Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, National Champion?

I remember the first time I became aware of presidential politics. It was 1976 and I was seven years old. I asked my father who he was going to vote for and he told me Gerald Ford.

Yesterday Gerald Ford died and of course the next few days will be filled with tributes and retrospectives about the man. Since that day in 1976, when I asked my father who he favored in the election I have been close follower of presidential politics. Thus it wasn't a big revelation to me that Gerald Ford was a great athlete in his day.

I knew he had played college football at Michigan where he had been a star offensive lineman. But what caught my attention was the claim that he played for back-to-back national champions while he was in school at Ann Arbor. This claim is being repeated on TV, the radio, and in print. Here's a representative excerpt from an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

In a sports sense, Ford was the glue of Michigan's offensive line during back- to-back football national championships in 1932 and 1933. The Wolverines went undefeated both seasons, and Ford was named the team's Most Valuable Player during his senior season.
Now that Mergz has educated us all about the "National Championship" (if you haven't done so read his multi-part series about this topic; an index to series is in the side bar of this blog just to the left of where you are reading now) I thought that the claim was dubious. The first poll, the AP poll didn't even appear until 1936. So who crowned Ford's teams as "National Champions"?

In 1932 Michigan went 8-0. An astonishing six of those eight wins were shut outs. But if you check out College Football Data Warehouse, they recognize USC as the "National Champs". In all, 4 different teams have claims to the title in 1932. Colgate had 5 "selectors" give them the nod. Michigan had 4 selectors pick them as tops in the country. USC had 29 selectors pick them as champs and TCU had one solitary selector pick them. Remember a lot of these selectors weren't even in business at the time, their picks were made retroactively.

College Football Data Warehouse does recognize Michigan as co-champion in 1933 along with Princeton. 5 teams can make a claim however. Michigan racked up 21 selectors, Ohio State 1, Pitt 1, Princeton 10, and USC 4. The 1933 version of the Wolverines went 7-0-1, technically undefeated, with 5 shut outs. The tie was a 0-0 tie on November 18th against Minnesota.

Whether Gerald Ford played for back-to-back national champions is debatable given the big mess that continues to haunt college football more than 70 years later, however what's not up for debate is that the 1932 and 1933 Michigan Wolverines were the back-to-back outright Big Ten champions.

And that reminds me that the Big Ten, this supposedly great conference often has co-champions. Hey Big Ten, isn't time you got with the 21st century and found a way to crown a single champion for your ELEVEN team conference?

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