Today’s blog goes all the way back to the end of an eventful Michigan Football season that I call A Season of Firsts in Wolverine football history. November 28, 1891 marked the end of the first season that saw a coach, or coaches, and not a captain in charge of a Wolverine Football team. This was only the beginning in what was to be a season of firsts in Ann Arbor.
The Bentley Historical Library lists Frank Crawford as the first “paid” head coach of a Michigan football team. Mike Murphy is listed as the “Trainer” for the 1891 team. Some experts say they shared the coaching duties, but I am not going to get too deep into that debate today. Let’s just say it was a big change in the way Michigan football would move forward in the future. It was the most important “first” in a season of firsts in Ann Arbor.
Regardless of who was in charge, the season did not end the way most Michigan players and fans would like. The 1891 team started well by winning four of the first five games. Okay, the first game was against Ann Arbor High School so that win is discounted by many. Yes, it was the first time Michigan ever played the high school boys from Ann Arbor and it was also the last.
Michigan did not capitalize on their fast start and ended the season with four consecutive losses. The final record for the first “coached” team finished with 4 wins and 5 losses. This means that the coach/coaches in 1891 led the Wolverines to the first five loss season in Michigan football season – ouch! Interestingly, Frank Crawford and Mike Murphy did not return for the 1892 season.
Here are thirteen more “firsts” that are associated with the 1891 Michigan Football’s Season of Firsts.
· October 17 – First ever loss to Albion College (4-10) after winning the first seven games of this series.
· October 19 – First game against Olivet College. Michigan won by a score of 18-6.
· October 24 – First game against Oberlin College – a 26-6 win. It was the first game ever against a team from Ohio.
· October 31 – First home game on Halloween. Also, first, and only, game against Butler. Michigan won he game by a score of 42-6.
· November 14 – First, and only, game against the Chicago Athletic Club is a 0-10 loss.
· November 26 – First, and only, game against the Cleveland Athletic Association is also a loss – 4-8. It is also the first ever loss to a team from Ohio. (yes, I had to mention this!)
· November 28 – Wolverines end the season with their second loss to Cornell (0-10) in Detroit. Yes, this is the first time that a Michigan team lost to the same team twice in one season.
· The 1891 season was the first nine-game season in Michigan Football History.
· Unfortunately, the 1891 season was also the first five loss season in the annals of Wolverine Football.
· Finally, this was the first season that saw games with 6 new teams.
The 1891 season was also the first season that saw a Michigan team lose twice to the same team. Michigan was trying to upgrade their program so they continued to play at least one team from the “east” every season. Cornell was the team of choice, twice, in 1891. The Wolverines journeyed to Detroit to meet Cornell on November 21, 1891. They went back to Ann Arbor to ponder a 12-58 loss. This would be the worst defeat that a Michigan team had suffered in the first twelve years of football. Michigan, hoping for revenge, went to Chicago a week later to play the Big Red. The Wolverines played a better game, but still went home with another defeat (0-10).
So, the 1891 Michigan football season was a time of transition and a total of fifteen “firsts.”. The team “captains” would still play a critical role in the success of Michigan football, but they would take the lead from the coaches in charge. Michigan hired Frank Barbour to lead the team in 1892 and he did a little better. He tied the record for losses (5), but set a Wolverine record for wins (7) during the second season with a paid coach.
Today is a good day to reflect on the history of Michigan football and remember what has happened in one hundred-thirty-nine years. Michigan’s “captains” put twenty-one wins into the record book in eleven seasons. Wolverine coaches have led Michigan teams to nine hundred-thirty-two wins so far in one-hundred-twenty-eight seasons. All captains, coaches and players have contributed significantly to the legacy of the winningest program in college football history. Go Blue!
The end of season awards will be announced in the coming weeks. Who was the first Wolverine to earn All-American honors?
Center William Cunningham was the first Wolverine to All-American honors. His stellar play in 1898 helped Michigan post a perfect record of 10 wins 0 losses and 0 ties. More importantly, Gustave Ferbert’s footballers won the first Western Conference Championship in school history.
Who was the first Michigan football coach to be named Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association?