The newspapers back on September 18, 1943 probably had a headline that read “Michigan Defeats Camp Grant!” And, you may ask, “Who?” or “What?” was Camp Grant? Well, Camp Grant was a training base that was re-activated during World War II. It was located near Rockford, Illinois. The base commander decided to organize a football team and they found a way to schedule Michigan for the first game of the 1943 season for both teams.
(Note - The 1943 Big Ten Champion Michigan Football team, pictured above, was the first, and only, team to play a game against Camp Grant. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
For the second time in the last four years, the Wolverines played an away game to start the season. This was unusual since Michigan had been playing season openers at home against Michigan State from 1932 to 1939. The Wolverines traveled to California in 1940 to kick off the season, but went back to the Michigan State opener in 1941. Michigan hosted a team from Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1942 before playing the Spartans the next week.
So, the stage was set for the sixty-fourth season in Michigan Football history. Michigan needed a season opening opponent because Michigan State College did not field a football team for the 1943 season. Instead, the Wolverines traveled to Illinois to play the Camp Grant Warriors. Michigan entered the season with high expectations. The Wolverines were hoping to improve on their record of 7-3-0 in 1942 which was Fritz Crisler’s first three-loss season at Michigan. The Maize and Blue footballers also wanted to do better than third place in the Big Nine Conference.
One interesting fact about this game was that former Michigan State coach Charlie Bachman was the coach of the Camp Grant Football team. What a small football world it was in 1943!
Michigan began the season exactly the way Fritz Crisler wanted – with a win! Final score: Wolverines 26 and Warriors 0. Michigan scored in every quarter and dominated the Warriors in all phases of the game. Elroy Hirsch, playing in his first Michigan game, scored two touchdowns and intercepted a pass for his new team.
Here is the box score of the game:
Michigan used this game as a springboard to Crisler’s most successful season in six years at the helm. The Wolverines finished the season with an overall record of 8-1-0. Their only loss was to the nation’s number one team − Notre Dame (12-35). Michigan went undefeated in conference play (6-0-0) and claimed a share of the conference title – Crisler’s first!
One other interesting thing about the 1943 season was that Michigan played three road games that season and they were all against teams from Illinois. The good news was that they won them all: Camp Grant 26-0, Northwestern 21-7, and Illinois 42-6.
A couple other tidbits about the Michigan vs Camp Grant game. This would be the only game that Michigan and Camp Grant would play against each other. It would also be the only season that Camp Grant fielded a team. The Warriors played a very difficult schedule in their only year in existence and finished the season with a record of 2-6-2.
Here are some of the “firsts” that emerged from this unusual game:
For more information on this unusual game and the 1943 Camp Grant Football team check out the following links:
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