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October 24, 1896 – Historic Big Ten Win!

Posted on October 24, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post goes way, way back to a historic Big Ten win in Michigan Football history. Actually, it wasn’t a Big Ten win, but it was the first Wolverine win in the newly formed Western Conference.

This milestone game took place against Purdue at Stuart Field in Lafayette, Indiana. It was the fifth game of the 1896 Wolverine Football season. New coach, William Ward, had the Maize and Blue footballers off to a great start. Michigan won their first four games by a margin of 156-0. Yes, they had posted four straight shutouts and were looking to do the same against the Boilermakers.

William Ward Michigan Football 1896 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

William Ward coached Michigan to their first Western Conference win in 1896. He finished the season with 9 wins and 1 loss, but did not return to the sidelines in 1897. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. Michigan won their first conference game by a score of 16-0. So, they kept their win/shutout streak going strong. Halfbacks James Hogg and Gustave Ferbert scored the only touchdowns in this historic Big Ten win.

The Wolverines won their next game against Lehigh by a score of 40-0 to extend their win/shutout streak to a best ever – six games. Unfortunately, the shutout streak came to an end the next week, but the Wolverines kept winning with a victory over Minnesota (6-4). Michigan won the next two games against Oberlin ((10-0) and Wittenberg (28-0) to set up a showdown for the conference championship game against Chicago in the Windy City.

The game was played on Thanksgiving Day in the Chicago Coliseum. Unfortunately, Michigan lost by a score of 6-7. Wow, they came so close to winning their first conference championship in their first year of competition.

So, William Ward’s team finished the season with a final record of 9 wins and 1 loss. The Wolverines ended the year with a Western Conference record of 2-1-0 and finished in a tie for second place. Despite his successful record, Ward did not return to coach the Wolverines in 1897. The Athletic Policy Board decided that only alumni should coach Michigan’s sport’s teams. William Ward did not graduate from Michigan so he was out! Gustave Ferbert, who graduated in 1897, became the next Michigan Football coach.

Gustave Ferbert Michigan Football 1897 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Senior halfback Gustave Ferbert scored one of the touchdowns in Michigan’s first Big Ten win against Purdue in 1896. He became the fifth coach in Michigan Football History when he took over in 1897. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Once again, this date/team is associated with a number of important Michigan Football firsts. Here they are:

  • This was the first, and only, team that William Ward led at Michigan.
  • William Ward coached in the first game/first win/first road win in Michigan’s Western Conference/Big Ten history.
  • Michigan played “first ever” games in 1896 against Michigan Normal (EMU), Grand Rapids High School, Lehigh, Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago and Wittenberg.
  • The 1896 season was the first, and only, conference season with all road games.
  • William Ward’s 1896 team was the first Michigan Football team to open a season with six consecutive shutout wins.

It is interesting to note that Purdue came to Ann Arbor to play Michigan in 1897. The Wolverines won the game by a score of 34-4. So, Purdue was also part of Michigan’s first historic Big Ten win at home.

If you fast forward to September 23, 2017, Purdue was also part of another historic Big Ten win when Michigan defeated them for conference win #499. Michigan added another historic Big Ten win when they defeated Indiana on October 14, 2017 for Big Ten win #500. So far, Michigan is the first, and only, Big Ten team to record 500 conference wins.

The Wolverines will shoot for conference win #501 next week when they host Rutgers for the 2017 edition of Homecoming in Ann Arbor. Go Blue! Keep those Big Ten wins coming!



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