The purpose of today’s post is to wish “Happy Birthday” to Michigan Man Tom Neal. Bo Schembechler recruited Tom Neal out of Orlando, Florida to come to Michigan to play for the Wolverines. Wow − what a sales job by Bo! How do you get a kid in warm, sunny Orlando, Florida to come play football in cold, gray Ann Arbor? Well, as Bo once told me, “I talk to eighteen year olds for a living.” I guess Bo was pretty convincing with young Tom. So, the smart and talented Neal decided to come to Michigan.
(Note - Tom Neal is shown above with the 1980 Michigan Football team. He is seated un the fourth row - seventh man from the right. Photo courtesy of he Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
Part I. Wolverine of the Day: Tom Neal
Tom Neal was an outstanding athlete (three sports) at Edgewater High School in Orlando. He was the Most Valuable Player on his high school football team. Tom also did well academically and socially at Edgewater. He was class president and also gained membership in the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. By all accounts, Tom Neal was exactly the kind of person/player that Bo Schembechler wanted on his football team.
A Team Player for Bo’s Wolverines
Tom was listed on the Michigan Football Rosters as an offensive lineman from 1978 to 1981. According to the records I reviewed at the Bentley Historical Library, Neal did not earn any starts while he was at Michigan. However, Tom Neal’s four years of dedication were rewarded in 1981 when he earned his Michigan letter. It does not appear that he played a lot during his Wolverine career. I am thinking that he did his hardest work in practice getting the first and second teamers ready for game day.
Like so many Michigan Men before him, Tom Neal loved the game of football. He came to Michigan on a scholarship and competed for playing time with some outstanding players during his four years. He probably didn’t get as much playing time as he wanted, but that’s how things worked out.
Tom Neal and Some Michigan Football “Firsts.”
There were a number of interesting things I noted about Tom Neal’s time at Michigan. First, Michigan won thirty-seven of forty-eight games during that time which was a seventy-seven percent winning rate. Michigan won two Big Ten Championships during the “Neal Years” (1978 & 1980).
Tom is also linked to some impressive firsts that Bo and his players achieved in the early eighties. First, Tom and his teammates gave Bo Schembechler his bowl win in the 1981 Rose Bowl (23-6) against Washington. Second, When the Wolverines won the Blue Bonnett Bowl on December 31, 1981, it marked the first time that a Michigan team and Bo won two bowl games in the same calendar year! Of course, this was also the first time that Bo had won back-to-back bowl games!
So, congratulations Tom Neal for lettering at Michigan and being a part of the winningest program in the history of college football. Thank you for your contributions to the very long Maize and Blue line that dates all the way back to 1879! Happy Birthday Tom Brent! I hope you enjoy your special day today. Go Blue!
Part II. January 18, 2020 National Day Calendar Update
Okay, I hope you are having a Spectacular Saturday as you read this post. I don’t know too many people who don’t like Saturdays. I’ll bet that you didn’t know that today is Michigan Day. Yes, the Great Lakes state is at the top of the list for events to celebrate today. Here are the rest, according to the National Day Calendar:
Personally, I grew up in Michigan, but now live in Illinois. So, I appreciate “Michigan Day” – a lot. We get back to our favorite state often to visit family and vacation on Lake Michigan. Yes, “Pure Michigan” is a BIG attraction in family!
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