Nov. 16, 2011
"It's not something you can hold or see ... but you sure can feel it. I'm speaking about the great Michigan tradition. Corny you say? Not on your life. It's there ... it engulfs you."
-- Elroy Hirsch
Elroy Leon Hirsch was born June 17, 1923, at Wausau, Wis., and was an outstanding high school athlete there, graduating in 1941.
He entered the University of Wisconsin in 1941 and a year later earned All-America football honors as a halfback. As a member of the V-12 Marine Corps unit assigned to the University of Michigan he became the only modern four-time letterwinner in a single season at Michigan.
This feat was helped along by some precise travel plans that allowed him to perform one of the most remarkable "doubles" in college athletics. In the spring of 1944, he participated in the Big Ten Conference track preliminaries, broad jumping 22-5 3/4 during the morning at Illinois.
A car trip of 150 miles to Bloomington, Ind., allowed him to pitch the second game of a baseball doubleheader (Hirsch won on a fine four-hitter, 12-1). Hirsch's broad jump effort stood up for third place.
Hirsch later served in the Marine Corps and played football with the El Toro Marines. He scored two long touchdowns for the College All-Stars in a 16-0 victory over the Rams in 1946, then joined the Chicago Rockets of the All-American Conference, playing three seasons.
Hirsch joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1949 and after two seasons as a running back, he moved to offensive end.
With great hands and using the running style that earned him the nickname "Crazy Legs," Hirsch set several reception records in 1951 and continued to star until retiring after the 1957 season. His nine-year total in the National League showed 343 receptions for 6,299 yards and 54 touchdowns.
Hirsch, a speech and journalism major in college, went into the broadcasting field and in 1960 accepted the general managership of the Rams (succeeding Pete Rozelle) and became assistant to the team president.
Hirsch served as the Director of Athletics for the University of Wisconsin from 1969-87. UW retired his No. 40 and also named him to the school's all-time football team in 1969. In 1974, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the state of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame (1965), the National Football League Hall of Fame (1968) and the Madison Sports Hall of Fame (1977) and the Athletic Department / National W Club inaugural Hall of Fame class (1990).
He and his wife, Ruth, had two children: son, Winn, and daughter, Patty.
This I Remember
By Elroy Hirsch
Originally printed in the Oct. 12, 1968, Michigan vs. Michigan State football game program
Some 25 years ago, a group of University of Wisconsin athletes was transferred to the University of Michigan in the Marine V-12 training program. These men were very happy to be going to Michigan, but as the train took them to Ann Arbor they also had some questions. What would Michigan be like? Would the other students accept us as fellow students, even though we were in uniform? Would we be considered a group of servicemen cluttering up an already crowded campus?
I was among this group and I must say I had somewhat the same questions in my mind. I loved all sports, so naturally I admired Michigan ... Of course, I had heard of Fielding Yost and his great record ... I knew about Harry Kipke ... had read about Oosterbaan and Friedman ... and had admired Harmon.
But I was to learn a far more important thing about Michigan. It's not something you can hold or see ... but you sure can feel it. I'm speaking about the great Michigan tradition. Corny you say? Not on your life. It's there ... it engulfs you.
Recently I had the privilege of attending the Fritz Crisler retirement dinner held in the new Events Bldg. Now I hadn't been on the campus for several years ... I hadn't seen a Michigan team play during this same period ... but when I walked into that field house, which was now full of some 150 players who had played for Fritz, and I walked among these great players renewing old acquaintances, this "Michigan tradition" feeling overtook me ... it was as though I had never left the campus.
Let me tell a story that might explain it better. Because the University was on an accelerated schedule, the various sport seasons coincided with the semesters. The football season was now over and I decided to take a crack at the basketball team. My real reason for this was that the team had a weekend trip to Madison, Wisconsin ... and it would be sort of a homecoming. Then, too, my future wife was attending school there. To almost everyone's surprise, I made the team ... that trip must have been a strong incentive.
When the basketball season ended, the indoor track season was only one week away. I had done some track work as a freshman at Wisconsin, so I decided to give it a try. Scoring some points in the Big Ten indoor meet gave me my third letter.
Someone on the coaching staff then told me no man in Michigan's history had ever won four letters in four different sports in one year ... and why didn't I try out for the baseball team? I think it was Bennie Oosterbaan who told me about it. Well, Ray Fisher had a "loaded" baseball team and I didn't think I had much of a chance.
But here again, everything broke my way. One of the best pitchers had some difficulty with his grades and was declared ineligible. Coach Fisher took me aside and asked me if I would try to pitch. Of course, I leaped at the chance and night after night Ray would work with me, teaching me how to throw a curve ... and how to release the fast ball. The result was my fourth letter.
I had always wanted a Michigan blanket ... the coveted award given only to seniors. It was impossible for me to earn one as I was a sophomore and would be leaving Michigan for Marine training within a month. Coming back to Ann Arbor from our final baseball game, Hank Hatch informed me he was having a little get-together at his home and would I drop over. Hank was like a father to me during my stay at Michigan, so I readily accepted his offer.
When we arrived at his house and walked in, it turned out to be a surprise party. Somehow, Hank had found out it was my birthday and had arranged the whole affair. After a lot of good Hatch hospitality, Hank handed me a package. What was in it? A Michigan letterman's blanket with a block M in each corner ... one for each sport. I don't mind telling you, I had more than a few tears in my eyes. That blanket is still one of my proudest possessions.
The thrill of playing for a man like Fritz, the patience of all the other coaches and the honor of having a friend like Hank Hatch ... all these add up to Michigan tradition ... you can't buy it ... it's just there.
This is what Michigan meant to me.
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