Today is a great day to remember the Happy Birthday anniversary of Rolla Bigelow who was born on this day in 1878. Robert Lavante “Rolla” Bigelow was born in Corunna, Michigan. After high school, he enrolled at Michigan Agricultural College (MAC) where he played one season of football in 1898. However, Bigelow saw the light and transferred to Michigan where he studied engineering and played football for Fielding Yost.
(Rolla Bigelow is probably in this picture, but no one in the photo is identified. It is the entire 1902 Michigan Wolverine Football team, not just the letter winners. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
Bigelow was a member of the 1902 Wolverine team that dominated college football. The Wolverines posted back-to-back eleven win seasons and were on a twenty-two game winning streak after Coach Yost’s first two seasons. All this winning earned the Wolverines two straight Big Ten Championships and two national championships in 1901 and 1902. Although Rolla did not letter in 1902, Coach Yost must have liked what he saw in young Rolla Bigelow.
Bigelow came back ready and eager for the 1903 season. It turned out to be another undefeated season for the Wolverines although they tied one game (Minnesota 6-6) to finish at 11 wins 0 losses and 1 tie. Although Michigan’s winning streak was halted at twenty-nine games, the Wolverines remained undefeated in thirty-four straight games at the end of the 1903 season.
Rolla Bigelow had his best season in 1903 and actually played in some games. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, he started two games and scored five touchdowns during the season. Unfortunately, he did not earn enough playing time to get a letter from the demanding Yost. In 1902, 75 players turned out in the fall, but at the end of the season, only 12 men earned a letter. The pattern in 1903 was almost exactly the same since 12 men received a letter for their efforts compared to 63 players who had a roster spot at the start of the season.
So, even though he wasn’t a famous Wolverine, Rolla Bigelow is still part of Michigan Football history. He was on two of Michigan’s greatest teams in 1902 and 1903.
It appears that Rolla Bigelow had better things to do in 1904 since his name did not show up on the Michigan Football Roster. He probably focused on his studies and started to think about life after football. Rolla Bigelow graduated with an engineering degree from Michigan in 1905. Interestingly, he went on to a successful banking career. Please take a moment to remember Rolla Bigelow. He is another “Pigskin Pioneer” who is part of the long line of Michigan Wolverines that dates back to 1879. Go Blue!
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