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January 31, 2017 – Rest in Peace David DeTar!

Posted on January 31, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today, let’s honor the memory of a Wolverine named David DeTar as he continues to rest in peace in Boone, Iowa. David Noble DeTar was one of the original thirteen lettermen who played on Team #1 way, way back in 1879. He died on this date in 1901 at the age of forty-seven.

David DeTar came to Ann Arbor from Boone, Iowa. He was studying to become a doctor at Michigan in 1878. Racine College in Racine, Wisconsin had issued a challenge to Michigan’s Football Association in October of 1878, but Michigan didn’t really have an organized team at that point. Some “football” games were being played on campus, but they were more “intramural” in nature. Up to that time, all football games had taken place on the Ann Arbor campus as “class vs class” matches. The proposed contest between Racine and Michigan would be in Chicago.

The members of Michigan’s Football Association voted to accept Racine’s challenge on the condition that the game be played in the spring of 1879. This would allow the association sufficient time to organize and train the team. DeTar probably decided that he needed an outlet from his studies so he signed up to play football. Not only did he sign up, David also played a key role in recruiting and training the candidates for Team #1. DeTar’s initiative earned the respect of many people, so, he became the first man to captain a Michigan football team. Lots of details had to be worked out before the actual game was played, but it did happen on that historic day – May 30, 1879.

David DeTar Michigan Football | bigbluefootballhistory.com

David DeTar was the first man to Captain a Michigan Football team in 1879. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

In May 1879, Captain David DeTar took his team to Chicago for Michigan’s first intercollegiate football game. The Chicago Daily Tribune called it the “first rugby-football game… west of the Alleghenies.” The  Wolverines made the trip count! Michigan’s “first footballers” left Chicago with their first victory in their first intercollegiate game. Final score: Wolverines 1 and Purple Stockings 0. Scoring was a lot different in those days, but Captain DeTar made a successful place kick and Michigan had the point they needed for the win.

The Wolverines also played a second game, but that one was in November of 1879. The game was played in Detroit against Toronto. The game ended in a tie (0-0) and that was the end of Michigan’s first foray into the new game of college “football.”

Here is a summary of the “firsts” that connect David DeTar to Michigan football:

  • DeTar helped recruit and train the first team in Michigan football history.
  • DeTar was the first man to “captain” a Michigan football team.
  • David DeTar, along with his teammates, played in the first football/rugby game west of the Allegheny Mountains.
  • Captain David DeTar scored the first point in Michigan football history on a “place kick” which provided the point needed to win Michigan’s first football game 1-0).
  • David DeTar was one of the first thirteen men to earn a football letter at Michigan.

So, today is a good day to honor the memory of a Michigan Man and appreciate his contributions to Michigan football. Dr. David DeTar (Class of 1880) was there for the start of Michigan’s long, and successful, football history. He played in both games in 1879 and is pictured with the thirteen lettermen on that inaugural team. David DeTar was a true “pigskin pioneer.” Thank you, David DeTar for being the first captain of a Michigan football team and thank you for leading them to victory number one!  You helped get the “ball” rolling in Ann Arbor. Now, one-hundred and thirty-seven years later, Michigan football is still going STRONG! May Dr. David N. DeTar always rest in peace. Go Blue!

To read more about the 1879 football season check out the links below.




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