For many of the 115,000 fans at Michigan Stadium last Saturday night was seeing Leroy Jethro Gibbs standing on the big Block “M” at midfield. Actually, it was actor Mark Harmon paying tribute, along with the Michigan football team and athletic department, to Harmon’s father, the late GREAT Tom Harmon, the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner during his senior season in Ann Arbor.
It was actually an “un-retirement” ceremony as Harmon’s “Ol’ 98” is now on active service. The disclosure that quarterback Devin Gardner would be donning Harmon’s number for the remainder of his (hopefully) storied career completes the reinstatement of all the former retired jersey numbers (11, 21, 47, 48, 87, 98).
And it is now time (starting next season) to honor MORE standout Michigan players, who truly distinguished themselves during their career. They could become Legacy Players and every five years a new group of Wolverines should be so honored.
For the 2013 season, the following numbers are NOT seen on the sideline, or on the official Michigan football roster: 1, 2, 10, 19, 40, 68, 79, 90, 93. Remember, 19 is Devin Funchess’ old number before he became 87.
But 3-4 numbers just leap off the page begging to such an accolade as real no-brainers. They are:
Anthony Carter (#1) is only one of two U-M players to be named All-American wearing the Michigan uniform (the other being Benny Oosterbaan). He was as great a wideout as has ever played in Ann Arbor and the numbers bear it out – fourth all-time in receptions (161), yardage (3,076) and touchdowns (37).
Of course, the man topping all three categories – Braylon Edwards – ALSO wore no. 1. BUT … it has been always known as AC’s number!
Charles Woodson (#2) was one of the rarest of college players, a defensive back (who also played effectively on offense) to be chosen as the 1997 Heisman Trophy recipient. As a DB, he was a two-time All-American and went to become a All-Pro standout for Oakland and Green Bay … and a shoo-in first ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after he retires from the game.
Ron Johnson (#40) is the often forgotten premier running back in Wolverine history and was an All-American in 1968.
His rushing standards have stood for years, including single-game rushing yardage marks. His 347 yards gained on Nov. 16, 1968 against Wisconsin, with five touchdowns, remains the very best individual game performance by a U-M running back – to this day! As his 270 yards against Navy in 1968, is the fourth-best single-game rushing mark.
Playing when the schedule was only 10 games long, Johnson’s 1968 season saw him run 255 times for 1,391 yards and 19 touchdowns.
It’s simply difficult to argue someone else garnering “legacy” recognition before Johnson receives his props.
And while quarterback Tom Brady (#10) didn’t start until midway through his junior year, his impact of the Michigan program was spectacular, including an Orange Bowl comeback victory over Alabama in 200 (completing 34 of 46 passes for 369 yards). His career numbers for pass attempts (711), completions (443), completion percentage (62.3%) and yardage (5,357) are all in the top 10 in the Michigan record books.
There are others equally deserving, but their numbers are in the current rotation.
Bob Chappius (#49) was a World War II hero as a pilot, and earned All-American honors in 1947 (finishing second in the Heisman balloting). Chappius was the MVP in the 1948 Rose Bowl and inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988. His passing records remain on the books (13 TD passes in one season, 23 career TD passes and 3,487 yards of total offense) until Rick Leach rewrote those marks (1975-78).
Reggie McKenzie (#65) was a 1971 All-American, College Hall of Famer and a top five lineman (as a guard) of all-time for Michigan. Although he was 265 pounds, he was one of the fastest and quickest players among Coach Bo Schembechler’s many squads.
Dan Dierdorf (#72) was All-American, who was inducted into the College and Pro Football Hall of Fames, as perhaps the best Wolverine offensive lineman ever.
Jim Mandich (#88) was team captain and inspirational leader for the most famous of all Michigan teams – the 1969 Wolverine squad that scored the Upset of the Century with its 24-12 victory over Ohio State.
Other than Ron Kramer, whose number is retired, no tight end in Michigan history did more for the program than Mandich.
And finally, there is Benny Friedman (#27) was the first of the great quarterbacks at Michigan, and is also a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
I’ve written before about his accomplishments but they bear repeating because the failure of Michigan to properly honor him is a real tragedy.
In the early 1920s, the greatest pass combination in college football was the “Benny-to-Bennie” show. Labeled as the “Babe Ruth of football,” he competed in a completely different era where men played all 60 minutes (on offense and defense). In 1925, in a showdown between the two biggest superstars of the day, Friedman led Michigan to a 3-0 win over Illinois and its star Red Grange, one of many outstanding victories.
Friedman earned conference MVP honors in 1926, leading Michigan to two Big Nine (not yet Ten) titles, and later was an All-Pro quarterback for four different teams.
If, somehow, this piece were to land on Athletic Director Dave Brandon’s desk, with the key parts circled, perhaps it might light a creative fire and allow for these players to stand at that block M in the 2014 season … even if Gibbs isn’t there.
Writer’s Note: I wish the current athletic administration would honor yet another Michigan alum – the great actor James Earl Jones – and have his voice blast over the public address system – “This … is Michigan football!” How stoked would the Big House be THEN?!?!?!