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August 22, 2017 Happy Birthday Anniversary Joe Soboleski!

Posted on August 22, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post celebrates the Happy Birthday anniversary of a Michigan Wolverine named Joe Soboleski. Joseph Robert “Joe” Soboleski was born on this date in 1926 at Grand Rapids, Michigan. He attended Grand Rapids Catholic High School and starred as a lineman. After graduation, he joined the United States Navy and served for eighteen months during World War II. He came to Ann Arbor in time to play football for Michigan in August 1945.

Freshman were eligible to play in 1945 and Joe played enough for Fritz Crisler to earn a varsity letter.  The Wolverines finished with a record of 7 wins and 3 losses in his first year on the Michigan team. Not a great season, by Michigan standards, but something to build on.

Soboleski was back in 1946 and continued to play some good football Michigan. He did start any games, but did play enough on the defensive line to earn his second letter. The Wolverines ended the season with 6 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie. Unfortunately, the Wolverines went 5-1-1 in the conference and finished second for the third consecutive season. Another good season, just not good enough for Michigan!

Joe SOboleski Michigan Football 1948 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Joe Soboleski earned 4 varsity letters and played on 2 national championship teams for Michigan. Go Blue! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Michigan had talented players at every position in 1947 and Joe Soboleski was one of them! He started three games on the defensive line for Michigan and played a lot of good football. The Wolverines scored 394 points and only allowed 53 which is why they finished the season with a perfect record of 10 wins, 0 losses and 0 ties. Michigan also won the Big Nine Conference Championship, the Rose Bowl Championship and the National championship in 1947. The 1947 season was a great season by anyone’s standards and Joe Soboleski was an important part of it!

Joe Soboleski’s senior year was almost as good as his junior year. New Head Coach Bennie Ooosterbaan led the Wolverines to another perfect record and another national championship. However, Michigan did not win the Rose Bowl that season because Big Ten rules prevented back-to-back trips to Pasadena. Soboleski started seven games on the Michigan defensive line. He must have played very well. Michigan’s defense only allowed 44 points all season!

Soboleski was good enough to play four years of varsity football at Michigan. He earned four varsity letters. Even better, the teams he played on posted a record of 32 wins, 5 losses and 1 tie which worked out to a winning percentage of just over eighty-five percent (.855). The Wolverines were even better during that period in the Big Nine Conference. Michigan posted an incredible record of 22 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie (.900) during that amazing run. They won two straight conference titles (1947 & 1948) and finished second in 1945 and 1946.

Joe is also connected to some interesting Michigan Football “firsts.” Here are the ones I could find for him:

  • Joe Soboleski played in the first ever game against Army in 1945. Michigan lost 7-28.
  • The Army game was the first game in college football where a coach named Fritz Crisler invented “platoon” football by freely substituting players on offense and defense throughout the game.
  • Soboleski played in the first televised game in Michigan Football history in September 1947 against Michigan State. (Michigan won 55-0 in Ann Arbor.)
  • Joe Soboleski played in the first game ever against Southern California in the 1948 Rose Bowl – a 49-0 Wolverine win!
  • Soboleski played in the first ever game against Oregon on 10/02/1948. Michigan defeated the Ducks 14-0.

Joe Soboleski left Ann Arbor as a two-time national champion. He played four years of professional football before starting his “real” career. Today is a great day to remember this amazing Michigan Man and appreciate his contributions to Wolverine Football. Sadly, Joe Soboleski died on November 12, 2015 at the age of eighty-nine. May he continue to rest in eternal peace. Go Blue!




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