1948 - 1955
The 49-0 whitewash of USC in the Rose Bowl game that followed the 1947 season, a 10-0 affair with Michigan enjoying the fruits of having two first team All Americans, the Big Nine's MVP, being the nation's leader in both total offense and passing offense, and topping it off with Fritz Crisler's National Coach Of The Year Honor made them the obvious choice for the National Championship throne. With that kind of season, it was a fitting time for Crisler to retire as the Wolverine coach and put his energies into the job of AD and improving the school facilities. He wanted to maintain the Single Wing and thus hired Bennie Oosterbaan, a previous U Of M All American, to maintain that offense as he felt that was "fair to the men coming back". As the majority were switching to the T-Formation, Big Blue would hold the line on tradition and keep the Single Wing and so-called Michigan System. Tradition however did take a backseat to safety and equipment innovation as the plastic RT helmet was introduced for the '48 season, one that maintained the anterior Michigan wing and three "tiger stripes" that originated with the Princeton design. The navy helmet was painted with the wing and stripes, with the center stripe ending at the juncture of the side stripes, and thus not extending to the rear end point of the helmet. This navy shell with maize, or yellow adornment would be the design that would be maintained through the 1955 season. The 1948 team was led by All American thirty-year old tackle Al Wistert, a former-high school drop-out whose older and younger brothers were both All Americans at Michigan. Wistert had spent five years in the Marines before first playing for Boston University and then transferring to Michigan. '47 star Bump Elliot was ruled ineligible but brother Pete stepped in to run the Single Wing. He did a great job and the existing fourteen game winning streak was extended as the Wolverines ran the table to 9-0 for the season. Oosterbaan thus began his career as coach of the '48 National Championship team. Unfortunately, until Bennie stepped down, that would be the high water mark of his tenure. In his eleven years, for every excellent team he placed onto the field, he had one mired in mediocrity but the future was not yet seen and as two consecutive national championships were bestowed upon the Wolverines, only success seemed possible. Wistert and end Dick Rifenburg were named as consensus All Americans, the former for his blocking and tackling, the latter primarily for his receiving abilities. The 6-2-1 slate of '49 with the tie against dreaded Ohio State, seemed to set the tone for the "real" Oosterbaan record, one that was certainly "okay" for most places but did not meet the consistent excellence required by Michigan. Al Wistert again led the line and the first of the Dufek's, RB Don was the power in the Single Wing backfield. Oosterbaan at least had an excuse for the two-loss, one-tie season as injuries forced him to use a third-string QB for most of the season. Bill Putich played well but was inexperienced. Michigan however, was still "Michigan" and was named the sixth-ranked team in the nation despite the disappointment of the record and seeing Ohio State go to the Rose Bowl due to the conference's "no repeat" rule regarding bowl games. Wistert outdid his brothers by becoming a two-year All American pick. The highlight of 1950, besides beating California in the Rose Bowl, was defeating Ohio State in what became known as "The Snow Bowl". With 85000 tickets sold and no Big Nine Conference precedent for calling off the game, the November 25th contest was played in the worst Ohio blizzard since 1913 with 30 MPH winds stacking up to six-feet of snow in the corners of the end zone. It was a fitting way to end a topsy-turvy year with numerous upsets in the Big Nine and with little time remaining OSU tried to run out the clock to preserve a 3-2 victory. With forty-eight seconds left to play, Michigan LB Tony Momsen broke through to block his seventh punt of the season and fell on the ball in the end zone. The 9-3 win vaulted the Wolverines into the Rose Bowl with their 5-3-1 record and they defeated Cal 14-6 to finish a wild season. '51 was a down year of 4-5 with Putich leading an inexperienced squad to U Of M's first losing season since 1936. 1952 moved the Wolverines up a bit to 5-4 but the finale against Ohio State and Hopalong Cassady was a 27-7 loss in the Buckeyes first win over Big Blue since the 1944 season. As a cost-cutting measure, two platoon football was dropped in favor of a return to the one platoon game for 1953 and players again had to be solid, all around two-way performers. Taking advantage of the new rules, Oosterbaan produced a good 6-3 squad as Michigan State entered the conference and it was renamed the Big Ten. State celebrated by defeating their new conference rivals in Ann Arbor 14-6 which took some of the steam out of the Wolverines' Ohio State victory. Michigan's vote helped to send the Spartans, in their inaugural year, and not Illinois, to the Rose Bowl and they won 28-20 over UCLA.
A repeat 6-3 with an avenging win over Michigan State but a loss to Ohio State ruined what might have been a bowl bound season in 1954. Oosterbaan was having difficulty getting the right mix of players for what was now an antiquated Single Wing. With high school offenses moving to variations of the T-Formation and a sophomore end named Ron Kramer now wearing the winged helmet of maize and blue, Bennie decided to switch to the T himself, but when the offense bogged down, he would dust off the Single Wing and thus ran two offenses most of the season. With soph HB Terry Barr and passing QB Duncan McDonald, the young but talented team showed great promise. The season-ending game against hated Ohio State concluded as Michigan FB Dave Hill was stopped on the Buckeye goal line by big Jim Parker and OSU turned around to drive the ball up field to score and win both the game and the Rose Bowl berth. Kramer led the league in punting, made 14 of 15 extra points, kicked off, and blocked and tackled everything in sight. '55 was dominated by Ron Kramer and his number 87 was always on the field except for the Northwestern and Minnesota games, missed due to cracked ribs suffered against Army. Terry Barr was an often overlooked weapon due to Kramer. An upset against the Illini and their surprise halfback starter Bobby Mitchell scuttled Michigan's unbeaten record and two weeks later, they dropped a 17-0 decision to Ohio State. Michigan State, not Michigan, went to the Rose Bowl. Kramer was named as All American and Barr was named the Wolverines MVP.
If interested in any of these Michigan helmets please click on the photos below.