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Encyclopedia Athletica: Michigan

When you throw together two of the most historic football programs in “the West,” you’re bound to get some pretty interesting nuggets of information. Here’s the best of them in your weekly A-to-Z look at everything Huskers and Wolverines.

BLUEBLOODS – Saturday’s game will mark the first time two conference foes with more than 850 wins each will meet and just the second time in college football history overall. (The first was Notre Dame – Michigan this year.) Nebraska will also become the first team to ever face a school with 900 all-time wins or more. Michigan recorded win No. 900 last week against Michigan State.

COLORS – Somewhere, deep in the University of Michigan archives, there are two ribbons – one maize, one blue – that represent the official school colors. School officials selected those ribbons in 1912 because the students who had officially declared “azure blue and maize” as the Michigan colors back in 1867 didn’t bother to provide any visual cues to the actual hues.

DUAL-THREATS – Saturday’s game will be just the second meeting between two quarterbacks who have at least 5,000 career passing yards and 2,000 career rushing yards. Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson are two of only 18 players in NCAA history to reach both plateaus. The only previous such meeting was when Vince Young and Brad Smith dueled in 2005.


FIGHT SONG – Whatever you do, don’t listen to the song above. If you do, no matter how badly you want not to hum the Michigan fight song, you will find yourself powerless to stop. (I couldn’t be any more serious about this.)

John Philip Sousa, a.k.a. the “American March King,” called “The Victors” the “best college march ever written.” He should know, I suppose. The song was written in 1898 by music student Louis Ebel following the Wolverines 12-11 victory of Chicago. That win delivered Michigan’s first Western Conference title, hence the reference to “champions of the West” in the song.

HOKE, BRADY – In a roundabout way, Bo Pelini might not be on the sidelines this week if not for the man on the opposite sideline, Brady Hoke. It was Hoke’s Ball State Cardinals who came into Memorial Stadium in 2007 and nearly came out with a win in the game that signaled that something was massively wrong with the Huskers’ defense. Eight games later, Bill Callahan was out as Nebraska’s coach, Pelini was in.

Random fact about Hoke: Michigan is 15-0 under him when scoring 20 points or more and 1-4 when they don’t.

MASCOT – According to the official university history, the first references to “Wolverines” as a school nickname date back to 1861. If you’re not fully versed in the fauna of Michigan, perhaps you assumed it was a nice regional nickname. Sort of.

There are as many actual wolverines in Michigan as there are tigers in Clemson, S.C. According to the school’s Bentley Library “there has never been a verified trapping of a wolverine inside the state’s borders, nor have the skeletal remains of a wolverine been found within the state’s 96,705 square miles.” The first actual Wolverine sighting in the state of Michigan didn’t happen until 2004. Still, wolverines have a tenacious reputation and the nickname has been used to describe Michiganders as a whole for quite some time, thus the name stuck. (See Also: YOST, FIELDING)

SERIES HISTORY – Michigan and Nebraska have met seven times with the Wolverines holding a 4-2-1 edge in the series. The only previous meeting in Lincoln – 101 years ago – ended in a 6-6 tie. Bob Devaney credited Nebraska’s 25-13 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1962 – Devaney’s second game as coach – as the game that launched the modern day Huskers football juggernaut. Over the past five games, Michigan and Nebraska have alternated wins with the Wolverines winning last year’s meeting.

UNIFORMS – There are few things as good as Michigan’s home uniform. In comparison, there are few things worse, then, than their away jerseys. The pants are the same for both, but the white jerseys have needless yellow piping that runs from the neck to the armpit, the numbers get outlined, and the sleeves have solid blue trim. Why not just go with a road version of the home look? Who wouldn’t be happy with that? (Presumably adidas.) Like the Dallas Cowboys, Michigan’s two jerseys don’t even feel like they’re from the same family.

WINGED HELMETS – Fritz Crisler gets credit for this design, which he used for the first time at Princeton. When Crisler came to Ann Arbor in 1938, he brought his unique helmet design with him and the rest is history but, technically speaking, it’s Princeton’s helmet. (If you really want to go deep on this topic, there are some who say Michigan State actually debuted a winged helmet before Michigan did. More info here.)

YOST, FIELDING – Prior to splitting the 1997 national title, the biggest piece of shared history between Michigan and Nebraska may have been football coach Fielding H. Yost. He coached Nebraska for one season in 1898 and then built Michigan into a powerhouse, guiding the Wolverines from 1901 to 1923 and 1925 to 1926. He also spent 19 years as the school’s athletic director and was the coach the last time Michigan visited Lincoln (1911).

My favorite Yost factoid? His relentless pursuit of a live wolverine mascot. (See Also: MASCOT) Impressed by Wisconsin’s live badger, in 1923 Yost became determined to obtain an actual wolverine. According to university sources, he mailed 68 different trappers. No luck. Four years passed and Yost finally got his hands on 10 wolverines from Alaska. They lived at the Detroit Zoo and two of them were paraded around the stadium on game days in a cage. The practice lasted a year at which point, according to Yost, “It was obvious that the Michigan mascots had designs on the Michigan men toting them, and those designs were by no means friendly.” No more live wolverines. Good effort, though.