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January 14, 2019 Rest in Peace Former MVP Dennis Fitzgerald

Posted on January 13, 2019 by Barry Gallagher

Today is a good day to remember a Michigan Man named Dennis Fitzgerald who went to rest in peace on this day in 2001. Joseph Dennis Fitzgerald was born in Ann Arbor on March 13, 1936. He grew up in Ann Arbor where he became an accomplished football player and wrestler at St. Thomas High School. After graduation, Dennis enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the Marines from 1954 to 1957.

(Note – Dennis Fitzgerald is shown above with the 1960 Michigan Football team. He is seated in the first row and is the second man from the right. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)

Part I. Wolverine of the Day: Dennis Fitzgerald

A Wolverine Walk On in 1957

Dennis Fitzgerald’s name first appeared on a Michigan football roster in 1957. He was a twenty-one-year old freshman walk-on who wanted to play some Wolverine football, wrestle, and get his education. Like most men of his time, Fitzgerald played on the freshman football team and went to class because that’s what he was supposed to do. He learned the Bennie Oosterbaan  “brand” of Michigan football and found his way into Cliff Keen’s wrestling room! Dennis Fitzgerald did not start, or play in any games, in 1957. He did not earn a letter in year one on the football team or in the wrestling program.

The hard-working Fitzgerald was back for more in 1958, but the results were the same. Another year of learning and working his way up the depth chart. Dennis did not play in any games in 1958 and did not earn a football letter. Unfortunately, he never got to play a down for Coach Oosterbaan. Bennie stepped down at the end of the 1958 season which was his worst in eleven years at Michigan. The Wolverines went 2-6-1 that season and everyone, including Bennie, knew it was time for a change.

An Opportunity for a Former Marine to Play for a Former Marine

Now, Dennis Fitzgerald would have to impress his new head coach, Bump Elliott, if he ever expected to see the field on game days. Apparently, the former Marine impressed his former Marine head coach and things improved for Dennis Fitzgerald in year three. He played enough games at halfback to earn his first varsity letter in 1959. Fitzgerald also performed well on special teams. Michigan was better in 1958 than in 1959, but a final record of 4 wins and 5 losses was nothing to brag about. Bump Elliott predicted that it would take five years to build another championship team at Michigan and it appeared that he would be correct.

Dennis Fitzgerald | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Dennis Fitzgerald was one of the toughest players, pound-for-pound to play football at Michigan. He was still wearing a leather football helmet when most of his teammates wore plastic. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

A Tough, Tough Player

Dennis Fitzgerald’s senior year was interesting. He started two games at right halfback and played in every game. His dedication and toughness impressed everyone who saw him play. Fitzgerald was so tough that he refused to wear a plastic helmet with a face mask. Instead, Fitzgerald wore the classic leather helmet and played like a wild man!

Actually, his biggest play of the 1960 season took place against Michigan State in East Lansing. He returned a kick-off 99-yards that gave the Wolverines an early lead. Unfortunately, the record-setting kickoff was not enough and Michigan eventually lost to the Spartans by a score of 17-24. Michigan improved in year two of the Bump Elliott Era. The Wolverines finished with a record of 5 wins and 4 losses. They went 3-4-0 in the conference which was only good enough for fifth place. Interestingly, Dennis Fitzgerald was voted as the team’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the end of the season.

Dennis Fitzgerald’s Michigan Firsts

In addition to being a two-time letterman and a team MVP, Dennis Fitzgerald accomplished some interesting firsts during his time at Michigan.

  • Fitzgerald was the first (and maybe the only) former Marine to play for a former marine (Bump Elliott) and wear the same number (18).
  • He played on Bump Elliott’s first Michigan football team in 1959. 
  • Dennis was the first man in Michigan football history to return a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown.
  • He is the only Wolverine football MVP to also captain two wrestling teams and win two Big Ten wrestling championships (177 pounds).
  • He is the only former Wolverine football player to win a Gold Medal (Wrestling) at the Pan American games.

Another Michigan Man to be Thankful For

Dennis Fitzgerald coached at Michigan from 1963 to 1968 before moving on to many other opportunities. He was a Kent State University from 1971 to 1977 and coached a guy named Nick Saban. He also hired Saban for his first coaching job in 1975. You can read more about Dennis Fitzgerald’s accomplishments in the Wikipedia article linked below.

Yes, Dennis Fitzgerald was a true blue “Michigan Man.” Fitz gave everything he had to his football and wrestling coaches and to The University of Michigan. He contributed to the great history of Michigan football and wrestling. May Dennis Fitzgerald always rest in peace. Go Blue!



Part II. National Day Calendar Note

I hope that you have a Magnificent Monday today. Here are some events you might want to celebrate as you go through the day.

  • Clean Off Your Desk Day
  • Dress Up Your Pet Day
  • Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day
  • Ratification Day (?)

Personally, I will be cleaning off my desk today. And, it might take some time because it is a BIG mess! I don’t have any pets and I don’t like pastrami (hot or cold). So, I won’t be doing anything with these two events. If you need to ratify something, it looks like today is the day! Good luck!


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