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May 30, 2017 – Happy Birthday Michigan Football!

Posted on May 30, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today is the most important day in Wolverine Football History because it is the “Happy Birthday Anniversary” of Michigan Football. Yes, it all started one-hundred and thirty-eight years ago in Chicago. So, May 30th is always a great day to remember Team #1 and honor their legacy.

Racine College in Racine, Wisconsin 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 the first against another school.

Michigan Football Captain David DeTar 1879 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

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

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. David DeTar, a medical student, played a key role in recruiting and training the candidates for Team #1. He also 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.

In May 1979, 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 1979. 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 took place on Michigan Football’s “Happy Birthday” on May 30, 1879:

  • David 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.
  • Irving Kane Pond scored the first touchdown in the history of Michigan Football.
  • Captain David DeTar scored the winning “goal” and provided the point needed to win Michigan’s first football game 1-0.

So, today is a good day to honor the memory of Captain David DeTar and his Wolverine teammates. Twelve “Pigskin Pioneers” were there for the start of Michigan’s long, and successful, football history. Thank you, David DeTar for being the first captain of a Michigan football team and thank you for leading them to victory number one!  Now, one-hundred and thirty-eight years later, Michigan Football is still going STRONG! May the men of the first football team in Michigan Football History always rest in peace. Happy 138th Birthday Michigan Football! Go Blue!

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




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