michigan State 0

Head Coach: Fritz Crisler

The 1938 season opener saw a couple changes on the Michigan sideline that changed the course of U-M football forever. First, new headman Fritz Crisler coached the first game in what became a storied championship career in Ann Arbor. Next, and perhaps more importantly for many fans today, Crisler unveiled what became the most distinguishable characteristic of the U-M uniform: the winged helmet. Michigan State was the opponent and the nearly 74,000 fans in attendance watched Michigan sophomore Paul Kromer tally two scores to defeat the Spartans 14-0.


Wins 401-500

WINS 401-500 (1948-67)

Tradition: GO BLUE Banner

Game: Ann Arbor, Nov. 10, 1962
Score: Michigan 14, Illinois 10

Head Coach: Bump Elliott

Yost designed the Big House with a unique feature in mind: the teams entered the field through the center of the stadium, not from either end of the field as is the custom even today. This creates a dramatic entrance for the players not unlike gladiators entering the Coliseum in ancient Rome. In 1962, another distinct feature was added to the entrance: the coveted M Club's "Go Blue" banner that is held up for the players and coaches to touch as they run out onto the gridiron. The banner was the idea of then-head hockey coach Al Renfrew and his wife Marjorie, who were looking for a way to give Bump Elliott's slumping football squad a boost. After introducing it at practice, the banner debuted in 1962 against Illinois. Elliott's men prevailed 14-10 and the banner, needless to say, was here to stay. It moved to midfield the following season where it has become one of the great traditions in college football.


Wins 501-600

WINS 501-600 (1967-1978)

Tradition: 100,000 Strong

Game: Ann Arbor, Nov. 8, 1975
Score: No. 6 Michigan 28, Purdue 0

Head Coach: Bo Schembechler

Without the loyal support of alumni and fans over the decades, would Michigan football have reached 900 victories? Much of that support is manifested at each home game each season and when Bo Schembechler came to town in 1969, fans started to pack the Big House in droves. The impetus was no doubt Bo's historic victory over Woody's powerful Buckeyes in 1969, but year after year of success grew the Michigan fan base to a historic crescendo on Nov. 8, 1975. Since this game nearly four decades ago, with 102,415 fans in the stadium watching Michigan down Purdue, no fewer than 100,000 supporters have attended each and every home game.


Wins 601-700

WINS 601-700 (1978-89)

Tradition: Bitter Buckeye Rivalry

Game: Columbus, Nov. 25, 1978
Score: No. 6 Michigan 14, No. 16 Ohio State 3

Head Coach: Bo Schembechler

Michigan's primary rival on the gridiron shifted over the years from Chicago in the late 1800s to Minnesota and the Little Brown Jug in the early 1900s. But it was perhaps 1934 that gave rise to the greatest rivalry in sports today. It was then that Ohio State invented its gold pants tradition -- the ritual whereby Buckeye players and coaches receive the precious charm if they beat U-M. The rivalry heated up in the 1960s, but it clearly entered a new realm when Bo Schembechler came to town in 1969 to battle his mentor, OSU coach Woody Hayes. What is now known simply as "The Ten Year War" concluded on Nov. 25, 1978, with a 14-3 Michigan victory and gave Bo the 5-4-1 edge in their decade-long battle.


Wins 701-800

WINS 701-800 (1989-2000)

Tradition: Rosy Conclusions

Game: The Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 1998
Score: No. 1 Michigan 21, No. 8 Washington State 16

Head Coach: Lloyd Carr

Michigan had a hand in establishing the college bowl tradition itself, when on Jan. 2, 1902, Fielding Yost took his undefeated Wolverines to Pasadena to face Stanford in the first college bowl game. Yost's point-a-minute crew pounded Stanford, 49-0, and went on to claim U-M's first national championship. On Jan. 1, 1998, head coach Lloyd Carr continued this tradition and returned to Pasadena once again with an undefeated squad led by quarterback Brian Griese and Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. The 21-16 victory over Washington State gave Michigan another perfect season and tied the present to the past as U-M claimed its 11th national title.


Wins 801-900

WINS 801-900 (2000-12)

Tradition: Michigan Football Legends

Game: Ann Arbor, Sept. 10, 2011
Score: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

Head Coach: Brady Hoke

Sept. 10, 2011, was a special evening in Michigan football history. Not only was it the first night game in Michigan Stadium, but prior to kickoff against Notre Dame, U-M launched a unique way to honor former standout players: the Michigan Football Legends tradition. Desmond Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner, was the first honoree. Unlike the common practice of retiring uniform numbers, the U-M Legends program keeps iconic jersey numbers, like Howard's No 21, on the field.


1May 30, 1879at Racine1-0
50Nov. 29, 1894at Chicago6-4
100Oct. 5, 1901Case57-0
200Oct. 9, 1915Mt. Union35-0
300Oct. 1, 1932Michigan State26-0
400Oct. 23, 1948at Minnesota27-14
500Nov. 11, 1967at Illinois21-14
600Oct. 21, 1978at Wisconsin42-0
700Nov. 4, 1989Purdue42-27
750Sept. 9, 1995Memphis24-7
800Sept. 30, 2000Wisconsin13-10
900Oct. 20, 2012Michigan State12-10

Sources: MGoBlue.com/U-M Athletics, MVictors.com, U-M Bentley Historical Library

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