Today is a great day to celebrate the birthday anniversary of Ralph I. Heikkinen. Ralph Isaac “Hike” Heikinen was born on this day in 1917 in Hancock, Michigan. According to the 1935 Michigan Football Roster, Heikkinen came to Ann Arbor from Ramsey, Michigan. He was an outstanding athlete at Bessemer High School and chose to continue his education and his football at The University of Michigan in 1935.
(Note – Ralph I. Heikkinen (#36) is shown above with the 1939 Michigan Football team. He is seated in the first row – second man from the right. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
Ralph I. Heikkinen did what everybody else did in the mid-1930s. He spent his time on the freshman time and did his best to learn Harry Kipke’s “Michigan football system.” “Hike” applied himself with determination on the football field and in the classroom during the n 1935-1936 school year.
Apparently, young Heikkinen had some more learning to do in 1936. The good news was that he made Harry Kipke’s varsity team in 1936. The bad news was that Heikkinen did not start any games or play enough to earn a letter that season. Maybe Michigan would have won more games with “Hike” on the field since the Wolverines finished the season with a record of 1 win and 7 losses. They were even worse in the conference at 0 wins and 5 losses.
Heikkinen came back in 1937 to do more for Michigan. He was determined to play more and help the Wolverines to play better. He started seven games at right guard and earned his first varsity letter. Even more impressive, he earned All-Conference honors and was named the Most Valuable Player on the 1937 Michigan team. Fortunately, the Wolverines did post a better record in 1937. The won 4 games and lost 4 games. They also broke even in the conference with a record of 3-3-0. Michigan finished in a tie for fourth place in 1937. Of course, this was not a terrible record for most teams, but it wasn’t good enough for Michigan. Harry Kipke would to return to coach Michigan in 1938.
Fritz Crisler was Michigan’s new football coach in 1938. Now, Ralph I. Heikkinen, and his teammates, would have to impress the demanding Crisler to earn playing time. Of course, “Hike” remained on the varsity, in 1938. He started 6 games at right guard and 2 more at left guard. Again, the undersized Heikkinen (5’9” and 180 pounds) moved people on offense and tackled them on defense. He was a ferocious competitor who inspired his teammates with his toughness and determination.
Ralph I. Heikkinen was a force to be reckoned with in 1938. He helped lead Crisler’s first team to a record of 6-1-1 for the season. They won 3, lost 1 and tied 1 in the conference and finished in a 2nd place tie. “Hike” earned All-Conference honors for the second straight season and also became Fritz Crisler’s first All-American player.
So, on the one-hundred second anniversary of his birth, let us remember Ralph Heikkinen. “Hike” epitomized the spirit of a true, blue, Michigan Man. He was not the biggest man to ever play “guard” at Michigan, but pound-for-pound – he may have been the toughest! He was that good! His teammates certainly appreciated his contributions to Michigan Football and so should we. Please take a moment today to think good things about Ralph “Hike” Heikkinen. Sadly, Ralph died on January 12, 1990 at the age of seventy-two. May Ralph I. Heikkinen continue to rest in eternal peace. Go Blue!
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