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Ted Janes, Special to the Free Press 4:47 p.m. ET Nov. 28, 2015
Michigan discontinued 'legends' program in off-season, re-retires six numbers during game vs. Ohio State
Michigan cheerleaders run on the field with large Block M flags before their football game against Ohio State on Saturday, November 28, 2015, in Ann Arbor.(Photo: Julian H. Gonzalez, DFP)
More than 80 years have passed since President Gerald Ford was a three-year letterman on the Michigan football team, but today, his jersey was officially retired. Again.
Former athletic director Dave Brandon brought Ford’s No. 48 out of retirement as part of the “legends” program, along with Tom Harmon’s No. 98, Ron Kramer’s No. 87, Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 and Albert, Alvin and Whitey Wistert’s No. 11, and issued them to current players.
But after Brandon’s firing, the current Wolverines voiced their displeasure to interim AD Jim Hackett. So the program was discontinued. The numbers were re-retired today before the Michigan-Ohio State game — and Desmond Howard’s No. 21 joined them.
The numbers were displayed on a plaque outside Michigan Stadium. The players or their families were honored throughout the Michigan-Ohio State game.
Gerald Ford’s son, Jack, was in attendance with his family. There was a sense of déjà vu for the younger Ford, who remembered when No. 48 was retired the first time about 20 years ago.
Both Gerald Ford and Kramer were honored that day, and as the two were driven out of the tunnel for the ceremony, Jack stood on the field watching.
“They came out of the entrance, and you’d see each section rise up,” Ford said prior to the game today. “I thought the fans were doing the wave, but they were really standing to give my dad a big round of applause and salute him.”
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Ford, a linebacker and center for the Big Ten and national championship teams in 1932 and ’33, turned down professional contracts to begin his career in politics. But Michigan athletics were always close to his heart.
When he ventured to the Big House for that original retirement ceremony, he gave a short speech.
“Sixty years ago, when I was on this field, I never dreamed I would be back here today with my number being retired,” Jack Ford remembers his father saying.
According to Jack, the entire family grew up learning to sing the Michigan fight song from the time they were about 3 years old.
Early in the first quarter today, the Ford family was recognized, and the big screen zoomed in on the flags around Michigan Stadium, which had been replaced with the numbers of the retirees.
And as Jack Ford remembered the impact that Michigan had on his father, he also looked ahead to how it would continue to stay a part of his family. His own son, Christian, has committed to play for the Michigan lacrosse team next year.
Christian isn’t just any typical athlete, either. He’s expected to have quite an impact. He’s a consensus top 50 recruit.
Today's ceremony remembered the legacies of Ford and the other historic Wolverines, like Howard. Now an ESPN analyst, Howard did not travel to Stillwater, Okla., with “College GameDay” so he could be in Ann Arbor.
There was also a moment to recognize the current group of 44 seniors who were playing their last game in Michigan Stadium.
“There’s something special about the fans, the people, the teams, everything, that make it unique,” Jack Ford said. “Most importantly, the Michigan family is bigger than a football team or just the school itself. It’s a wonderful family, and we feel special and welcomed anytime we are with it.”
Few people today could recall the years when Gerald Ford dressed in the maize and blue, but just like they did 20 years ago, the fans at the Big House stood in applause, paying respects to the greats that once played on the field.
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