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Michigan Wolverines Bringing Back Legendary Numbers

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Monday, September 13, 2012


I recently had a chance to go to a game at The Big House in Ann Arbor to see the Michigan Wolverines play in person. This was all because my nephew, a U of M graduate with season tickets, was unable to attend the game and offered them to me. The Wolverines were taking on the Air Force Academy on September 8 for only the second time ever. The first meeting between the two schools was in the 1964 season opener in Ann Arbor. Michigan won that game 24-7.

While attending the Michigan-Air Force game I learned that the University of Michigan is doing something unique and awesome this season. The day I was there, they un-retired the number 47 in honor of end Bennie Oosterbaan. Oosterbaan was the first Wolverine player to ever have his number retired by the school. He grew up in Muskegon, Michigan and played for the Wolverines from 1925-1927. He was a three-time All American and the main target of quarterback Benny Freidman. The passing combination became known as Benny to Bennie.

The un-retiring of numbers at Michigan began last season when 1991 Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard's number 21 was put back in circulation. More numbers are being put back in service throughout this season.

Oosterban never played professional football. Instead, he stayed on at Michigan and coached baseball, basketball and football. He was an assistant football coach under Fritz Crisler for 20 seasons. He was also the head coach of the football team from 1948-1958. He led the Wolverines to an undefeated season and a national championship in 1948 and was named Coach of the Year. His overall record as head football coach 63-33-4. When his coaching days were over, he became an administrator in the Michigan athletic department, retiring in 1972. Oosterbaan was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. He died in 1990 at the age of 84.

The week before the Air Force game, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke chose sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan, who previously wore number 90, to don Oosterbaan's number 47. Ryan will wear the number for the remainder of the season. A special patch will also adorn the front of the jersey with Oosterbaan's name and the years he played at Michigan with the words, "Michigan Legend." Ryan went out and had a career-high 11 tackles as Michigan beat Air Force 31-25.

Other numbers that will be honored and un-retired at various games this season include the number 48, which was worn by former President of the United States Gerald Ford, a center at Michigan from 1932-1934. Other number will be 87, worn by end Ron Kramer and the number 11, which was worn by three brothers, Francis, Albert and Alvin Wistert.

You might think that by un-retiring a number it would diminish the legacy of the player, but the way that Michigan is doing it, adding a permanent patch to the uniform with the legend's name on it, fans are being reintroduced to some legendary players and the numbers that they once wore.


UPDATE: On July 28, 2015, the school announced that it was doing away with the Legends program after just four seasons. All six numbers will once again remain retired.


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