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September 29, 2017 Happy Birthday Anniversary Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis!

Posted on September 29, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s blog celebrates the happy birthday anniversary of Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis. I wrote about him last year, but his grandson reminded me of something very important that I did not share in my previous article about Joe Gembis. So, I will address that important issue later in this article.

 According to the Wikipedia article linked below, Joseph G. “Dynamite Joe” Gembis was born on this day in 1907. Joe Gembis came to Ann Arbor from Vicksburg, Michigan in the fall of 1926. He has many different connections to the long history of Michigan Football. His first connection is that, although he was on the freshman team, he was on the last team that was coached by the legendary Fielding H. Yost.

In his Sophomore year, Gembis played for new Michigan coach, Elton “Tad” Wieman. Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis was one of a very few men in Michigan Football history to play the first season in Michigan Stadium. I don’t know when he got the nickname “Dynamite Joe,” but it may have happened in 1927 when he established himself as a hard hitting, pile driving running back that hit people and holes in the line in an explosive manner! It didn’t take long for him to impress the coaches with his running, blocking and kicking abilities. Although he wasn’t credited with any starts in 1927, he logged enough playing time to earn a letter on a team that finished with a record of 6-2-0.  

Joe Gembis Michigan Football 1927 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Joe Gembis runs for a good gain against Ohio State in the Michigan Stadium “Dedication Game.” Michigan won it 21-0. Gembis became famous the next year when he kicked the first Wolverine field goal in Michigan Stadium history in 1928. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

The good news for Joe Gembis in 1928 was that he started five games of eight games fullback. The bad news was that the team finished with a record of only 3 wins, 4 losses and 1 tie. Unfortunately for Coach Wieman, those numbers meant that he was finished at Michigan. Fielding Yost had a new stadium to fill and a losing team did not help him pay the bills like he had hoped. Yost looked to East Lansing for a solution to fill his coaching vacancy. He lured his former All-American player, Harry Kipke, back to Ann Arbor to lead the Wolverines.

Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis’ senior year was another year of transition for him and for Michigan. He was playing for his third coach in four years. He must have impressed Coach Kipke with his ability because he started eight of nine games. Five of his starts were at fullback and three of them were at right halfback. The team improved their overall record and finished the season with 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 tie. They weren’t as good in the conference since a record of 1-3-1 saddled them with a tie for eighth place.

 Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis is a big part of Michigan Football because he was there for some important “firsts” in Wolverine Football lore: Check them out! 

·         Gembis played on the first team that Tad Wieman coached at Michigan in 1927.

·         “Dynamite Joe” played in the first game in the history of Michigan Stadium on October 1, 1927.

·         Joe Gembis kicked the first Wolverine field goal (25-yards) in Michigan Stadium history on November 3, 1928. It was a game-winner as the Wolverines claimed a 3-0 victory over Illinois. (Thanks Ben!)

·         Gembis played in the first game that Michigan wore “canary” jerseys at Navy in November 1928. The game ended in a 6-6 tie. No, it wasn’t Nike’s idea to wear the colorful attire!

·         Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis played on the first team that Harry Kipke coached at Michigan in 1929.

·         Joe Gembis played in the first ever double header games at Michigan Stadium on September 27, 1929. Michigan defeated Denison of Ohio by a score of 33-0 and then squeaked by Michigan Normal (now Eastern Michigan) by a score of 7-0.

Even though Michigan won both games of the double header, Fielding Yost’s attempt to draw more people to his cavernous stadium failed miserably. Only 16,412 fans showed up which meant that Mr. Yost had about seventy thousand empty seats. Of course, the Depression was happening and many, many people were struggling to survive. So, going to a Michigan Football game was not a high propriety for most Michiganders.

The Wikipedia article has a few more details about Joe’s life after Michigan. He served as the Head Coach at Wayne State from 1932 to 1945. Joe Gembis left his family, friends and Wolverine Nation on July 5, 1969 at the age of sixty-one. Today is a good day to celebrate the Michigan career and appreciate the accomplishments of Joe Gembis. May Joseph “Dynamite Joe” Gembis continue to Rest in Peace! Go Blue!


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