Today is a great day to remember the Happy Birthday Anniversary of a legendary Michigan Wolverine named Gustave Ferbert. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, Gustave Herman “Dutch” Ferbert was born at Cleveland, Ohio on this day in 1873. He is another one of those “Pigskin Pioneers” that helped establish the winningest program in college football history.
Gustave Ferbert played for his beloved Wolverines from 1893 to 1896. The rosters for these years listed him as a halfback/end. Dutch was an excellent player on some very good Michigan Football teams. Ferbert’s Class of 1897 won more games in four years (33-6-1) than any previous graduating class in Michigan Football history. Their winning percentage was almost eighty-four percent (.838). Those guys could play! The Michigan footballers of the Class of 1897 set the bar very high for future players and teams!
According to the Bentley Historical Library, Michigan’s Student-Alumni Advisory Board (of which Ferbert was a member) determined that only former students would coach the football team. The popular Ferbert was elected by this body to replace William Ward who had coached the team to a record of 9-1-0 in 1896. The rest as they say is history.
Coach Ferbert knew about the high expectations that he, and his teammates, set for the program. He also knew something about the expectations for playing in the newly formed Western Athletic Conference (later the Big Ten). Ferbert’s last team finished second in the conference in 1896, losing their only conference game to eventual champion Chicago.
Unfortunately, first year Coach Ferbert saw history repeat itself as the Wolverines had an outstanding season (6-1-1) that was blemished by two famous football coaches. First, a guy named Fielding H. Yost brought his scrappy team from Ohio Weslayan to Regent’s Field. He walked away with a tie (0-0) against the vaunted Wolverines. (We would hear more about Mr. Yost later, wouldn’t we?)
Second, the Wolverines traveled to Chicago for the second straight year to play the highly regarded Maroons coach by Amos Alanzo Stagg. The Wolverines played their first “indoor” game on Thanksgiving Day and lost to Chicago by a score of 12-21.
Ferbert’s Wolverines knew what they had to do in 1898 and they did it! They crashed through their schedule and defeated every team by at least eighteen points except Northwestern (6-5) and Illinois (12-5). Once again, traveled to Chicago for the last game of the season.
The Wolverines faced off against the Maroons on Thursday, November 24, 1898. It was billed as the game of the season in the west. It turned out to be a classic with Michigan winning by a score of 12-11. Dutch Ferbert’s footballers finished the season with a perfect record of 10-0-0. They were the unbeaten (3-0) Western Conference champions for the first time in Michigan Football history! Oh yes, the win inspired a Michigan student, Louis Elbel, to write the greatest fight song in the history of college football!
For some strange reason, Chicago was off the Michigan schedule in 1899. A second straight conference championship seemed to be in Michigan’s grasp. However, things didn’t quite work out that way as the Wolverines finished the season with a record of 8-2-0. They lost the final conference game to Wisconsin and finished in a third-place tie in the final conference standings.
Dutch Ferbert left Michigan after the 1899 season to prospect for gold in Alaska. Legend has it that Ferbert’s nine-year adventure in Alaska paid off! You can read more about Gustave Ferbert in the articles linked below.
Yes, Gustave Ferbert left a great legacy as a player and a coach. He won almost eighty-eight percent of his games (.875) and set the bar very high for every coach who followed him! May Gustave Ferbert continue to rest in eternal peace. Go Blue!
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