Today’s post salutes Michigan Man Thom Darden on the anniversary of his birth. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, Thomas Vincent “Thom” Darden was born on this day in Sandusky, Ohio. Thom became an outstanding athlete at Sandusky High School. Football and baseball were his two best sports. He decided to continue his education and his football at Michigan. Tom’s decision made Coach Bump Elliott a very happy man!
(Note-Thom Darden (#35) is shown above with the 1971 Big TenChampion Michigan Wolverine Football team. He is seated in the front row - third man from the left. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
Thom arrived in Ann Arbor in 1968 and spent his freshman year learning the Elliott way to play football at Michigan. He hit the books and the practice field and did everything he could do to get ready for the 1969 football season. However, everything changed when Bump Elliott resigned his coaching job to become an Assistant Athletic Director to Don Canham in November 1968. Thom’s life changed forever with the hiring of a guy named Bo Schembechler in December 1968.
Michigan’s 1069 Spring Football practice was like Marine basic training! Yes, it was the hardest thing that these future “Michigan Men” had ever done in their young sports lives - period! Players were quitting left and right. And, when the dust finally settled, about seventy-men were ready for Schembechler football! Thom Darden was one of them!
Thom Darden impressed Bo Schembechler with his toughness and his hitting ability. He became Bo’s first “Wolfman” on defense. Thom started ten games and earned his first letter. Michigan posted a record of 8 wins and 3 losses and won a share of the Big Ten Championship. Of course, he played in the “upset of the century” and helped the Wolverines defeat top-ranked Ohio State.
Darden returned in 1970 and played well enough to earn All-Big Ten honors at strong safety. He made a ton of tackles, picked off five passes and set a record for pass breakups. Thom earned his second varsity letter and helped Michigan win nine of ten games. The Wolverines lost the last game of the season at OSU and finished second in the conference at 6-1-0.
Thom Darden returned for his final season in 1971. He started ten games at safety and played at a very high level all season. He repeated as an All-Big Ten performer and also earned first team All-American honors. Michigan posted a perfect record of 8-0-0 in the conference and finished the season with a final record of 11 wins and 1 loss.
One of the highlights of Thom’s career had to be his second interception in the 10-7 win over Ohio State. The Buckeyes were driving and Darden leaped over the back of OSU receiver Dick Wakefield and intercepted the ball. It was an amazing play, but Woody was sure that it was interference. Coach Hayes absolutely came unglued over the play. He went nuts and broke a first down marker and earned two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. That sealed the deal for the Wolverines and got Woody a lot of “visibility” on ESPN and other sports replay shows. Thanks to Dr. Sap for this amazing video!
When his career was over, Thom Darden, and his teammates, accomplished an impressive body of work. Michigan’s record during the “Darden Years” was 28 wins and 5 losses. Those impressive numbers helped produce two Big Ten titles and a second-place finish. Bo, with the help of Thom Darden, and many other outstanding players, raised the football standards at Michigan and they stayed there for a long, long time!
Thom went on to a successful ten-year career in the National Football League with the Cleveland Browns. He still holds many interception records in Cleveland. He followed up his NFL years with a successful business career. Check out the excellent Wikipedia article for the details. So, take a moment and appreciate the outstanding contributions of Thom Darden to Michigan Football. I hope that Thom has a very Happy Birthday today! Go Blue!
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