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Michigan Football: 20 Most Beloved Figures in Wolverine History

Joel GreerCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2016

Michigan Football: 20 Most Beloved Figures in Wolverine History

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    Selecting 20 of the most influential members of the Michigan football family was no easily task. How could you leave out Howard King, the smooth public address announcer for so many years? Or the gentlemen introducing the 250-member Meechigan marching band?

    What about some of the very skilled players like Rick Leach, Mark Messner or Tom Seabron?

    So go ahead and think back, way back, because I'm sure a few of your favorites won't be on the list.

Michael Hart

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    Michael will be most remembered for his "little brother" comment about rival Michigan State. He was also a pretty good running back.

    Hart holds the Michigan career record with 5,040 rushing yards.

    Forgotten was his electrifying touchdown run that nearly pulled out a win over Appy State.  

Desmond Howard

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    Now a fixture on ESPN's Game Day, Howard is most famous for his "in your face?" Heisman pose after scoring against the school down south. Despite actually winning the Heisman Trophy that season, Desmond went on to a rather checkered NFL career, beginning with a disappointing run for the Washington Redskins.

    His redemption came in Super Bowl XXXI, where his shocking 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown clinched Green Bay's 35-21 win over New England. That play earned him Super Bowl MVP honors. making Desmond the only player to win the award based only on kickoff and punt returns. 

    Howard owns the Michigan record for TD catches in a season with 19, which was set in 1991.

    You can find Desmond on the cover of EA Sports NCAA Football 06, a very popular video game series.  

Brian Griese

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    The son of famed Miami Dolphin quarterback Bob Griese, Brian started his Michigan career as a walk-on, only to end it with a gutty, if not spectacular performance, against Washington State in the 1998 Rose Bowl Game.  

    He threw three touchdown passes (a pair to Tai Streets and one to Jerame Tuman) in the 21-16 victory.

    The win gave Michigan a perfect season and a share of the mythical national championship with Nebraska.  

Bo Schembechler

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    A former assistant under Woody Hayes, Bo left the head coaching position at Miami (Ohio) to take the Michigan job prior to the 1969 season.

    In his first year, Bo engineered one of the biggest upsets in Michigan football history. His underdog Wolverines dominated the No. 1 Buckeyes, 24-12, before a sellout crowd of 103,000 and a national television audience. Perhaps the most embarrassed person in the house was Woody Hayes, who had called his Buckeyes the best team in the history of college football.

    Bo went on to become one of Michigan's brightest coaches, equal to the likes of Fielding Yost and Fritz Crisler. 

    Schembechler's career coaching record wasn't bad either. Bo compiled a 194-48-5 mark (,802) at Michigan, but his 13 Big Ten titles in 21 seasons is a standard that won't be broken.

    When it comes to Michigan lore, Bo's coining of the phrase "Michigan Man" has reverberated throughout college sports.

    When basketball coach Bill Frieder announced he was leaving for Arizona State just prior to the 1989 NCAA tournament, Bo decided Frieder would not be the coach in the tournament, and instead turned over the reins to assistant coach Steve Fisher. "I want a Michigan man coaching Michigan," Bo said.

    Fisher's squad became a national champion.  

Jim Harbaugh

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    Along with Les Miles, Harbaugh is most famous for his part in the search for Michigan's current football coach. There's no doubt he was the number one candidate as the Rich Rodriguez regime was crumbling. 

    Many thought that some of Harbaugh's earlier comments about Michigan football's academic requirements could be to his detriment, but that was not the case. 

    He was pursued with vigor by athletic director Dave Brandon to no avail.  Harbaugh has joined his brother John as a head coach in the National Football League.

    Jim, who quarterbacked the Wolverines from 1983-86, is the new coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

    His 62.4 career completion percentage is third best in Michigan history, behind Todd Collins (65.3) and Elvis Grbac (62.5).

Tom Brady

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    The majority of Tom's accolades came after he left Michigan. He'll be known for three Super Bowl rings, the "tuck" rule and, of course, his popularity with the ladies. 

    Brady still holds the Michigan record for most completions in a game. He did it in the 2000 Orange Bowl where the Wolverines topped Alabama 35-34 in overtime. 

    Brady completed 34 of 46 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns.

    His NFL career has been stunning. Brady's been named the Super Bowl MVP twice, and was a Pro Bowl selection six times.

    He was also drafted as a catcher by the Montreal Expos in 1995.  

Tim Biakabutuka

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    Who can forget the 1995 Michigan-Ohio State game.  "Touchdown Tim" almost single-handedly defeated the Buckeyes, rushing for 313 yards in the 31-23 victory.

    That game helped him set the single-season rushing record of 1,818 yards that still stands today. His 5.95 career per-carry average is Michigan's fourth best.

    Biakabutuka battled through an injury-plagued six-year NFL career, scoring 17 touchdowns in 50 games.   

Anthony Thomas

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    Thomas holds the Michigan record for most career rushing touchdowns with 55. He also holds the second spot when it comes to career rushing (4,472), and single-season rushing (1,733). Thomas, who later went on to the NFL, had a great senior season with nine 100-yard games.

    A-Train won NFL Rookie of the Year honors with the Chicago Bears in 2001, but nagging injuries caused his career to nosedive after that.  

     


Ron Johnson

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    For the few of us who braved the weather, seeing Ron Johnson run that November day in 1968 was something special. 

    The Michigan halfback, who normally ran with the power of a fullback, used his deceptive speed to run around and through the disgusted Wisconsin defense.

    Johnson finished with 347 rushing yards, a single-game record that still stands today. His five touchdowns remind many of Gale Sayers' similar six-touchdown performance for the Chicago Bears.

    Johnson, who was also an astute student, graduated from the prestigious Ross School of Business.  He later had a fine NFL career with the New York Giants, accumulating two 1,000-yard seasons.  

John Wangler

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    The play saw 'round the world: John Wangler to Anthony Carter for 49 yards and a touchdown.. It was Michigan's 27-21 miracle victory over Indiana that may have signalled the changing of the guard.

    Wangler was actually Bo's first pass-first quarterback before the Wolverines eventually became a quarterback factory with sure-armed gunslingers like Todd Collins, Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac and Tom Brady.

    Of course, it didn't hurt that Wangler had the elusive Carter in the huddle. In fact, Wangler and Carter hooked up five times in the 1981 Rose Bowl win over Washington. The 23-6 victory was Michigan's first in the Rose Bowl since 1965.   

Bennie Oosterbaan

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    The list is endless:

    • College football: Three-time, first-team All-American, Big Ten touchdown leader
    • College basketball: Two-time All-American, Big Ten scoring champion
    • College baseball: All-Big Ten, Big Ten batting champion

    Oosterbaan threw three touchdown passes in the Michigan Stadium dedication game. The Wolverines prevailed 21-0 over Ohio State before nearly 85,000 in 1927.

    After his playing career, Oosterbaan coached Michigan to the 1948 national championship and a 1951 Rose Bowl victory.  

Braylon Edwards

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    In setting Michigan single-season (97) and career receiving records (252), Edwards made several fantastic catches like the one pictured.

    However, the future NFL receiver played with two quarterbacks who were reputed to be sound passers but couldn't win the big one. During Braylon's career, Michigan lost three of four to Ohio State, and three of four bowl games.  

Benny Friedman

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    Friedman was best known as the first legitimate passer in professional football. 

    A first-team All American quarterback at Michigan in 1926, Friedman was also the Big Ten MVP.

    He began his NFL career in Cleveland in 1927, before moving on to Detroit the following season. There he led the NFL in several statistical categories, including touchdown passes.

    The New York Giants decided they couldn't exist without Friedman, so owner Tim Mara bought the entire Detroit roster to get his services.

    Friedman didn't disappoint as he led the league with 20 TD passes in 1929. He became a member of both the College and NFL Halls of Fame.     

Gary Moeller

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    Many believe Gary Moeller was destined to be one of the truly great college football coaches. That is until the fateful evening at a Southfield, Michigan restaurant in April of 1995. After a short stint at Illinois, Moeller replaced the legendary Bo Schembechler. 

    In his five seasons at Michigan, Moeller compiled a record of 44-13-3, including three Big Ten titles and four bowl victories. 

    But Moeller was arrested outside the restaurant, charged with disorderly conduct and assault and eventually forced to resign. Some reports claimed that Moeller may have had a few too many, and a policeman on the scene egged him into a scuffle. The police report claimed that Moeller's behavior was much worse.   

     

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Anthony Carter

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    Besides catching the miracle pass from from John Wangler to beat Indiana, Carter earned a few awards as a Wolverine.

    He was a three-time All-American, a three-time all-Big Ten selection and finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting three times.

    Playing in a run-first, pass-second era, Carter put up some incredible numbers as a Wolverine.

    • Second in career TD catches with 37
    • Second in career yardage with 3,076
    • Fourth in career receptions with 161

    Carter had a decent but not spectacular professional career, playing in the USFL and NFL. He was selected to the Pro bowl twice as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, in 1987 and 1988. 

Fielding Yost

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    It could be said that Fielding Yost was a man ahead of his time. He was by far Michigan's most successful football coach, winning six national titles and posting a record of 165-29-10 (,833).

    Yost was the coach at Stanford in 1900 before moving to Ann Arbor the following season. Little did he know he would be returning to California to play in the first college football bowl game. After Michigan completed the 1901 season undefeated and unscored upon,  Michigan was invited to play Stanford in Pasadena.

    The game was no match, as Stanford threw in the towel with eight minutes left, and Michigan leading 49-0. Maybe Yost should have taken it easy, because it was years before the Wolverines were invited back.

    After his coaching career, Yost oversaw the construction of Yost Fieldhouse (now Yost Ice Arena), Michigan Golf Course and also the Big House. Yost originally wanted the stadium to seat 150,000, but settled for the 85,000 range due to budget constraints.  

Tom Harmon

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    Tom Harmon was the first of Michigan's three Heisman Trophy winners. He probably clinched his award by leading Michigan over Ohio State 40-0. Harmon rushed for three touched, passed for two and had three interceptions.

    Rumor has it that the Ohio partisans gave Harmon a standing ovation at the game's end, but I'll believe it when I see it.

    In his three-year Michigan career, Harmon rushed for 2,134 yards and threw 16 touchdown passes. He was also a two-time All American.   

Fritz Crisler

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    In 1948 Fritz Crisler took Michigan to only its second bowl game. The Wolverines hadn't been invited anywhere since Yost angered the entire state of California by crushing Stanford, 49-0 on New Year's Day, 1902.

    So what happened? That's right: Michigan 49, Southern Cal 0.  No worry, though. Michigan was invited back three years later.

    Crisler is best known for bringing the winged helmet to Ann Arbor from Princeton in 1938, By painting it maize and blue, he hoped his passers could get a better look at their receivers down field.

    He was also credited with devising the two-platoon system, launching the concept in a game with Army in 1945.

    The 1947 team was an offensive juggernaut, as Crisler's troops were named the "Mad Magicians" while running the single-wing offense.

    The Wolverines finished the regular season undefeated, but lost the vote for the national championship to Notre Dame, After Michigan's impressive Rose Bowl win, writers around the country clamored for an unprecedented  post-bowl vote. Michigan won this time, but many today just call it a shared title.  

Denard Robinson

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    In two short seasons, Shoelace has created quite a stir. Not only has he compiled incredible statistics, he had the NCAA reeling because some young kids were trying to make a buck by selling knock-off merchandise.

    Poor adidas.

    After two seasons, Robinson has passed for 2758 yards and rushed for 2053.

    His only knock could be that Michigan was simply horrible in Big Ten games down the stretch..

    A quick look at last year's stats (discounting Iowa and Ohio State when Robinson played sparingly) show the following passing yardage: 277, 215, 190, 305, 176 and 239.

    Regardless, Robinson earned 1st team All-American honors, the Big Ten MVP award and was also named the Big Ten offensive player of the year. 

Charles Woodson

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    Charles Woodson became Michigan's most recent Heisman Trophy winner in 1997.  He was the first primarily defensive player to win the award.  He did it by becoming a superb cover-corner, while also contributing occasionally on offense.

    Plus, Woodson was an excellent punt-returner which helped Michigan complete its perfect 1997 season.

    In the 20-14 win over Ohio State, Woodson busted a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown and also caught a key 37-yard pass from Brian Griese,

    Woodson is still performing for the NFL World Champion Green Bay Packers. He was earlier named to the 2010 Pro Bowl, but broke his collarbone just before halftime in Green Bay's Super Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.  

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