Ann Arbor sounds like a nice place to bring a girl named Ann but is a terrible place to bring a football team. A hitting and running group there known as Bo and the Wolverines (featuring the Mellow Men, the Wolfman, Big Ed and others) just destroys football teams.
No one has beaten a Bo Schembechler outfit in Michigan Stadium since early October 1969, and during the past two years the Michigan student cheering section has been able to relax in the first quarter and devote the rest of the afternoon to passing around captured cheerleaders and bottles of apple wine. In the last six games held in Ann Arbor the composite Michigan-opponents score is 272-6.
Last Saturday the unbeaten Wolverines were hospitable enough to offer the winless University of Illinois two touchdowns (one of which the Illini accepted) within the first two minutes, but still won handily. As Schembechler said afterward, "It is nice to have a game where you don't play as well as you can and still win 35-6."
It was an unusual Michigan game in two respects: Michigan passed and Michigan made mistakes. Schembechler's position on passing is the same as a rooster's on flying: He will do it only if forced. Schembechler's position on mistakes is that only the other team is allowed to make them. In the five games preceding Illinois the Wolverine defense had caused 23 turnovers while the Wolverine offense had suffered only five. Imagine the general consternation, then, when on the first play from scrimmage, sophomore Quarterback Tom Slade threw a pass and Illinois caught it, giving the Illini the ball on the Michigan 12. They scored in three plays. Quarterback Mike Wells—a placekicker who last year made eight of 10 field goals, some from far out, yet curiously only nine of 16 extra points—missed the extra point, but then Michigan came roaring back with a fumble, surrendering the ball on its 14. This time the defense held, and from then on Illinois netted 67 yards to Michigan's 355. Slade threw only six passes after his opening gaffe, but he completed five of them, and the second Michigan touchdown came on three straight pass plays, all completions, the third one a Slade-to-Glenn Doughty 19-yarder. As usual the big ground during the day was gained by senior Tailback Billy Taylor, whose 103 yards brought him within 85 of the Michigan career rushing record held by Ron Johnson, who presented Taylor with the blue suede shoes he runs in. Taylor was ably abetted by sophomore Fullback Big Ed Shuttlesworth, a 6'2", 237-pounder who reliably produces four yards and a cloud of linemen, and Doughty, a wingback who had been confined to blocking assignments all year. This time he ran and caught passes for three touchdowns.
As one-sided as it was, it was by far Michigan's sloppiest game, and the feat of advancing one's record to 6-0 by depressing another team's to 0-6 is not calculated to improve one's national standing. Illinois, trying to build, and Michigan, shooting for No. 1 ranking, ought to have each other's schedules this year. The Illini, having played five teams that are or have been ranked in the top 20, are better than their records indicate. The Wolverines, having played only one opponent of real repute so far—Northwestern, a 21-6 victim in the first week of the season—and with only two more coming up—Purdue and Ohio State-are probably better than they will have a chance to prove.
That would disappoint the Mellow Men: Taylor, Guard Reggie McKenzie, Doughty, Linebacker Mike Taylor (the best in the country, claims Schembechler), Safety Tom Darden, Defensive End Butch Carpenter and Split End Mike Oldham. They all live together off campus in a white house known as the den of the Mellow Men.
"We started hanging tight our freshman year," says McKenzie. "We all lived in the west quad, and everybody there was running around in a big controversy over pledging fraternities. So we decided to form our own group. To be a member, you had to have three jazz albums."
"We also set ourselves some goals," says Billy Taylor. "We were going to win a Big Ten championship, win the Rose Bowl, have an undefeated season and rank No. 1 in the nation."
As sophomores the Mellow Men and their teammates won the Big Ten title, but Schembechler suffered a heart attack the day before the Rose Bowl, and Michigan lost to Southern Cal 10-3.
As juniors they lost the title, the undefeated season and a shot at the national title to Ohio State at Columbus in the last game of the season. This year the Mellow Men don't plan to fall short in any particulars.
If they do, it won't be for lack of hitting. Schembechler likes to emphasize hitting. On defense this theme is perhaps best articulated by senior Defensive Back Frank Gusich, known as the Wolf-man because that is the name of his position (some teams would call him the Ripper or the Monster). He is also called Superman, because when he changes into his head-busting clothes he is transformed from a mild-mannered, Mass-attending, nice person (he was elected last year to Churchmen's All-American) to a fellow who lives for the moment when he catches a fullback in the flat just looking up to catch a pass. At such a moment Gusich goes, as he puts it himself, "berserk." The fullback goes end-over-end.
For the offense, let McKenzie speak. "You can't shuck and jive, you can't lallygag," he says. "You got to hit." Searching for an analogy to the satisfaction he gets from really stunning someone, he says, "It's like...when you bite into a good piece of apple pie and say, 'Ohhhhhh, that's good.' Lots of times I'll be sitting talking, and I'll just get to shivering, from thinking about loving to hit."
During the week before the Michigan State game, the Spartan defensive tackle who was to play opposite McKenzie declared that if Michigan State didn't win he would eat a towel. Michigan State did prove more formidable than its reputation, but McKenzie's performance against the tackle was later graded at 92%, and Michigan won 24-13.
"I want to see him eat a towel," McKenzie was yelling after the game. "Hey Bo, can I go across the hall? I want to see him eat a towel." "Be humble in victory, Reggie," said Schembechler. "Michigan State did all the woofing," said Billy Taylor, "and we did all the whupping."
The Mellow Men do a good deal of woofing too, though. After the Illinois game—as they have after every game since they moved into the white house as juniors—the seven of them and their parents and brothers and sisters and nephews and friends and coaches and their parents' old PTA associates convened for "dinner at the den." Name tags reading "guest of the den" were distributed; fried chicken, barbecued ribs, green beans, turnip greens, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, chicken and rice, black-eyed peas, baked beans, sweet-potato pie, lemon pie and chocolate cake cooked by the parents and brought in from Detroit, Flint and Highland Park, Mich. as well as Cincinnati, Sandusky and Barberton, Ohio were hit almost as hard as the Illini had been. Mike Taylor's father danced to James Brown's Hot Pants. Carpenter's girl friend Pat Batson, a professional singer, was prevailed upon to sing her Mellow Men song, with Billy Taylor, McKenzie, Darden and Doughty moving and going "woom badoom awoom" in the background. Some of the words went like this:
"There's an endless giving of love and affection,
"And if you're lost, they'll give you directions—
"Take a boat or a plane, a jet or a train,
"Turn the highway to dust, cut a class if you must,
"But go to the den, the den of the Mellow Men."
Just try telling that one to some of the football teams that have visited Ann Arbor recently.