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April 20, 2017 Michigan’s First Football Games in April!

Posted on April 20, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today we are looking at Michigan’s first football games in the month of April. In order to do that, we have to go all the way back to 1888. Yes, that is a very, very long time ago. Michigan played the first of two April football games on this day in 1888 at Notre Dame. Let’s take a closer look at what happened in those games and during the rest of the five-game season.

James E. Duffy was Michigan’s captain for the 1888 season. He was looking to play a few more games in 1888 so he went back to a formula that worked in the early years of Michigan football. Duffy scheduled two “spring” games to get his team organized and ready for the “full” season (3 games) in the fall. You may recall that Michigan’s first game was played in May and they played another “spring” game in March of 1883.

Captain James E. Duffy Michigan Football 1888 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

James E. Duffy was the seventh captain in Michigan Football History. He led the team to a record of 4 wins and 1 loss in 1888. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Michigan played Notre Dame for the first time in 1887 and it went well, so it seemed natural to continue the series. The first game of the 1888 season was played at Notre Dame on Saturday, April 20th and Michigan won by a score of 26-6. Game two of the 1888 season was played on Sunday April 21st and Michigan won again 10-4. So, the spring season was over and Duffy had a good idea about how his team might perform in the fall. Interestingly, no more games were ever played in the month of April by a Michigan Football team. Of course, this time of the year is now used for Spring Practice.  

James Duffy organized his team for the fall season that consisted of three games. The first game of the fall season was played on November 17th against a team from the Detroit Athletic Club. Michigan won the game 14-6. The next game took place on November 24th and the Wolverines set a scoring record (76 points) when they defeated Albion 76-4. The 1888 season ended on a low note in Chicago. Duffy agreed to play the Chicago University Club team which was basically an all-star team made up of many former players from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell. The “all-stars” completely outplayed the Wolverines by a score of 4-26.

So, that’s the short story of the 1888 Michigan Wolverine Football team. They finished with a record of 4 wins and 1 loss. The 1888 team added a number of “firsts” to the Michigan football tradition. Here are the ones that I could find:

·         First, and only, team to play games in April.

·         Played the first game in Michigan Football history against Detroit A.C.

·         The first team in Michigan Football history to win four games in one season.

·         First Michigan Football team to score over 70 points in one game. (76-4 win over Albion.)

·         First Michigan Football team to score 130 points in a single season (130).

Take a moment today to appreciate the contributions of Captain James E. Duffy and his Michigan Football team. They played an important role in expanding the popularity of Wolverine Football and adding to the great history of the winningest college football program in history! Go Blue!


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