In the week leading up to the Michigan-Michigan State football
game each year, football writers from the Daily and the student
newspaper at Michigan State exchange columns. As the teams
prepare to clash in Ann Arbor, here's this year's installment:
A small Michigan flag distinguishes Ward's resting place from the rows of other gravestones.
The Michigan Daily: Stephen J. Nesbitt
The State News: Jesse O'Brien
Then-senior Willis Ward (61) stands aside Gerald Ford (48) in Michigan's 1934 team photo.,
his momentum threw him into a
series of involuntary somersaults
that made the man on the flying
trapeze just a low, slow-going thing
in comparison," he continued.
Ward had whiffed on the tackle.
But that play meant more than a
blow to his pride.
Ward had broken the color bar-
rier for the Michigan football team
- again. The Wolverines' varsity
team had not fielded a single black
athlete in 40 years since George
Jewett graduated in 1892.
Kipke kept Ward in the game for
a full quarter, long enough to catch
-a 15-yard pass down to the four-
yard line that set up Michigan's
fourth score of the afternoon.
The next week, Ward was the
starter at left end as Michigan
topped Princeton, 14-7, en route to
the Wolverines' first of two consec-
utive unbeaten seasons and nation-
al titles in 1932-33.
It was Oct. 20, 1934: Michigan
vs. Georgia Tech.
Willis Ward was out of sight.
A football game was played on a
muddy field that day, a back-and-
forth battle in a downpour. But
Michigan's star was gone.
When Michigan athletic direc-
tor Fielding H. Yost scheduled
the matchup a year earlier, he had
neglected to remember one glar-
ing problem: teams from the South,
in that day and age, abided by Jim
Crow laws and refused to face
Ward had run, tumbled and
blown through the color barrier
two years earlier, but it didn't erase
the black eye from the Michigan
football program. That racial battle
was far from over.
As the matchup approached,
people throughout the Univer-
sity began to realize the potential
conflict. In late September, just a
few weeks before the game, the
National Student League on cam-
pus dispatched a committee - the
United Front on the Ward Issue -
to investigate whether Ward would
be allowed to play against Georgia
Yost stayed mum, as did Kipke
"Yost was genuinely naive about
this situation," Bacon said.
The backlash eventually came in
full force. A week before the game,
it was clear that Ward would sit out
the game; Yost explained that he
simply failed to take Ward's situa-
tion into account when he arranged
Students, professors and Ann
Arbor clergy split on both sides of
the issue, some demanding that
Ward be reinstated, others plead-
ing that for Ward's own sake he
should take the game off.
Arthur Miller, the future Pulit-
zer Prize-winning playwright,
was a staff writer for the Michi-
gan Daily at the time. According
to Kruger, Miller drove to Atlanta
the week of the game demanding
an audience with Georgia Tech. He
never had a chance. He returned to
the Daily and wrote a scathing edi-
torial that his editors determined
unwise to print, leaving it lost to
An overcapacity crowd jammed
into the auditorium in the Natural
Science Building on Friday eve-
ning for an open-forum debate on
whether Ward should play the fol-
"Smoldering feelings on the
question of Willis Ward's partici-
pation in the Georgia Tech game
burst into flames last night in
what was probably the wildest and
strangest night rally in Michigan's
history," read the Daily's story
about that night.
There were hecklers on both
sides of the aisle. Some students
booed and tossed coins at speakers.
At the end of the night, the Nation-
al Student League drafted a letter
that it then delivered to the Georgia
Tech team at its hotel in Ypsilanti,
"You have your blue-blood -
what seems to be the fraternity
type, maybe higher social class
folks - saying, 'Look, it's a football
game. It's their rules,' "said Michi-
gan football historian Greg Dooley.
"But the most vocal group is this
United Work Front, which said,
'Hey, we're Michigan. This is what
we stand for. We don't want to live
in a society like this. We can't play
this game if Ward doesn't play."'
Even many of Ward's closest
companions were split.
Harvey Smith, captain of the
track team and Ward's room-
mate during spring trips, claimed
that those who were demanding
that Ward play didn't know Ward.
Those who knew Ward best, he
said, were more interested in his
welfare than his pride.
Gerald Ford, Ward's room-
mate during the football season,
marched up to Kipke and said:
"I quit." Before the team rendez-
voused at the Barton Hills Country
Club on the night before the game,
Ward convinced Ford to play.
Despite the 11th-hour protests,
Ward didn't play against Georgia
Tech. The Daily and Time maga-
zine reported that Ward watched
from the press box, but in a 1976
interview uncovered in "Black and
Blue," Ward said he listened to the
game on the radio in his bedroom.
In his autobiography, Ford
claimed Michigan "hit like never
before." Charlie Preston, a Goer-
gia Tech lineman, hurled racist
insults toward Ford for defending
an African American. Five plays
into the game, Georgia Tech punt-
ed. On that play, Preston took a
heavy block from Ford and fellow
lineman Bill Borgman and was
knocked out of the game with a
couple of bruised ribs.
"Gerald Ford was a man who
never engaged in that his entire
life," Bacon said. "He was a genuine
gentleman. By all accounts, Ford
went out there, took it personally
and flat-out made it a point to kick
Mr. Preston's ass. And he did so
Michigan won that game, 9-2. It
was the team's only win all season.
As Kruger points out, Ward scored
all 20 points the Wolverines scored
the rest of the season.
"People say this was a dark day
for Michigan, and it was," Bacon
Barely visible at the base of one of the
display cases in Schembechler Hall is
a sentence etched in small black let-
tering on the white backdrop:
"The Paul Bunyan Trophy is temporarily
located in East Lansing but will return next
For a program on the upswing, those
15 words inked into the Michigan football
team's headquarters in Ann Arbor mark the
Wolverines' fatal flaw, their final stain: their
inability to beat Michigan State.
No one really expect-
ed it to drag on this long.
Here we are today, y
with the Spartans rid-j
ing a four-year winning
streak in the rivalry
I'm a numbers guy. I
call 'em how I see 'em -
balls and strikes. STEPHEN J.
Losing to Michigan NESBITTM
State four years straight?
That's painful. That's a
long, long time.
(Not quite as long as The State News' sev-
en-year skid to the Daily in our annual touch
football match, though.)
Michigan leads the series 67-32-5. If you
squint hard enough, it really looks a lot closer.
Keep in mind that the Wolverines kept
the Paul Bunyan Trophy for six consecutive
years before this stretch began in 2008.
And Michigan is going for win No. 900
on Saturday, hoping to push its title as win-
ningest program in college football to the
next level by becoming the first team to sur-
pass 900 wins.
900. Try squinting. That number just
keeps getting bigger. Michigan State would
need 22 consecutive unbeaten seasons to hit
I know what this weekend is like around
East Lansing. It's got the air of the Super
Bowl. The Spartan Marching Band adapts
its cadence to insert 'Go State, beat Mich'gan'
and swaps the fight song lyrics to: "Smash
right through that line of blue" and "Mich-i-
gan is weak-en-ing."
But Michigan's not the one weakening
right now. The Spartans are boasting a 4-3
record this fall - and let's be clear, that's a
bad 4-3. Like the Michigan State studentsec-
tion, the Spartans just didn't show up against
Iowa last week.
With a loss this weekend, Michigan State
is poised to plummet off everyone's radar.
So it's going to be a circus. It's just too bad
Michigan State even has to make the trip to
the Big House. -
Michigan coach Brady Hoke hasn't lost a
game in the friendly confines of Michigan
Stadium. The Wolverines are a perfect 11-0 at
home since Hoke took the reins last January.
And they've got this quarterback. I think
you've met him. Denard Robinson, meet
Michigan State. Guys, Denard.
You probably know him quite well. Oh,
and you know who else knows him? Every-
Robinson sat beside wide receiver Devin
Gardner at the Michigan-Michigan State
women's soccer match in Ann Arbor last
week, and in the closing moments of half-
time, a group of elementary-aged girls lined
up along a fence behind the goal line about50
yards away to catch a glimpse of the dread-
"DENARD!" the troupe of six girls
shrieked in unison. He didn't hear. They
tried again, and this time he turned, smiled
and motioned them over.
They slowly ambled two-by-two along the
sideline to meet him. He posed for photos
with them, noticing only when they started
to walk away that they were all bundled up
in Michigan State jackets.
"Hey now!" he laughed.
Somewhere in East Lansing, Andrew
Maxwell whimpered off in a lonely corner:
"But I'm your quarterback!"
On the gridiron, the ferocious Spartan
defense has shut Robinson down twice,
knocked him out of the gamectwice and given
him a terrific little facemask yank along the
way. But he looks like a different player
today. For the first time since his first month
as starting quarterback back in 2010, Rob-
inson hasn't thrown an interception in two
games - backhanded compliment, eh? - and
the offense has averaged a healthy 40.1 point
per game at the Big House the last three sea-
son with Robinson at the helm.
Get your chirps in quickly, because this
honeymoon is coming to an end. It's time for
Paul Bunyan to come home. Michigan State
has won the battle, but Michigan still leads
Sure, maybe it's been 1,812 days since
Michigan beat Michigan State, but I just
went 800 wordswithout making a joke about
that naked professor.
- Nesbitt can be reached
Michigan State head coach Mark
Dantonio might have said it best
in his press conference Tuesday.
"I think you're green or blue in this
state by the time you get to age 14," he said.
And once that affiliation is determined, as
2Pac once said, "It's on for life."
There's no denying the University of
Michigan is one of the nation's premier insti-
tutions - as I'm sure you might have heard
this week from at least one student, alum,
faculty member or middle-aged band wagon-
er who happened to pick
up a $5 Michigan T-shirt
when Steve and Barry's
had its blowout sale.
The football team is
storied. The institution
itself has produced sev-
eral Nobel Prize winners
and an American presi-
dent. So what makes it so JESSE
hard for the Wolverines O'BRIEN
to count to four?
You might not remem-
ber the last time Michigan beat Michigan
State in football, which is understandable..
Back then, you probably had more important
things on your mind, like remembering the
right order of dance moves to "Crank That
Of course, that hasn't stopped Michigan
from continuing to allege its dominance over
the Mitten State.
In case you've been living under a rock
- or just happen to be one of the many
Michigan fans living in denial - it's been
four years since the Wolverines last beat the
Of course, those games don't really
count. I mean, 2008, 2009 and 2010 were
all rebuilding years. And last year, Michi-
gan State only won because they cheated,
and because then-sophomore defensive end
William Gholston is a "thug."
It's the same old rhetoric. And as we all
know, excuses are like excrement - it all
stinks, and Ann Arbor's full of it.
With each new season, I get the pleasure
of hearing about the Wolverine resurgence,
how this will be the year they'll run rough-
shod over the Big Ten and the Spartans -
and then get to watch Michigan's season fall
apart following a loss at the hands of "non-
rival" Michigan State.
Each season, I get to hear about Denard
Robinson's Heisman candidacy before
Michigan has played a game, how the soph-
omore, then junior, now senior quarterback
will shatter every NCAA Division-I record
en route to New York for the trophy presen-
tation. And each year, Robinson blows up in
spectacular fashion - though this season's
fall from grace was my personal favorite,
when he threw four interceptions on four
straight passing attempts against Notre
But please, tell me again how "Shoelace"
torched an 0-6 Massachusetts team fresh
from Division II for 397 total yards and four
touchdowns. That impresses me.
So what does Michigan have that the
Spartans don't? Aside from a quarterback
who throws the ball with the type of accu-
racy usually displayed by the male clientele
in a Rick's bathroom.
Well, Ann Arbor is home to a fanbase so
inflated with self-importance, they refuse to
acknowledge the past four Michigan State
victories without prefacing the conversa-
tion with, "Well, what about the previous
This is the same program that insists
Michigan State isn't a real rival, yet when
the Wolverines preposterously found them-
selves playing in a BCS Bowl, a group of
fans took it upon themselves to remind the
nation that "Spartan tears taste like Sugar."
And although the Wolverines were able
to stumble backwards into the Sugar Bowl
last year, they still needed overtime and a
bungled touchdown reversal to secure a
three-point victory over an 11-3 Virginia
Tech team that finished second in the ACC.
This is the same program that plastered
Dantonio's words on its own weight room
wall, but will tell you Saturday is just anoth-
er game. That's like Kanye West visiting the
site of Occupy Wall Street while he's in the
middle of promoting an album titled "Watch
Whether or not you want to admit it,
"Little Brother" is in your head. You're the
Johnny Drama to Michigan State's Vincent
Chase. You're Donnie Wahlberg.
You're Tito Jackson.
The truth is, a whole graduating class has
come and gone since the last time Michigan
beat Michigan State in football.
That's 1,812 days, if you're keeping track.
And come Saturday, that will be 1,813 -
- O'Brien can be reached
TheBlockM - www.theblockm.com 1 3
6 FootballSaturday - October 20, 2012