ESPN's retrospective on college football, "Rites of Autumn" is off and running with the network promising that the 10-part series will present the most factual history of the game, warts and all. If the first promos are any indication it will certainly be an intriguing one. We were informed that among the featured guests are Michigan coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr plus former Wolverine players Ron Johnson, Dick Calderazzo and Bob Griese. The three players are certainly an eye-catching trio. No question why Johnson is there. In 1968 he turned in the greatest day by any Wolverine that I have ever witnessed when he racked up 347 yards and 5 touchdowns against Wisconsin at Michigan Stadium under the most miserable conditions one can imagine. But Calderazzo is a slightly different story. Dick was a steady, if not spectacular offensive guard on Bump Elliott's last team in 1968 and Bo's first in 1969. But he was an exceptionally bright man and thus perhaps will give us some entertaining insights into how it felt to go from the easy-going, ever smiling Bump to the fiery, hell-for-leather Bo. But the greatest coup that ESPN has pulled off is transforming Griese from one of Purdue's greatest quarterbacks to a Wolverine. That really has to be one of the most anticipated segments of the series.
In 1967 the U of M celebrated its 150th birthday and in conjunction with the festivities my radio station, WUOM, did a series entitled, "The Cornflower and the Maize". It features interviews with some of the great personalities in University history including a number of legendary athletes. Since that was my responsibility I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with players and coaches who could fill in the blanks going back almost to the advent of Fielding Yost. Such an individual was Stanfield Wells, who played for Yost from 1909-11.
He was 78 when he came to Ann Arbor for our meeting but sounded as though he had just hung up his uniform the day before yesterday. He told me about his first season at Michigan when all the players would troupe over to old Waterman gym to get their uniforms.
"They were all laid out on the floor," he told me, "and the seniors, then the juniors and finally us sophomores got their pick. Since we were the last ones to choose we got some pretty sorry looking jerseys and pads. But nobody said a word since Mr. Yost was watching every move we made."
Waterman was also where the team dressed for practice and then would jog down State Street to Ferry Field, about half a mile. But the key according to Wells was that after practice the team would jog back up the hill to Waterman.
"People wondered why we always seemed the fresher team in the fourth quarter and that was why. Coach Yost never let us walk anywhere."
Knowing that he excelled at both tackle and end for Michigan I asked him about the difference of playing on the line with the minimal protection thay had in those days with the armor that surrounds the players of modern times.
"Well we knew we were going to get beat up" he smiled, "but we figured the other team wasn't dressed any better than us so we were even. And I did get to have some fun sometime by passing the ball."
"You passed the ball?" I asked. "But weren't you a lineman?"
"Well I was," he admitted. "However Mr. Yost got the idea in our big game against Minnesota in '10 that I could throw a couple of surprise passes and fool 'em. And I did, and we beat the ornery so and so's."
I looked it up later and found out that not only had Stanfield Wells moved from a tackle to halfback in that game, he had tossed two long passes to set up the only touchdown of the day, which he scored himself to give Michigan a 6-0 victory over the hated Gophers.
I was not eager to have to say goodbye to this spry, white-haired storyteller who seemed to be having a ball enjoying the memories of 60 years ago. A few weeks later I called his home to inform him that I would be sending him a tape of the program in which he was featured.
"I'm sorry" a voice said, "but Mr. Wells died of a heart attack two days ago."