VARSITY TEAMS: 16 INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 19 FAMOUS ALUMNI: GERALD
FORD, TOM HARMON, CHRIS WEBBER
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: INTRAMURAL MUD FOOTBALL
This is an article from the April 28, 1997 issue
For a university that has often been on the cutting edge of
college sports--the university that invented
intramurals--Michigan has an old-fashioned grittiness to its
athletic life. Michigan Stadium, which fills with more than
105,000 every football Saturday, has the aesthetic charm of a
satellite dish. The cavernous Crisler Arena, home of the Fab
Five basketball team of the early 1990s, is often referred to by
students as the Morgue because of its darkness. And the place to
be in Ann Arbor these days is a grim, 73-year-old brick building
that could pass for a textile warehouse.
It's Yost Ice Arena, home to the Wolverines hockey team, which
has a 69-11-6 record over the past two seasons and won the 1996
NCAA title. Despite the old barn's rickety benches and
construction-site-style warning signs (WATCH OUT FOR FLYING
PUCKS), crowds regularly swell to almost 7,000, about 700 more
than capacity, creating college hockey's version of Duke's
Cameron Indoor Stadium.
At Yost students sit close enough to pound on the boards and
make eye contact with opposing players. After a Wolverines goal,
chants of "It's all your fault!" and "Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!" rain
down on the opponent's goalie as another chorus of The Victors
echoes among the rafters. The intensity here is matched at only
one other event on campus: the Mud Bowl, an annual tackle
football game held on fraternity row in a pit of mud a foot deep
the morning before homecoming.
Yost Arena has long been at the heart of Michigan athletics. The
building, originally a field house, was constructed in 1924 by
Fielding Yost, the Wolverines' most successful football coach
(between 1901 and '26), who also served as athletic director.
The first of Yost's four national championships came after a
49-0 win in the '02 Rose Bowl, during which Stanford players
suggested to him with eight minutes to play, "If you are
willing, sir, we'll call it a day."
Also during Yost's tenure, Michigan's superb golf course was
built, as was Michigan Stadium, whose concrete base has been
strong enough to support expansion from the original seating
capacity of 72,000 to the present 102,501. Just about Yost's
only flop was his attempt in 1927 to bring two caged wolverines
to the Michigan sidelines. The critters, which aren't indigenous
to the state, were so vicious--they bit the hands that fed
them--that they were sent to a zoo.
Michigan created the nation's first intramural program in 1912
and erected the first athletic building used solely for
intramural play 16 years later. Elmer Mitchell, now known as the
Father of Intramurals, was in charge of running the building,
where paddleball and wallyball (volleyball in a handball or
racquetball court, with the side walls in play) were invented.
Fifty years later, nearly 85% of the student body uses the
intramural program's four indoor facilities and 60 acres of
fields. The intramural basketball finals--at which a varsity
assistant found eventual 1991-92 team captain Freddie
Hunter--are presented like a pro game, with introductions and
music. Michigan even has a hall of fame to honor students who
excelled as intramural refs.
If the T-shirts of intramural participants all seem to be
emblazoned with swooshes, there's a reason: The program is
sponsored in part by Nike. That's just another example of how
Michigan has stayed on the cutting edge of both sports business
and sports fashion. In 1938 the football team became one of the
first to put a design on its helmets. The baggy shorts and black
socks that are now de rigueur in basketball were popularized at
the collegiate level by the Fab Five.
Few schools can match Michigan's storied football history. A
Wolverines Who's Who would have to include not only Yost but
also his teams' No. 1 fan, automobile tycoon Henry Ford; center
Gerald Ford, the 1934 team MVP, who went on to even bigger
things; Bo Schembechler, who coached Michigan to 10 Rose Bowls;
and two Heisman Trophy recipients, 1940 winner Tom Harmon and
'91 honoree and '97 Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard.
At the moment, though, hockey is king. There's a women's club
team, and the athletic department runs bus trips to some of the
varsity's away games. "Watching hockey at Yost is what I
expected college sports to be like," says junior Eli Markenson
of New York City. "It's a total ruckus, and at the same time
it's like a communal atmosphere."