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July 24, 2017 – Happy Birthday Anniversary Bill Yearby!

Posted on July 24, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post celebrates a Happy Birthday memory for a Wolverine named Bill Yearby. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, William M. “Bill” Yearby was born at Birmingham, Alabama on this day in 1944. His family moved during his childhood and settled in Detroit, Michigan. Bill attended Eastern High School where he grew up to be an excellent high school athlete. Yearby starred on the football field and was a state champion in the shot put in 1962. After graduation, he chose to accept a scholarship offer to play football for Bump Elliott’s Michigan Wolverines.

Bill Yearby is listed on the 1962 Michigan Football Roster as a tackle. He didn’t play as a freshman because nobody played as a freshman in the Sixties. So, Yearby spent his first year learning the Bump Elliott football system and working hard in the classroom.

Yerby made the varsity in 1963. He started eight games at right tackle. The good news is that Bill played well enough to earn a letter as a sophomore. However, the bad news was that Michigan ended a promising season with a final record of 3 wins, 4 losses and 2 ties. The Wolverines went 2-3-2 in the Big Ten and ended up in a tie for fifth place. A number of injuries to key players and some bad luck ruined Bump Elliott’s fifth season.

Bill Yearby Michigan Football 1965 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Bill Yearby made a lot of tackles for Michigan from 1963 to 1965. A lot of really HARD tackles – ouch! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

The 1964 season was the one that Bump Elliott, and Michigan fans, had been waiting for since 1950. The Wolverines won their first three games before losing a heart breaker to Purdue (20-21). Michigan ran the table and finished the regular season with a record of 8 wins and 1 loss. Finally, the Wolverines were Big Ten champions (6-1-0) as Bump Elliott had predicted when he took over in 1959. Michigan rolled over Oregon State (34-7) to finish with a final record of 9 wins and 1 loss.

Bill Yearby was one of the best players on a very good Michigan team in 1964. He  was simply a force on defense. Yearby’s outstanding play earned him a second varsity letter and All-Conference and All-American-American honors. Yes, Bill Yearby had a very good year in 1964!

Yearby returned as a champion in 1965. He, and his teammates, were hoping to make another run for the Big Ten trophy in his senior season. Unfortunately, a big mid-season slump of four straight losses, put them in a bad spot. The Wolverines snapped the losing streak with two straight wins, but ended the year on a low note with two consecutive losses. Michigan finished the 1965 season with a record of 4 wins and 6 losses. The posted 2 victories and 5 defeats in conference play and ended up in a tie for seventh place.

Bill Yearby started all ten games for Michigan in 1965.He continued to play at a very high level on the Wolverine defense. He earned his third letter and was named as the Most Valuable Player on the 1965 Michigan Football team. Bill Yearby’s dominant play earned him All-Big Ten and All-American honors for the second consecutive season.

Michigan All-American Bill Yearby | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Bill Yearby was the first Michigan African-American player to earn back-to-back All-American honors! Yes, he was a great player. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

William M. Yearby had a great career at Michigan. He finished his “Ann Arbor years” with three varsity letters, a Big Ten Championship, back-to-back All-Conference and All-American honors,  and a team MVP award. It doesn’t get much better than that for a Wolverine. He definitely left Michigan with his head held high! Here are some “firsts” that connect Bill Yearby and Michigan football:

  • Bill Yearby played in the first game ever played against Air Force in 1964. (Michigan won by a score of 24-7.
  • Yearby played on Bump Elliott’s first, and only, Big Ten Conference Championship team in 1964.
  • Bill Yearby played on the 1964 team that became the first, and only, Big Ten team to win at least one conference title in all eight decades of conference play!
  • Yearby played on Bump Elliott’s first, and only, Rose Bowl Championship team in January 1965. (Note-this win made Bump Elliott the first, and only, Michigan Man to win the Rose Bowl as a player and a coach)
  • Bill Yearby was Bump Elliott’s first two-time All-American player
  • Yearby was also the first African-American lineman to earn team MVP honors at Michigan.
  • Finally, Bill Yearby was the first African-American to be a two-time All-American at Michigan.

Not a lot of people today know about the great legacy that Bill Yearby left behind. He was a very special football player who helped pave the way for future African-American players at Michigan. Bill Yearby was drafted by the NFL after college, but injuries kept him from enjoying the same level of success he enjoyed at Michigan. Sadly, Bill Yearby died on December 20, 2010 at the age of sixty-six. Please take a moment to appreciate the achievements of Bill Yearby and celebrate the life of a true Michigan Man. May William M. “Bill” Yearby continue to rest in peace. Go Blue!




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