The purpose of today’s post is to wish a very Happy Maize and Blue Birthday to a Wolverine named John Wangler. According to the 1980 Michigan Football Media Guide, John “Johnny” Wangler was born on this day in Royal Oak, Michigan. John grew up in Royal Oak and attended Royal Oak Shrine Catholic High School in Royal Oak. He was an outstanding athlete and who garnered plenty of attention from college recruiters. However, he loved The University of Michigan and when Bo Schembechler offered him a scholarship, he said, “Yes.”
John Wangler arrived in Ann Arbor in 1976. Everyone thought that he would follow in the footsteps of Rick Leach, but Leach wasn’t leaving anytime soon. So, John Wangler settled into a “backup” role and worked on learning the Michigan offense. He wasn’t starting, but he contributed to some very good teams in 1976 and 1977. (back-to-back Big Ten Champions).
In 1978, John Wangler’s football career took a giant step backward when he had to sit out the entire season due to a neck injury. Rick Leach was gone when Wangler came back in 1979. However, another hot prospect named B. J. Dickey and a freshman named Rich Hewlett were trying to get Bo’s attention and win the starting quarterback job. As it turned out, Dickey won the starting job to open the season. B.J. Dickey started seven games during the season, Wangler started four and Hewlett started one.
Wangler didn’t start that many games in 1979. However, he completed at least two passes in eleven of Michigan’s twelve games that season. One of his completions led to one of the most memorable plays in Michigan Football History. It was Homecoming and John Wangler did not start the Indiana game. Instead, he came in late (with the score tied 21-21) to try to earn a win over the Hoosiers. Yes, Wangler led Michigan on the winning drive that ended with a legendary 45-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Carter. Bob Ufer, Michigan’s uber-enthusiastic radio announcer, immortalized the play with his unforgettable call.
John Wangler earned the start in the 1980 Gator Bowl against North Carolina. He had Michigan in the lead (9-0) in the second quarter. Unfortunately, he was sacked by future NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Taylor’s tackle tore ligaments in Wangler’s knee and it appeared that his career was over.
The odds of recovering from a serious knee injury are usually pretty low. Michigan’s medical staff was uncertain about Wangler’s football future. Bo Schembechler was not counting on John Wangler’s return to the 1980 football team. Of course, John Wangler did the work and beat the odds. He made one of the greatest injury comebacks in Michigan Football History. So, the good news was that John Wangler was back to lead the Michigan Football offense as a fifth-year senior.
Unfortunately, the bad news was that the eleventh ranked Wolverines started with a narrow win over Northwestern. However, a loss to Notre Dame almost sent Bo over the edge. Michigan had lost four of the last five games dating back to the end of the 1979 season. Fortunately, Bo didn’t jump off any tall buildings, but he did do something that was almost unthinkable. He changed his offensive scheme after two games! The option attack that had served him so well since 1969 just wasn’t working as well since Rick Leach left in 1978. Schembechler decided to go to a more balanced running and passing attack that would better showcase the talents of John Wangler, Anthony Carter and Butch Woolfolk, to name a few.
Michigan still had a few “bugs” to work out in the new offense (big surprise) by the time they hosted South Carolina for game number three. The Wolverines were not clicking on all cylinders yet and they lost to the Gamecocks by a score of 14-17. After that, it was lights out on both sides of the ball. Michigan’s offense scored over 23 points in every game for the rest of the season except Ohio State. Four games totaled over thirty-points. The defense shut out three teams and did not allow a touchdown in the last four games.
John Wangler, and his teammates, embraced the new offensive scheme and made it work. The Wolverines rolled up some big offensive numbers and won six of the last eight games by twenty-four points or more. Of course, the Wolverines ended the regular season with eight straight wins and a Big Ten Championship. Even more important, they won the 1981 Rose Bowl and gave Bo his first bowl win in eight attempts.
The talented Wangler earned the respect of his coaches and teammates with his courageous comeback in 1980. He received the Arthur Robinson Scholarship Award for his great work on the field and in the classroom. John Wangler was selected as the first-team Academic All-Big Ten quarterback and the second-team Academic All-American quarterback. Wangler also won the Big Ten Medal of Honor as the Michigan student in the graduating class of 1981 who had best demonstrated proficiency in scholarship and athletics.
Yes, John Wangler had quite a career at Michigan. His success paved the way for more “passing” quarterbacks at Michigan. Guys like Harbaugh, Grbac, and Brady should be grateful to Wangler. He defied the odds and showed a lot of grit in coming back from two serious injuries and proved himself to be an outstanding leader. Of course, he will be forever connected with Anthony Carter for the most exciting six seconds in Michigan Football History. It is only fitting that #5 Wangler and #1 Carter hooked up on that legendary six-second play in 1979! (Thanks to the Wolverine Historian for the clip below)
Congratulations John Wangler on his outstanding Michigan Football career. Please take a moment to appreciate his contributions to the great history of Michigan Football. I hope John Wangler has a very “Happy Birthday” on his special day! Go Blue!
For more information about John Wangler’s Michigan football career and his life after football go to the following links:
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