Kalamazoo - The Center of the Football World
I truly believe that Kalamazoo, Michigan is the center of the football world. For starters, this is where I live! According to the 2020 Census, the city has a population of 73,598. It is located in southwest lower Michigan, half way between Chicago and Detroit. In fact, a sign at the Kalamazoo train station tells passengers they are 142 miles from Detroit and 138 miles from Chicago. But there is more evidence to support my claim;
Within an 8-hour drive from Kalamazoo, you can travel to the home stadiums of the NFL's Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts.
If major college football is more your style, you could easily travel to the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois or Ohio State. Locally, Kalamazoo's Western Michigan University is a member of the Mid-America Conference. Other nearby MAC schools include Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, Akron, Miami of Ohio and Kent State.
In the Canadian Football League, a six-hour drive will take you to see the Hamilton Tiger-Cats or the Toronto Argonauts play.
Beyond simply going to watch football games, you could also visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio (left-top) or the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, Ontario. Indianapolis is also home to the NCAA Hall of Champions, which honors all college athletics, including football. The College Football Hall of Fame (left-bottom) was formerly located in South Bend, Indiana from 1995-2012 before it moved to Atlanta, GA.
When you examine the history of the game of college football, it has really thrived right here in the Midwest. Some of the early powerhouses that are steeped in tradition are the University of Michigan, who played in the first ever college bowl game (the Rose Bowl) in 1902; Notre Dame, which gave us the Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne and George Gipp, a.k.a., The Gipper; the University of Chicago, where Amos Alonzo Stagg made a name for himself as a coach and Illinois, which gave us Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost.
In 1916, the Notre Dame freshman football team came to Kalamazoo for a game against Western State Normal College, which is today know as Western Michigan University. During the game, future college football legend George Gipp drop kicked a 62-yard field goal. The kick made national sports news.
Jack Harbaugh was the head coach at Western Michigan University from 1982-1986. His sons, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh, the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, faced off against each other in 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII with John's Ravens coming out on top in the game. John Harbaugh was also an assistant coach at WMU from 1984-1987.
Pro football's roots are here in the Midwest, too. The Packers, Bears, Lions and Browns are some of the oldest franchises in the National Football League.
More recently, the Kalamazoo Xplosion, of the Continental Indoor Football League, hosted the CIFL Championship game at Wings Stadium against another team from Michigan, the Saginaw Sting on June 29, 2008. The Sting won the game 41-37. Also in 2008, another team from Kalamazoo, the West Michigan Mayhem of the National Women's Football Association, played for a league title in Nashville, Tennessee. The Mayhem lost to the Houston Cyclones 39-10. The following year, the Mayhem lost in the championship game to the St. Louis Slam, this time as members of the Women's Football Alliance.
On November 19, 2016, the three-hour ESPN Gameday College Football Pregame Show broadcast live from Western Michigan University. They came to town because WMU was 10-0 and one of just two undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, along with the University of Alabama. WMU won their game later that day over the Buffalo Bulls 38-0 and improved to 11-0 on the season. Western Michigan went on to win the Mid-America Conference championship game on December 2, beating the Ohio Bobcats 29-23, and finished the season with a perfect 13-0 ecord. This helped earn WMU a spot in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas on January 2, 2017, where they took on the Wisconsin Badgers of the Big Ten. WMU played well but came up short in the game by the score of 24-16.
So you see, Kalamazoo, Michigan could truly be considered The Center of the Football World!
The Western Michigan University Broncos football team plays in Waldo Stadium. The stadium is named after Dr. Dwight B. Waldo, who was the school's first president. He served at the school from 1904-1936. The stadium was built and named in his honor in 1939.
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Things that Kalamazoo is known for;
- Abraham Lincoln made his only visit to Michigan on August 27, 1856. He made an anti-slavery speech in Kalamazoo's Bronson Park in support of Republican presidential candidate, General John C. Fremont. There is a historical marker commemorating this event in the park.
- In 1875, the electric dental drill was patented by G. F. Green of Kalamazoo.
- The city of Kalamazoo is mentioned in the classic Dr. Seuss book, "Horton Hatches the Egg." (1940)
- Kalamazoo is mentioned in the song, "I've Been Everywhere" made famous by country singer Lynn Anderson.
- Bobby Hatfield, one half of the singing duo The Righteous Brothers, dies at the age of 63 in the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo on November 5, 2003 just before a concert at Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University.
- In November 2005, a group of anonymous investors created The Kalamazoo Promise, which provides free college tuition to all high school students who graduate from any of the city's public schools. (See link below)
- Kalamazoo was the first city to ever host the College Baseball World Series. The game was played here in 1947 and 1948. The 1948 Yale team, which lost to Southern California, featured first baseman and future president, George H. W. Bush.
- The 2006 independent film, Kalamazoo?, was filmed in and around town. (See link below)
- Gemini 4 and Apollo 9 astronaut James McDivitt graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School.
- In 2009, Kalamazoo resident Matt Giraud made it to the final five on American Idol. Eventual winner, Kris Allen also had relatives that live in Kalamazoo.
- From 1950-1954, the Kalamazoo Lassies played baseball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. They won the league championship in 1954, the last year the league was in existence.
- Checker cabs were built at an auto plant here from July 1923 to July 1982.
- In August 1959, Kalamazoo became the first city in the country to build a downtown pedestrian mall.
- On June 7, 2010, President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker at the Kalamazoo Central High School graduation ceremony. It was held on the campus of Western Michigan University.
- Big Band musician Glenn Miller had a hit song in 1942 called, "I've Got a Gal In Kalamazoo." The Andrews Sisters recorded the song in 1943 as "I've Got a Guy in Kalamazoo." Click here to see a video of the Glenn Miller version.
- The Air Zoo aviation museum in Kalamazoo is home to the only remaining SR-71B model aircraft in existence. It is on loan from the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
- On October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy gave a speech on the steps of the Kalamazoo City Hall as he made a swing through Lower Michigan while campaigning for the presidency.
- President George W. Bush came to Kalamazoo and gave an economic speech at Western Michigan University on March 27, 2001.
- In March of 2010, Kalamazoo hosted the men's and women's USA Curling Nationals at Wings Stadium. The event returned to Kalamazoo again in 2015.
- Orville Gibson founded the Gibson Guitar Company in Kalamazoo in 1894. Gibson guitars were manufactured in Kalamazoo from 1902 until the company moved to Nashville, TN in 1984. During WWII, the plant was run almost exclusively by women. (See the Kalamazoo Gals link below) Today, Heritage Guitars are made at the same location in Kalamazoo at 225 Parsons Street.
- Since 1963, Kalamazoo has been the sister city to Numazu, Japan.
- In 2004, two local guys, Kevin Turk and Kellen Manley, came up with an idea that has grown into what is today known as International Tom Hanks Day. (See link below)
- In the 2006 film, Tenacious D and The Pick of Destiny, the character played by Kyle Gass wears a T-shirt that says Kalamazoo during one of the band's performances.
- In the 2016 edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not!, two items from Kalamazoo made it into the book. One was the Kalamazoo Big Banana Car built by local resident Steve Braithwaite and his friends from a 1993 Ford F-150 pickup truck, the banana car debuted in 2011. It took two years to construct and seats four people. Matchbox has even produced a toy version of the car. (See link below). The other is the lucky toilet adopted by the Kalamazoo Christian High School varsity baseball team.
- Kalamazoo Grill Company produces high-end outdoor grills. Founded as Kalamazoo Sheet Metal in 1906, they began producing a line of outdoor grills in 1996.
- Comedian Tim Allen, star of the TV shows "Home Improvement" and "Last Man Standing," graduated from Western Michigan University in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in Television and Radio Production.
- In the 1937 movie, Rosalie, a visiting princess from a foreign country (Eleanor Powell), falls in love with a West Point football player (Nelson Eddy). In order to see him, she attempts to pose as a male cadet who has just arrived at the academy from Kalamazoo, MI.
- Kalamazoo is mentioned in chorus of the 2014 song Gotta Get Away on the album Turn Blue by The Black Keys.
- ESPN studio analyst John Saunders played college hockey at Western Michigan University. Saunders, who died on August 10, 2016, played two games for the Broncos’ hockey program between 1974 and 1976. His brother, Bernie, played for the Broncos from 1975-79 and is in the Western Michigan University Athletics Hall of Fame.
- In December of 2020, the Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company, headquartered here in Kalamazoo, had the first vaccine approved by the federal government for use against the COVID-19 corona virus. The first shipments of the vaccine were shipped out across the country from a Pfizer facility in the Kalamazoo suburb of Portage. President Joe Biden toured the Pfizer plant on February 19, 2021 and thanked the workers for their role in helping to fight the global pandemic.
Kalamazoo Related Videos
On May 27, 1984, about 50,000 fans attended The American Rock Festival held near Kalamazoo.
Seven heavy metal bands played that day; Ratt, Accept, Night Ranger, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, and Triumph.
It was truly the Woodstock of Michigan - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EMzsW-UHoM&t=51s
Kalamazoo's Major Leaguers - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5kD63fKt3Y&feature=youtu.be
The Story Behind Westnedge Avenue - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cm3L4a8Bt8
C K & S Railroad Line Song - https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=_piXnOcETM4
Here are just a few of the Western Michigan University football players who have gone on to play pro football;
LB John Offerdahl - Drafted in the second round of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. Played eight seasons for the Dolphins though 1993. He was inducted into the Dolphins Honor Role in 2013.
LB Terry Crews - Before becoming a Hollywood actor and appearing in such movies as White Chicks and the remake of The Longest Yard, Crews was selected in the 11th round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He played for the Rams in 1991 and also played for the San Diego Chargers (1993), Washington Redskins (1995) and Philadelphia Eagles (1996). Crews also played in NFL Europe for the Rhein Fire (1995).
QB Tim Lester - Played for the Chicago Enforcers of the XFL (2001). In 2017,Lester was named head football coach at Western Michigan University.
LB-DE Jason Babin - Drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans (27th overall). He played for the Texans from 2004-2006. He has also played for the Seattle Seahawks (2007-2008), Kansas City Chiefs (2008) Philadelphia Eagles (2009 and 2011), Tennessee Titans (2010) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2012).
WR Greg Jennings - Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft and played for the Packers through 2012.
TE Tony Scheffler - Selected in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He played for the Broncos from 2006-2009 and Detroit Lions from 2010-2013.
DB Louis Delmas - Selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and played for the team through 2013.
WR Jamarko Simmons - Currently plays in the Arena Football League and won an ArenaBowl title with the Jacksonville Sharks in 2011. Also in 2011, Simmons won a title in the United Football League as a member of the Virginia Destroyers.
K John Potter - Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Currently plays for the Washington Redskins.
CB EJ Biggers - Selected in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was with the team from 2009-2012. Also played for the Washington Redskins.
DT Drew Nowak - Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars and played there from 2012-2013. He then signed with the Seattle Seahawks where he played center.
Kalamazoo is also the hometown of the following sports figures;
Derek Jeter, MLB New York Yankees Short Stop. (Kalamazoo Central High School)
Greg Jennings, NFL Green Bay Packers wide receiver. (Kalamazoo Central High School)
T.J. Duckett, played college football at Michigan State. He was drafted in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He played running back for the Falcons from 2002-2005 and also played for the Washington Redskins (2006), Detroit Lions (2007) and the Seattle Seahawks (2008). (Loy Norrix High School)
Pete Metzelaars, NFL tight end, played college football at Division III Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN. He was drafted in the third round of the 1982 NFL Draft by Seattle Seahawks. Played in Seattle for three seasons (1982-1984) then went on to play for the Buffalo Bills (1985-1994), Carolina Panthers (1995) and Detroit Lions (1996-1997). (Portage Central High School)
Lindsay Tarpley, Olympic gold medalist in 2004 and 2008 on the women's soccer teams (Portage Central High School)
Jason Babin, NFL player, born in Kalamazoo and played high school football in nearby Paw Paw, Michigan
Kalamazoo Web Sites