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August 31, 2017 Happy Birthday Anniversary Joe O’Donnell!

Posted on August 31, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post celebrates the Happy Birthday Anniversary of a former Michigan Football Captain named Joe O’Donnell. Joseph Raymond  “Joe” O’Donnell.  O’Donnell was born in Ann Arbor and grew up down the road in Milan, Michigan. He was an outstanding athlete (football, basketball and track) at Milan High School where he became a record setting fullback and prolific basketball scorer.

Joe played football at Michigan from 1960 to 1963. He came to Michigan in year two of what Bump Elliott would call a five-year rebuilding program in Ann Arbor. As it turned out, it was a six year rebuild and Joe was not around for Bump’s best season at Michigan in 1964. These were not “glory” years in Michigan’s football history. However, they were important because they laid the foundation for the 1964 Big Ten Champions and the winners of the 1965 Rose Bowl.

Joe O'Donnell Michigan Football Captain 1963 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Joe O’Donnell served as the Captain of the 1963 Michigan Football Team. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Joe O’Donnell was one of the most versatile athletes to ever wear a Michigan uniform. He started his career as a six-foot two-inch fullback and packed just over two hundred pounds (208) on his athletic frame. Michigan’s needs changed and so did Joe’s body as he bulked up to two hundred nineteen pounds in 1962 to play right guard and then two hundred thirty-eight pounds in 1963. O’Donnell’s extra bulk allowed him to mow down defenders at left guard where he earned All-Big Ten honors in his senior year. During his career he also played some games at right tackle. Joe O’Donnell also handled the punting duties in his senior year.

Joe O’Donnell started eighteen straight games during his final two seasons at Michigan in 1962 and 1963. He had the distinct honor of being team Captain for the eighty-fourth team in Michigan Football history. Joe,and his teammates, had high expectations for year five of the Bump Elliott Era. Unfortunately,  those hopes were dashed due to some early season injuries that the Wolverines could not overcome. Michigan finished Joe’s senior season with an overall record of 3 wins, 4 losses and 2 ties. Their conference record was 2 wins, 3 losses and 2 ties.

One interesting fact about Joe’s career was that he had to lead his team into Michigan Stadium to play Ohio State in a game that was delayed by one week (from November 23rd to November 30th) because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Wolverines lost to the Buckeyes that day by a score of 10-14. It was a sad ending to a season that was supposed to end so much better.

Joe is also connected to a few Michigan Football “firsts.” Here they are:

  • Joe O’Donnell played in the first ever game against Southern Methodist University on September 28, 1963 at Michigan Stadium.
  • O’Donnell was the first player to score on a fake punt in the Bump Elliott Era. He did it against Southern Methodist University in a 27-16 win in 1963.
  • Joe O’Donnell is also tied for first with fellow lineman Tom Keating for being the first two lineman to earn All-Conference honors in the Elliott Era in 1963. Keating was the left tackle and O’Donnell was the left guard.

Like I said, the rebuilding program was a year late for Joe O’Donnell, but his leadership and excellent play helped set the stage for the success of the 1964 team. Joe also had some success in professional football playing for the Buffalo Bills. Congratulations on an excellent Michigan football career and thank you to Joe O’Donnell for his contributions to the long, long Maize and Blue line! Happy Birthday Joe and Go Blue!

For more information about Joe O’Donnell go to the following links:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe O’Donnell

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