Today is a great day to wish a M Go Blue Happy Birthday to Gil Chapman. According to the 1974 Michigan Football Media Guide, Gil Chapman was born on this day in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Although he was not a big man (Five feet nine inches tall and 180 pounds), he was a BIG TIME running back at Thomas Jefferson High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was picked by Parade Magazine as the “Number 1 player in American in 1970.” Yes, he was that good.
(Note – Gil Chapman (#24) is shown above with the 1974 Big Ten Co-Champion Michigan Wolverine Football team. He is seated in the first row – sixth man from the right. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
Somehow, Bo Schembechler lured Chapman away from New Jersey. (Kind of like what Jim Harbaugh is doing today.) Gil Chapman arrived in Ann Arbor in 1971. He spent his freshman year learning the Schembechler version of Michigan Football. He hit the books and the practice field and did everything he could do to get ready for the 1972 football season.
Bo had talented upper classmen at every position, but he knew that Chapman had to play. As it turned out, Gil was the best punt returner and kickoff returner on the team. So, he claimed both jobs. He also started three games at Split End. Gil averaged 5.7 yards on 26 carries and scored one rushing touchdown in 1972. He also caught 9 passes for 125-yards and another touchdown. He did a stellar job as a returner and scored a touchdown on each return team. Gil earned his first varsity letter in his first season on Bo’s varsity. Michigan finished the season with a record of 10 wins and 1 loss in 1972. They won a share of the Big Ten Championship with a record of 7 wins and 1 loss.
Gil Chapman returned in 1973. He was looking to start more games and play a lot more football for Bo. Although he only started three games at tailback, his number (#24) was called a lot. He was a much bigger part of the offense and continued to play a huge role on special teams. Gil averaged 4.8 yards per carry and logged 542-yards on the ground. He scored 6 touchdowns and caught 2 passes for 14-yards. He averaged 13.8 yards on 13 punt returns and scored another touchdown. Gil also averaged 22.1 yards on 6 kickoff returns. Michigan finished the season with a record of 10-0-1 and went 7-0-1 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines earned a share of their third straight Big Ten Championship.
The 1974 Michigan Football Media Guide said that Gil Chapman “…was possibly the most explosive player in the Big Ten.” However, Bo asked Gil Chapman to start at fullback for the 1974 season to make room for two young running backs named Gordon Bell and Rob Lytle. As it turned out, Gil continued to play at a high level. He put up consistent numbers as a runner, pass receiver, and in the return games. He finished his career with 18 touchdowns and over 2,500 yards gained. Gil averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry during his three seasons at Michigan. Even more impressive is the fact that he gained a total of 2,526 yards on 283 touches which averages out to 8.92 yards every time he got his hands on the ball. Wow-that’s incredible!
Check out this great video of Gil Chapman in action against Ohio State in 1974 – thank you Dr. Sap!
When his career was over, Gil Chapman, and his teammates, had accomplished an impressive body of work. Gil earned three varsity letters from 1972 to 1974. Michigan’s record during the Chapman Years was 30 wins and 2 losses and 1 tie. Those impressive numbers helped produce three-straight Big Ten Titles. Needless to say, Gil Chapman played a lot of good football on some outstanding Wolverine teams.
So, today is a great day to celebrate the outstanding career of Gil Chapman. Please take a moment to appreciate his contributions to the great history of Michigan Football. I hope Gil has a great day today on his special day. Happy Birthday Gil Chapman and Go Blue!
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