"That's the hardest you can hit?"

Legendary Michigan Broadcaster Tom Hemingway discusses past Michigan v. Illinios games including Butkus memories, Bump Elliott, Red Grange and a time when an Illini player dared to run into Bo Schembechler.

Michigan v. Illinois


Through no stretch of the imagination could the Illinois-Michigan series be compared to Ohio State, Michigan State or Notre Dame when it comes to scintillating moments in Wolverine history.  And yet it does have its place for one of the oddest series in some respects. 

We have heard annually about the dedication of Memorial Stadium in 1824 that saw the legendary Red Grange score six touchdowns against Michigan, four in the first 12 minutes!  And I don't care what my smart-mouth buddies say, I wasn't there to broadcast that game.  But I was there in 1963, my first year at the Michigan microphone.

My first impression of the stadium was that they hadn't done a whole lot in the way of improvement since Red Grange was there.  For one thing, there were no elevators for the press so we had to pile onto golf carts and have a wild eyed Illini octogenarian drive us up the ramps to the press box.  I can remember my engineer and I holding on for dear life as we climbed to the stars that afternoon. 

Even stranger was the game.  Illinois came in ranked number two in the nation while the Wolverines were 2-3-1.  (you might remember one of the guys on the Illinois squad, he wore #50 and played center and a little linebacker.  He had a few mediocre years with the Chicago Bears also.)  To say that Michigan was the underdog is being very generous.  And yet the badly out-manned Wolverines played the game of their lives that day and came away from Champaign with a stunning 14-8 victory.  My spotter that day was an Illinois Freshman gridder who grew so despondent as the day wore on that he finally gave up and left in the 4th quarter leaving me to fend for myself.  The loss almost cost the Illini the Big Ten title but it turned out to be their only conference defeat as they beat Michigan State in the final game to capture the championship.  They would end their year ranked number three in the nation.  It also continued a string of successes that Bump Elliott had against his brother Pete. 

In the seven games that I saw the two match wits Bump lost only once to his little brother and that was the last time they met.  And talk about weird.  That was another game I will always remember if for no other reason that it featured the longest interception return in Michigan Stadium history by a player who got his nickname from a racehorse!  It all came about in the 4th quarter with the score tied at 21-21 and Michigan driving deep into Illinois territory.  Dick Vidmer, who had thrilled fans with his passing heorics over the season, drifted back and uncorked one into the endzone intended for his great receiver Jack Clancy.  Unfortunately for Dick he failed to see the Illini safety Bruce Sullivan who jumped in front of Clancy at the 2 yard line and went the distance for a 98 yard touchdown gallop that wrapped up the game and gave Pete his lone victory against the Wolverines.  Actually nobody called him Bruce Sullivan though.  He was known as "Silky Sullivan" in honor of a schizophrenic thoroughbred who kept coming from 30 lengths back to win race after race. 

That Incodentally would be the last Michigan loss to the Illini that I would broadcast until 1983 when Mike White's fun-lovers beat the Wolverines 16-6 enroute to a perfect 9-0 season.  That was the contest that saw one of Illinois' bandana clad defensive backs come crashing into Bo Schembechler on the Michigan sideline.  Bo jumped to his feet, dusted himself off, looked at the smirking kid and cracked, "You mean that's the hardest you can hit?"  The smirk disappeared in a hurry. 

Oh yeah . . . one more thing . . . by that year they had finally installed elevators for the poor broadcasters and reporters.       

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