1957 - 68
One had to look carefully but there was something "different" about the helmet in '57. The center stripe had been extended so that it now went to the very bottom of the rear of the helmet. The two-inch identifying numerals remained on each side of the helmet due to fan response in '56 and with the graduation of Kramer, Barr, and others, the team would have a new on-the-field look too.
The backfield brought back FB Herrnstein and HB Jim Pace who was named to a number of All American teams after leading the Big Ten in rushing. By the end of the season, Bennie was actually still tinkering with Single Wing plays! This lackluster 5-3-1 squad and its lopsided losses to both Michigan State and Ohio State led to some fan unrest. The underachieving Wolverine performance of '57 no doubt greased the skids for Oosterbaan's departure at the conclusion of the '58 season, a 2-6-1 disaster. The resignation was announced two days before the November 15th Indiana game. The 2-6-1 record of 1958 tarnished what had been a decent if inconsistent nine year reign. His overall record would have been welcomed in many places but the tally included only one Rose Bowl appearance, a 5-5-1 against hated Ohio State and that disastrous 1958 slate of 2-6-1, all of which sealed Oosterbaan's fate.
Can you imagine seeing the University Of Michigan's proud football team being picked for next-to-last in the pre-season Big Ten predictions? From 1936 through 1958 the Ann Arbor based program was ranked third in winning percentage behind Notre Dame and Oklahoma but the bottom fell out in 1958 as the Wolverines went a disappointing 2-6-1 under eleven year coach Bennie Oosterbaan. At Michigan, this was and today still would be unacceptable. When former Michigan star Chalmers "Bump" Elliot took the reins as a thirty-three year old head coach, the youngest in the nation, he stepped into a tough situation. Oosterbaan was an easy-going type whose recruiting had fallen off and Elliot interjected the difficulty of asking the players to switch from what was a mix of the Single Wing and straight T offenses to the Iowa Wing T that he coached as an Iowa assistant. Looking at his material, he felt it would take five years to rebuild the program into a conference champion. He did it in six! Unfortunately, his 1959 record of 4-5 indicates that he did not have the backfield speed necessary to run this offense effectively but one of those wins was over the Buckeyes. By 1960 and '61, the recruiting numbers were better and so was the record, 5-4 and then 6-3 but these were not the Michigan powerhouse teams of yesteryear. Going to "platoon football" as many of the larger schools had, some players could focus more upon offense or defense in this era of two-way football but few stars emerged with fast Bennie McRae, later a ten year DB with the Bears as the best known player from these teams. Dave Raimey was a solid HB who emerged early as a soph in '60. Few would have predicted that Elliot would have but two standout years in his remaining seven and things truly "got worse before they got better" with a 2-7 mark in '62. Plagued by numerous position changes and injuries, it fell to soph QB Bob Timberlake and HB Dave Raimey to fill the void of talent. Future pro Tom Keating led the line through this poor season which was almost matched by an anemic 3-4-2 in 1963. The optimism of two excellent recruiting classes however, kept the wolves from the door and the reward was there in 1964. With only a one point loss to Purdue, the Wolverines finished with a 9-1 Big Ten Championship year and a decisive 34-7 defeat of Oregon State in the Rose Bowl. QB Timberlake was the All American leader of the matured underclassmen and senior FB Mel Anthony provided the power. Soph Frank Nunley, later to be called "The Fudgehammer" as the 49ers ten-year linebacking star, was somewhat of a sensation in his first Big Ten season after being shifted from fullback.
Graduation hurt the '65 squad and other than Nunley and future
Ram guard Tom Mack, the undistinguished squad posted an undistinguished
4-6. Poor secondary play contributed to this despite the presence of Rick Volk
(Colts), Mike Bass (Redskins), and John Rowser (ten years with Packers,
Steelers, Broncos), all future NFL players. A surprise performance by QB Dick
Vidmer and his impressive passing numbers, an aberration in the Big Ten, most to
favorite target Jack Clancy brought improvement to 6-4 in 1966 with
strong running by Ron Johnson. Future Dolphin mainstay Jim Mandich gave notice
as a soph to watch at end. 1967 brought more mediocrity at 4-6 as restless
alumni looked at Elliot's very "un-Michigan type" ten year performance and
loudly grumbled. Future Giant great Ron Johnson did everything but sell popcorn
and teamed with Mandich as the primary offensive weapons for the Wolverines
while a sophomore, Dan Dierdorf at a powerfully built 6'3", 255 pounds took
charge of the line. Former fullback Marty Huff excelled at linebacker as he
would in the World Football League a few years later and placekicker Mike
Hankowitz who later became defensive coordinator at Colorado and the interim
head coach for the 2005 bowl season, was an emerging weapon. 1968 brought
necessary improvement but Elliot's 8-2 record, a result of great play from
Mandich, good offensive line work behind Dierdorf, and a defensive resurgence
led by LB Huff and soph Thom Darden did not reduce the clamor for change,
especially with a 50-14 drubbing from Ohio State as a season finisher.
Throughout the Elliot era, the two-inch maize numbers on the sides of the
player's helmets had become an expected means of identifying them but their
removal would be but one of many changes as a new man stepped into the coaching
hot seat in 1969.
If interested in any of these Michigan helmets please click on the photos below.