Prior to becoming the 38th President of the United States and serving with the U.S. Navy in World War II Gerald Ford played football at the University of Michigan. As a member of the Wolverines Ford played center and was named team MVP after the 1934 season.
In 1994 Ford’s No. 48 was retired by the university.
While it has not yet been determined who will take the field in the former President’s jersey this fall Michigan announced it will be available to be worn during the upcoming season.
“I think it’s a much better way to memorialize and honor those folks,” [ Michigan athletic director Dave] Brandon had told The News. “In making the decision in how to do this going forward, I have consulted with people who follow the program and consider themselves experts. I would simply say, ‘Name the numbers and the players that have been retired.’ They may name one or two, but they can’t name all five.
“The jerseys are displayed in a dusty cabinet in Schembechler Hall, and it just makes no sense to retire numbers. The rosters are large, and we need the numbers. The other thing we can’t show people yet is we’re going to create in the soon-to-be renovated Schembechler Hall is this new ‘Legends Area’. It will be spectacular. It won’t be a walk-in whenever you want, but from time to time it will be open for public view.”
Former Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon’s No. 98, three-time All-American Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47, two-time All-American Ron Kramer’s No. 87, and the No. 11 worn by brothers Albert, Alvin, and Whitey Wistert are the other numbers to have been retired.
The No. 48 jersey will have a “Legends” patch similar to this one on the No. 21 jersey formerly worn by 1991 Heisman Trophy winner, and current ESPN analyst, Desmond Howard which Roy Roundtree will wear this season.
Dave Brandon is probably right in that many wouldn’t be able to name the five numbers retired by the school considering how long ago the players who wore them played. Having them in use with a patch that will no doubt be acknowledged by broadcasters during the game and result in reminiscing of great moments of Michigan football is a good way to celebrate history.
That being said I wouldn’t necessarily agree that it makes no sense to retire numbers. There’s nothing wrong with honoring great players to come through the program. Can you retire the jersey of every All-American? No, especially not a school like Michigan that produces so many top quality players. But there are circumstances where it’s warranted and justified. A former President of the United States who was named team MVP falls into that category for me.