The 10 Greatest "Michigan Men" Of All-Time
Most people have heard the term "Michigan Man." It was a term made most famous by former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
But a question resides within the term...What is a "Michigan Man"?
From a personal standpoint becoming a "Michigan Man" has little to do with on field accomplishment.
In order to become a "Michigan Man" you don't have to beat Ohio State, you don't have to win a Heisman or even start for that matter.
What defines the "Michigan Man" is a person who willingly devotes their blood, sweat, and tears for the benefit of the program. They conduct themselves with the highest level of class and integrity. They are someone that works hard in the classroom, film room and weight room, and on the field.
It is a title bestowed to those who overcome great adversity, those who persevere and never give up...It is a name for "Those who stay."
Know that this list is not designed to rank the greatest players in Michigan history, as that has been done many times before.
The motivation for this article is to list the top football players who have best represented themselves and the University of Michigan as "Michigan Men."
So without further ado, here is the top 10 greatest "Michigan Men" in Michigan history.
The Little Engines That Could
Who says size matters?
If you are one that think size is everything in football then tell that to little Mike Hart and Jamie Morris. Just can't mention one without the other.
Hart and Morris were two of the smallest running backs Michigan has ever had. Coming in they were questioned and doubted because of their size.
Who honestly thought two guys (neither of which made it to 5'10") would make it as a running back in the big, strong, hard hitting, physical Big Ten?
Apparently they did, and that was all that mattered.
They overcame the physical odds they were faced to deal with. They put forth the work and dedication it took to be great.
When he was being recruited by Bo Schembechler, Morris was told by Bo that he couldn't make it as a running back...
Four years later, Morris was Michigan's new all-time leading rusher and all-time leader in receptions by a running back.
The Morris career rushing record was eventually broken, and then broken again.
In 2008, little Mike Hart from Syracuse, New York, broke the school's all-time career rushing record. Hart did have a mouth on him but that can't take from what he had achieved.
Together Morris and Hart were two of the greatest backs Michigan had ever seen, all while neither were given much chance to succeed.
Years after Morris left the program, Bo made the remark that Morris was "The cutest little running back I ever saw."
So who says size matters. Size is nothing if you have heart and the desire, then anything is possible. Let the careers of Mike Hart and Jamie Morris serve as an example of that.
Whitey, The Ox, and Moose...
Francis "Whitey," Albert "The Ox"(pictured), and Alvin "Moose" Wistert are easily the greatest trio of brothers not just in Michigan history, but possibly NCAA history as well.
These brothers hold a special place at the University of Michigan. Each of the three played tackle for Michigan. Each were All-Americans and all wore the No. 11.
Francis ('32,'33) and Alvin ('47,'48) both won two national titles each in their time at Michigan.
In 1933, Francis was voted Big Ten MVP and first-team All-American, all while he helped lead his team to a Big Ten title and the National Championship.
Albert was the next of the Wisterts to become Wolverines. In 1942, Albert was voted to the All-American team and was also voted team MVP. He would eventually make the College and NFL Hall of Fame.
The last of the three to become a Wolverine was Alvin. Alvin's story was a special one in comparison to his other brothers. Alvin or "Moose" came to Michigan after serving four years in World War II.
After Alvin's return from war he spent one year at Boston University, but soon transferred to the University of Michigan.
What is most special about his time at Michigan is that upon his arrival on the team he was 32 years old, the oldest player to play for Michigan in its storied history.
In his time at Michigan, he was twice voted All-American ('48,'49) and was part of two national championship teams ('47,'48). All this considering he didn't play a down of football while he was in high school.
These brothers' devotion to Michigan as a family and their lasting impressions on Michigan history are the keys for them to rightfully be named as three of the greatest "Michigan Men" of all-time.
Hail to the Chief...
Gerald Ford, who is best known for his Presidency from 1974-1977, was once an All-American for the University of Michigan.
Ford was a center and linebacker for two national championship teams('32,'33).
In his time, Ford would go down as the "only future President to ever tackle a future Heisman winner" after he tackled University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger.
Being an All-American on the field isn't what got Ford on this list. Being an All-American off it was.
Ford represented the University of Michigan with pride. He was devoted to Michigan years after he graduated.
He would occasionally find time in a busy life to attend Michigan games. He would often have people wake him in the night while he was overseas to tell him how his Wolverines were doing back in the states.
He often had the naval bands play "Hail to the Victors" instead of the traditional "Hail to the Chief" when attending major events. He even asked for "The Victors" to be played at his funeral.
He represented the University of Michigan with his pride, integrity, intelligence, and a higher power of influence. Few players have ever made Michigan prouder, and few ever will.
Most names on this list are recognized by most Michigan fans, even the casual ones.
However, there is one name that few in the Michigan fan base remember. Including the most loyal of Michiganders.
The name is Don Warner. If you think of Warner, you would think of Rudy.
Warner was just like the famed Rudy from Notre Dame. Small, lacking talent, he didn't have a chance in Hell to play.
But like Rudy, he had heart and lots of it.
But even Schembechler admitted he had NO chance of playing.
It was in 1970, after Warner enrolled as a freshman, that he went to Bo Schembechler and told him that he wanted to be a member of the team.
Bo thought the kid was a little running back but when he asked Warner what position he played, Warner responded, "offensive guard."
Warner was 5'10" 175 lbs...Bo was amused.
Bo let Warner know that he already had 265 lb guard Reggie McKenzie and 260 lb Tom Coyle at the guard spots.
Warner wasn't phased, he wanted to play. He told Bo, "OK if I'm too small to play guard, I'll play middle guard on defense."
Bo was getting angered by then. Bo told Warner he could go out and play but he was going to get killed. Warner graciously said thank you.
He spent his first year on the scout team and was beat day after day. But he never missed a practice.
At the end of his freshman year Bo sat down with Warner and told him he admired him, but he then said that he (Warner) was too small to play.
Again Warner held his ground, "No coach, I know what I have to do. I'm going to lift weights, get bigger, and be out here next spring."
The following spring Warner returned. Then the spring after that.
Year by year he improved, and Bo was impressed. By the time he was a senior, Warner weighed 195 lbs. Michigan's two starting middle guards from the previous season had graduated leaving spots open.
Bo told his coaches to move Warner to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. When he told his coaches to do so Bo assumed a younger teammate would take the spot from Warner...but they didn't.
Warner started every game at middle guard in 1973. Michigan was undefeated that season. Of course that was the year of the infamous 10-10 tie with Ohio State.
Of all the players on this list Warner may very well be the biggest "Michigan Man" of them all. For those who stay, right? He did stand up to Bo after all, big points in the "Michigan Man" standings right there.
After his graduation he worked his way up to being an executive for Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.
Guy just never stopped giving his all...
Once a Wolverine, Always a Wolverine
Jim Harbaugh, was one of the most prolific passer in Michigan history, but that isn't what gets him on this list.
His love and devotion to Michigan football was Jim's greatest asset.
Jim grew up a Michigan fan. Maize and Blue was in his blood, as his father was an assistant for Schembechler from '72-'79.
While his father coached at Michigan, little Jim carried out his duties as the ball boy at practices and games.
He loved Michigan so much as a child he would stay up on Friday nights and listen to recordings of Bob Ufer and memorize all the words. He lived for Michigan.
After his sophomore year of high school his family moved from Ann Arbor to California. Jim wasn't recruited by many big schools except Wisconsin and Arizona and several small schools.
It was when one special offer came, that was when he knew where he was going. That special offer was from Michigan. Once he got that it was all decided.
He returned to Ann Arbor and the rest was history.
Now he is head coach at Stanford University, the top academic program in the FBS division. Harbaugh is a coach that stresses academics.
It was his stressing of academics that got him into trouble with Michigan fans across the nation. He openly criticized Michigan's academic standards for student athletes and suggested that they were too soft for a university of Michigan's caliber.
This has led to a feud between him and the program, and some fallout with former teammates. He was scrutinized by the media and by Michigan fans for his words.
Some wouldn't have him on this list, but despite his words he truly belongs here near the top. No words can ever change what he did for the University.
O Captain, My Captain
Tom Harmon or "Ole' 98" was undoubtedly one of the greatest players, not just in Michigan's history, but in college football history as well.
Harmon did it all. He ran, kicked, passed, caught, tackled, returned kicks. You name it, he did it. He was Mr. Everything for Michigan.
He ran his way to a Heisman Trophy in 1940, one year after placing second for the award. It was also in 1940, where Harmon put on one of the greatest performances in Michigan history.
It was a performance so great even Buckeye fans had to applaud. As Harmon left "The Shoe" after an outstanding 40-0 Michigan victory, the Buckeye faithful stood and gave Michigan's Harmon a standing ovation. Something that hasn't been seen by any player since, Buckeye or foe.
But Harmon best represented Michigan in his years after. He represented the program through immense bravery and fearlessness.
After leaving Michigan in 1940, Harmon enlisted to fight in World War II as a pilot.
In Harmon's time as a pilot he twice faced death. The first came when he and his crew were flying over South America. It was there where they ran through a tropical storm which took the plane down. Harmon was the only survivor.
The second came as a pilot on a single seat fighter plane. It was here that he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star when his plane was shot down over Japanese occupied China. Harmon walked to safety.
Not only was Harmon one of Michigan's greatest athletes but he was one of Michigan's greatest American's.
A true "Michigan Man."
Walk-on? Yea, Walk-on to Greatness
He was the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bob Griese, who was the only quarterback to lead his team to an undefeated season in NFL history.
Well you all know the old saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
That certainly applies to Brian Griese, who just like his father led his team to an undefeated season and a championship.
Brian, however, did his at the college level for the University of Michigan.
Brian's story is a unique one. When he graduated from Miami Southridge Senior High in Miami, Florida he desired to play college football. The place he wanted to play was Michigan.
There was one problem...Michigan never offered Brian a scholarship.
Brian then took it into his own hands and walked-on in 1993.
He stayed the course after a red-shirt freshman season only to be a holder on kicking attempts in his first year.
It was in 1995, when Brian began his rise as one of the greatest leaders Michigan had ever seen.
After a Dreisbach injury in '95, Griese took over. From there he led Michigan to an upset victory of No. 2 Ohio State.
In 1996, Griese lost his spot only to return at half-time of the Ohio State game. He led the team back to a 13-9 upset victory.
Then came the magical 1997 season. being a walk-on it is obvious that Griese wasn't a stellar talent at quarterback but he did have the intangibles that go unnoticed by college scouts...poise, leadership, and determination.
Under his leadership and smart quarterback play (as well as some help by a certain someone who wore No. 2) he led Michigan to its first national title since 1948. In that run he notched his third straight victory over that school down south.
Griese was defined through great character, smart play, determination, heart, moxie, etc. If you can name it Griese had it.
He is everything the "Michigan Man" defines. Walk-on to national champ is quite an accomplishment and quite an obstacle as well, but he overcame and achieved.
(Leach)ing on to Michigan
Rich Leach, a former four year starter for Michigan at quarterback, is one of the most beloved players in Michigan history.
Leach was always one of those special players that you knew would always leave everything on the field.
In his final game versus Ohio State in 1978, Leach led the team to its third straight victory over its arch rival.
Most players would celebrate after the 14-3 victory, but not Leach. No, he was to tired, to exhausted. He gave everything he had to beat Ohio State that day. But that was no different than any other game, that was just how Leach was.
Leach started 48 games for the Wolverines, which was the most of any player in Michigan history. Leach was one of the toughest players to play for Michigan, playing the option equaled a lot of hits.
Leach took a lot of hits in his day, but he never stopped. He worker harder and got tougher. He never backed down and he sure as hell was never afraid. He especially wasn't afraid of no damn Buckeye.
Today, Leach maintains a strong connection to the Michigan program. He is often seen at the Michigan practices and is even performing in the alumni flag football prior to the 2009 spring game.
Leach is also one of new head coach Rich Rodriguez's biggest supporters. Numerous times Leach has gone out of his way to defend his Alma Matters head coach either in the news papers or on the radio.
He has been very verbal about his support of Rodriguez and don't expect that to stop anytime soon.
Braylon the Great
Just like his father Stan Edwards(former running back), Braylon Edwards would attend the University of Michigan...and what an impact he left.
When Edwards left Michigan he left as the all-time leader in career receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He also left as single season leader in receptions and yards.
He was also the first wide receiver in Big 10 history, and third in NCAA history, to gain 1,000 yards receiving in three consecutive seasons.
We all remember the epic game he had vs Michigan State in 2004. We all remember his three touchdown performance vs Texas in the Rose Bowl in 2005.
But what we also remember is seeing Edwards leave the program as the last player to wear the No. 1 jersey. If any player deserved it ,he did.
After his playing days at Michigan Edwards is doing his best work yet. No, it's not catching touchdowns for the Browns.
His best work is the scholarship foundations he is setting up. He recently set up the Braylon Edwards Scholarship Foundation in which the program hands out hundreds of thousands in scholarship money to students every year.
Through his program kids that don't have the money to go to school are now capable to with the money his organization is giving out.
His hard work and his desire to give back to the communities are truly what make him a "Michigan Man."
Though he did have some controversy a year or two ago were he went on TV wearing a Buckeye jersey. Turns out he lost a bet. Though he does do the occasional O-H-I-O but he explains that he lives in Ohio and it doesn't just pertain to Ohio State.
Whatever you say Braylon, we will let it slide for now.
When Great Hands Meet a Great Mind
The first of his kind. Bennie Oosterbaan was the first prolific receiver in NCAA history and was a revolutionary for the game of football.
Him and Benny Friedman together made the first quarterback/wide receiver tandem in NCAA history. Oosterbaan changed the way offense was played in a time when the forward pass was just beginning its evolution.
He was a three time All-American at Michigan, the schools first and just one of two guys to accomplish this. His No. 47 was also the first to be retired by the University of Michigan.
In 1928, he was awarded the Western Conference Medal of Honor for proficiency as a scholar athlete.
After graduating Michigan in 1928, Oosterbaan had the chance to go on to the pros in football and baseball. He, however, declined the opportunity.
Oosterbaan was a very religious man. He was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Since they didn't play football on Sunday's that made his decision to skip the pros that much easier.
That and his mom also played a role in his decision.
Instead, Oosterbaan returned to Michigan as an assistant coach for football and basketball.
Oosterbaan spent twenty years as an assistant before he took over in 1948, succeeding Fritz Crisler.
Oosterbaan and his team won the national title that year.
Bennie wasn't just a football coach either. He also spent time as head coach of Michigan's freshman baseball team and also served as head basketball coach from 1938 to 1946.
Needless to say, there has been no man in Michigan's history that has devoted more time, effort, and passion to the University as a whole.
Bennie is the best of the best when it comes to "Michigan Men" and you cannot argue that.
Former All-American Ron Kramer once said of his old coach, "Bennie Oosterbaan is the Michigan tradition. The man gave his whole life to Michigan."
Words that could never be any truer.
That is the top 10 greatest "Michigan Men" in Michigan history, but there are several others that deserve to have their name called and not left out in the cold. Here is the top "Michigan Men" honorable mention:
OL Dan Dierdorf
QB Tom Slade
CB Charles Woodson
WR Anthony Carter
OL Steve Hutchinson
OL Jake Long
RB Tyrone Wheatley
WR Jack Clancy
WR Ron Kramer
RB Bump Elliot
OL Reggie McKenize
QB Elvis Garbac
LB Sam Sword
LB Jarret Irons
LB Mark Messner
WR Desmond Howard
QB Dennis Franklin
K Mike Lantry
QB Tom Brady
There are so many more that could make the list but only so much time. If you think there is someone missing then feel free to comment on who you believe deserves to be on this list.