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40 Years of Michigan Football – Reflections from the 1971 Reunion

September 28, 2011

In the midst of the spectacle that was the Notre Dame Football game and the first night game in the Big House, the members of the 1971 Football team gathered for their 40th  reunion. Thanks to the efforts of the captains from that team,  Frank Gusich and Guy Murdock, together with a committee of teammates, this group has come together every five years to celebrate the accomplishments on the field and the team and our collective years in Ann Arbor.

While the reunion had much about it that was familiar, including  Jim Brandstatter performing the duties as MC and the shared memories and stories, this one seemed different. Perhaps it was because this was the first gathering of the team since Bo’s passing.  He, along with other members we have lost, were remembered with reverence.  Or, maybe, in part, it was a realization that the years were going by and that by the time the calendar turned another 5 years, there would be others who would not be there.

When we left Ann Arbor in the early 70’s, it was all in front of us.  After 40 years, it becomes a chance to look back.  Whatever it was, more than 90% of the living members of the team, including players, coaches, managers, trainers and administrative staff came together  to be with each other and remember.

Though he was absent in body, Bo’s presence and spirit were there as we recalled stories about him and watched a video made in 1971 which captured a week in his life.  It was as we all remembered him.  The voice inflections, the figures of speech, the mannerisms were all there.  Even down to the camera catching him smiling and chuckling to himself on the sidelines after having enthusiastically pointed out to a player where they had gone wrong. It was just a small moment in a lifetime of memories, but it spoke volumes about the man and who he was.

During the course of the evening, many of the coaches from that team spoke about the team and what it had meant to them to be part of that group.   The comments dealt with not only the accomplishments of the team on the field, but more about how each of them had been proud to have been a part of this group and how proud they were of what we had all become.

Most of you have heard the story about Bo’s first year in Ann Arbor in 1969.  There was some dissension on the part of some of the players and some quit.  Bo, in an effort to encourage those on the team had a sign made that said “Those Who Stay Will be Champions”.  He put that up in the locker room.  The next day, someone had written underneath, “and those that don’t will become Doctors and Lawyers and Captains of Industry.  As I looked around me, I saw Champions,  but also I saw the Doctors and the Lawyers and the Captains of Industry.  Oh, and 1 Athletic Director.

I have had some time to reflect more since that weekend.  There has been much discourse over the last few years over this notion of being a Michigan Man and who is and who was not and why that is important. It is difficult to put it into words exactly, but as Justice White said, referring to another subject, “I know it when I see it” And when  Brady Hoke,  in response to a question about whether being the football coach  at Michigan had somehow lost its luster,  said, “This is Michigan, for God sakes”,  we all knew exactly what he meant.

When Desmond Howard, in the course of accepting the accolades of being named a legend during the Notre Dame pre-game, said that he cherished all of his memories of being at Michigan; not just on the football field, but on the Diag, in South Quad, in the classroom and in any a number of places around the campus, he was echoing the thoughts of the members of that 1971 team and those that had come before and since. Being a Michigan Man (or Woman) is more than having participated in athletics; it is the whole picture that we experienced while on campus which we all carried into the world.

This idea was reinforced in the comments of a member of the 1971 team after the weekend.  In reflecting about the weekend and their time at Michigan, they reflected on the fact that we come to Michigan with certain expectations and for some, they are not met, goals not achieved on the field of play and a sense of pain lingers.  But, the perspective of 40 years crystalized to that person what is truly important. For this person and for many more, I suspect, there comes with time a true appreciation of what those years in Ann Arbor and at Michigan really mean. Those who stayed did become champions, but not just on the field, but in their careers, their families and their communities.  And when Bo put that on the sign, that is really what he hoped to convey.

We are not to be judged strictly with what happens on the field, the court or the gym.  I think what bothered so many people over these last few years was that we lost that perspective.  So much so that the media member felt compelled to ask Brady Hoke that question.   We do not take for granted the legacy of which we were a part, but this is Michigan, for God sakes.

One had a sense that the Michigan world, at least as it relates to football, is back in its orbit.  And time will march on, and future teams and students will come to understand the meaning and the importance of this thing called “Michigan.”  And to repeat the thoughts of that one individual, after 40 years, it continues to be  “All Good”

-Jerome L. Fine

Manager, 1971 Michigan Football Team

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr William Costello permalink
    September 29, 2011 8:43 PM

    Jerry, those are fine words. In all seriousness well said. We are all very fortunate to have had a glorious experience as Michigan men and women.

  2. Dan George permalink
    September 29, 2011 10:13 PM

    I am who I am, because of my time at “M”ichigan. My class were and are some of the finest
    people I know. Full of integrity and are alway trying to be the ‘best’ that they can be.

    I am proud to be a Michigan ‘Man”!!

    Best regards,

    Dan George D.D.S., M.S.

  3. Kref permalink
    September 30, 2011 7:46 AM

    Awesome!!! Go Blue!!!

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