ANTHOLOGY: Those Who Stay – The Entire Series

From the mind of Brian Letscher, the complete 11-episode series ‘Those Who Stay,’ chronicling the first year of Bo Schembechler in Ann Arbor.

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary” is a historical fiction series based on a true story and draws on first-hand interviews with the players and coaches of the 1969 Michigan Football program.

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary”

Episode 1

November 23, 1968. Columbus, Ohio

Ohio State Head Coach, Woody Hayes, is surrounded by reporters, reveling in the you know what-kicking his Buckeyes have just given a good Michigan team. 21-14 at halftime, it looked like the Wolverines might give the #2 team in the land a run for their money. Instead OSU and their ‘Super Sophomores’ shook down Michigan for every last nickel, scoring 29 unanswered points in the second half.

But it was the last touchdown and Woody Hayes that really had the Wolverines pissed off.

Late in the 4th quarter, Ohio State’s Jim Otis scored to put them up 50-14. But instead of kicking the extra point, Woody went for two. A scoundrel move by anyone’s standards. Except for Woody when playing “that school up North”. To beat them wasn’t enough. He wanted to dominate Michigan. To rob them of their will and dignity. To stampede through their nightmares for the next 364 days.

OSU didn’t get the two points but that hardly mattered. Attempting it was more than enough.

A beat reporter asks, “Why go for two when you’re up by 36 points?”

Woody fires back, “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three.”

School on a Saturday…no class.

An hour later, Michigan’s team bus rattles in the cold evening air. Players – bodies beat, egos bruised – climb up. Ice packs, crutches and silence.

Head Coach Bump Elliott, 43, is last aboard. He surveys his exhausted squad. A gentlemen’s coach, he speaks with a quiet dignity, “That is one of the finest team’s college football has ever seen. You played with the effort, class and integrity befitting a Michigan team. If anyone needs a trainer, let us know.”

Bump sits and the bus slowly pulls out and heads up Interstate 23 to Ann Arbor.

Canham Makes A Move

Bump Elliott repeats it, testing out the title, “Associate Athletic Director.”

The full-on Athletic Director, Don Canham, 50 years old, a decent suit, leans back in his office chair, “It’s yours if you want it. Or you can coach another year if you’d like. But I gotta say, Bump, you don’t seem very happy.”

Canham was just six months on the job. He’d been an All-American high jumper at Michigan and the head track and field coach for 18 years before taking over as AD. A Michigan Man to be sure. This wasn’t easy, this conversation. He liked Bump Elliott. Everyone liked Bump. Bump was honest and fair and treated the players as young men not cannon fodder. They had been friends for over a decade.

But now Canham was in charge of the whole show. And with that promotion came a surprise in the form of a $250,000 annual departmental deficit. Michigan Stadium was yet to be dubbed The Big House – which was understandable considering that it was barely more than half-full. The 1967 Ohio State game had just 64,144 butts in seats. Canham had to right a sinking ship and do it fast.

Bump looks out the window of Canham’s office, the faint chants of an anti-Vietnam protest in the distance. He’d put together a couple good teams in his ten years, including the 1968 squad. But times were changing fast. Players had been missing practices to attend those same protests. Civil Rights. Anti-War. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had both been gunned down between Spring Ball and now. These issues weren’t hypotheticals to the players – to be discussed in some Angell Hall classroom, no, this was their lives.

‘Associate Athletic Director’ it was for Bump. He’d leave a year later to become the Athletic Director at Iowa but until then he was all Maize n’ Blue, committed to helping Canham find the next head man. How hard could that be?

Rushed from the Blindside

Morning sun pours through the huge windows, across a large, wood table dotted with coffee mugs. The monthly faculty meeting, presided over by President Robben Fleming. But now he just presides over shocked silence while Don Canham, stock still in the leather, swivel-back chair of the stately university conference room, tries to catch up with what he just heard.

“You’re saying you want to disband the football program?”, Canham asks Dr. Marc Rosenstein, 47, Dean of the History Department.

“I’m saying I’d like to discuss whether, given the times we are in, does football fit into our current worldview, “ Rosenstein replies.

Canham: “What the hell does that even mean?”

Rosenstein: “We are hailed as one of the foremost progressive universities in the country, we are strongly anti-war, and so I wonder – “

Canham: “What does that have to do with – “

Rosenstein: “I wonder if we shouldn’t examine the football program and decide if it fits into our current culture and, frankly, if it’s even financially viable. You’re losing money, right?”

Canham: “The football program is fine. It’s doing fine.”

Rosenstein:  “But we need it to be more than fine, right? It has to support our athletic department as a whole and, right now – with the stadium half-full – it’s not doing that.”

Canham: “What the hell is – Marc, what the hell is going on here? You love football.”

Rosenstein: “I do. All the more reason this is a difficult topic to broach.”

Canham: “Then don’t broach it.”

President Fleming steps in: “That’s enough, gentlemen. Marc, do you have a motion to make or are you just talking out loud?”

Rosenstein: “No motion at this time.”

Fleming: “Then please refrain from just spitting stuff on the table with no warning. It’s not like you’re suggesting we close the chess club.”

Canham bites his tongue. But the looks of several around the room tell him Rosenstein is not alone.

Job Opening: Head Football Coach at The University of Michigan

Canham hangs up his office phone and looks to Bump. It’s not good.

They called everyone they knew – George Allen, Ara Parseghian, Doyt Perry, Ben Martin and more – and cobbled together a list of excellent candidates.

And not one of them wants the job.

“The facilities weren’t up to par.” Which they weren’t. They were terrible.

“You don’t pay your assistant coaches enough.” Which they didn’t. They couldn’t afford to.

And, the real kicker: “Football just doesn’t seem important to the university anymore.” Which, given Rosenstein’s words and the lot of nodding heads, Canham had to consider that maybe that was true too.

But recruiting waits for no one. They had to find their man and find him fast if they wanted a chance in hell of competing. Bump looked down his list of mostly crossed off names. But down there, at the bottom, was one last coach.

Bump: “There is this one guy. Ara mentioned him and so did Doyt – he was an assistant for both. Knock on him is he’s got a bit of a temper but – “

RING, RING. Canham rips the receiver up to his ear –

“Hello? Hey, Joe! Uh huh. Gotcha. We can fly you in as soon as possible and – (listens) oh – okay, got it. I’ll be there, first thing.” He hangs up and grabs his overcoat.

Canham: “Paterno at Penn State.”

Bump: “Isn’t he prepping for the Orange Bowl?”

Canham: “That’s why I’m meeting him at the Pittsburgh airport bright and early.”

Bump: “He’s interested?”

Canham: “Enough to meet. That’s all I need.”

And Canham’s gone, a man on a mission.

The Greater Pittsburgh Airport Hotel

A young Joe Paterno, 43, Penn State sweater and the black horned-rimmed glasses, sits in a hotel room chair, Canham across from him. It’s just the two of them.

“I’m not trying to be disrespectful, Don, but, see, your program is losing money because it just doesn’t seem like the university or community or even your players care about football anymore.”

“They care. They just need you to remind them,” Canham replies.

“My guys at Penn State – these are hard-working, steel-town kids. No one is missing practice to attend a protest.”

“We have some talented, hard-working players, I assure you.”

“Woody beat you by 40,” Paterno counters.

Canham takes a deep breath and stares at Paterno. Not in a million years did he think it would be this hard to find a new head man. Not at Michigan. But he could see where Paterno was coming from. He was going to a major bowl game for the third year in a row, ranked in the Top 10, building a program at a place that lived and breathed football.

“I hear you, Joe, I do,” Canham said, “Yes, we lost to Ohio State. Yes, we have some things to improve on and, yes, Ann Arbor is a different place than Happy Valley. But it’s still Michigan. Our guys are talented and smart and there’s not a high school player alive that doesn’t want to wear that winged helmet. Every year, the last game of the season, you’ll get your shot against Woody and the Buckeyes. There is nothing like that game, Joe, and you know it. National television every single year and there’s not a parent, recruit or President that isn’t watching.”

Paterno is listening. Canham sets the hook.

“I’m guessing that’s appealing to a man who likes to compete. I know you’re having success right now. But Penn State will never be Michigan and you know it.”

Paterno, indiscernible, just stares at Canham. Canham stares back.

The Butcher of Barberton

Bump Elliott couldn’t get Detroit News sports editor, Joe Falls, off the phone and he was too polite to hang up on him. Falls wanted to know who was front-running for the job. Bump didn’t want to tell the truth: no one. Not a single interview lined up and it was nearing Christmas, 1968.

The athletic department secretary, Linda, pops her head in, “Don’s on Line 2.” Perfect.

Bump: “Hey Joe – Joe, uh huh, listen – Joe, I have to go. We’ll let you know as soon as we know, yes – goodbye Joe, I’m switching lines now.” And he does, “Hello, Don.”

“He said no, “Canham says, “He’s happy where he is.”

“Okay. Well…we’ll keep digging.”

“Rosenstein isn’t going to have to disband the program, we’re doing it all by ourselves,” Canham says.

“What do you mean? Dean Rosenstein?,” Bump asks.

“It’s nothing. It’s…Rosenstein’s a blowhard,” Canham says, “Who else do we have?”

“Well, there is this young fellow who coached for Ara at Northwestern and Doyt at Bowling Green. He’s won a lot of games as head man at Miami of Ohio the last six years including a couple of championships. More than half his staff was coaching high school ball just a couple years ago. And he’s got a reputation for having quite a temper,” Bump finishes.

“Bump, you wanna be in administration, you gotta work on your sales skills,” Canham says.

“And he’s got a penchant for cursing.”

Canham, leaning against a pay phone in the Pittsburgh Airport, sighs, “So you want me to interview a foul-mouthed guy with a staff full of wide-eyed, young bucks and the temper of General Patton?”

“And he played and coached for Woody Hayes.”

“Oh, for crissakes.”

“Which means if anybody knows how to beat them, it’s this guy,” Bump says.

Canham stands up straight…that’s interesting.

“What’s his name? (listens) Say it again. (listens) Skembochler? What the hell kind of name is that?? Sounds like the butcher from some German village. Schembeckner? I’ll learn it if I have to, okay – just get him up here for an interview as soon as you can. And mum’s the word.”

NEXT PAGE: Episode Two

Those Who Stay: The Game (Episode 11)

The stunning finale of the 1969, as retold by Brian Letscher.

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary” is a historical fiction series based on a true story and draws on first-hand interviews with the players and coaches of the 1969 Michigan Football program. It will be ongoing through the 2019 Michigan/Ohio State game. 

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary”

Episode 11



THOSE WHO STAY – The Game – Ep. 11

via Michigan Bentley Historical Library

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 1969 – 3:00 PM

On the small television in the Michigan full staff meeting room, Wisconsin head coach, John Cotta, takes a bite of his apple and pushes his hat back on his head in awe.

“Not much you can do about it,” Cotta says, “I was about to go over and see if they had a big ‘S’ on their chest.”

ABC Sports cuts back to their reporter who is standing beside Woody Hayes who can’t hide the horn-rimmed twinkle in his eyes.

“This seems to be how every opposing coach talks about your squad,” the reporter says, “Are you concerned your team will be over-confident going into this Michigan game?”

“I’m not one to hide our light under a half-bushel,” Woody replies, “If you talk your players down they may start to believe you. No, this is the best material we’ve ever had at Ohio State and I expect they will continue to play that way.”

Bo leans forward and flips the TV off.

“Hide our light under a half-bushel,” he says to the empty room. “That’s a new one.”

Gary Moeller pops his head in. “Team’s ready for you.”

“Any word from McLean?”

Every player who played in the game was required to check in with the Lindsay McLean, the head trainer, on Sunday before the team meeting.

“If anyone’s injured they’re not telling him,” Moeller replies.

Bo nods, sips a milkshake. A far cry from after the Michigan State game when the training room was packed with guys saying they were hurt. He leans back in his chair and stares at the now-dark television, jaw set.

They’d gotten back from Iowa City at around 9PM. Bo went home, tucked the boys in bed, had a bowl of Millie’s chili and tried to sleep for a few hours before finally heading back to the office to watch film.

“You know the last time he and I played hand ball, he beat me,” Bo says. “1962, my last year coaching for him. You were a senior?”

“Junior,” Moeller says. Moeller, 27, had played linebacker at Ohio State.

“Sonofabitch called me at 5AM, the Friday before we were set to play UCLA — just like he used to do when I was a graduate assistant. “Schembechler! Meet me at the court in fifteen minutes!” I drag my (expletive) down there and he beat me. Bad. He kicked my butt. We were ranked No. 1.”

“And lost to UCLA,” Moeller says.

“Goddamn right. Lost three games that season. But beat Michigan. 28-0.”

Bo drags on his milkshake, “He knew I was leaving. Hell, I didn’t even know that but I think he knew I was going to take a head job somewhere. And there was no way in hell he was letting me leave without beating me in handball one more time, “

He leans back, a half-grin. “That sonofabitch.”

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1969 – 9:08 AM

“Listen, Marc, it’s Ohio State week, can you just give it a rest?”

Canham sits on the edge of his desk, phone to his ear, Dean Rosenstein on the other end of the line.

“That’s exactly why I can’t give it a rest. The report isn’t great, Don. It’s not horrible but it’s not great. There is a genuine case to be made that the university disband the football program.”

“You’re the only one making that case, Marc – and spending university money to do it. Tell me how that makes any sense.”

“I know this is hard, but this needs to be evaluated fairly and the Ohio State game is a huge part of the evaluation.“

“Ticket sales are through the roof for this game,” Canham says.

“Great, I look forward to seeing it,” Rosenstein says, “I’ll be there on Saturday, sitting with President Fleming and some other Regents. I wish you and the program the best. I still have to do my job.”

“This is not your job.”

“I’ll see you Saturday.”

He’s gone. Canham slams down the phone, fuming. Things were turning around and he knew it, he could feel it. The record said two losses and the attendance wasn’t great yet but Band Day had been a huge success and the tailgating thing was growing every home game. Beating Ohio State was a longshot, fine — but with Bo’s energy and the talent Bump Elliott had assembled, who the hell knows.

The program needed time, that’s all, Canham knew that. But right now, with Rosenstein breathing down his neck, the only thing he could afford to think about was this Saturday.


Jan Sterling, his executive assistant, flies in. “Mr. Canham!”

“I want a quarter page ad in every paper in Ohio by tomorrow: Free tickets to the game Saturday, limit 10 per person.”

“Are you serious?”

“Unfortunately, yes. We need a full house.”

“A full house of Buckeye fans?”

“We’re at 80,000 now – most of those are from Michigan. The only place to get more butts in more seats is south of the Toledo strip.”

“Fine,” Jan sighs, “but at least offer ‘buy one, get one free.’”

“Good idea. Get everyone on it, call every paper we can right now and reserve the space. I’ll write the copy now – you’ll have it in ten minutes.”

“One more question: Do we have the budget for this?”

“Not at all.”

Canham was a riverboat gambler, no doubt about it, and he was doubling down on Bo and the team.

“Let me worry about that when the time comes, “ Canham says.

“Okay,” Jan nods, “We’ll get right on it.”

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1969 – 1:10 PM

Mandich, Curtis, Caldo and Craw walk into Yost, expecting to be the first players there. They’re coming in early to watch film. But when they enter the locker room they nearly run into the backs of Henry Hill, Cecil Pryor, Thom Darden and Barry Pierson, all of whom came to do the same.

But they can only see one thing at the moment: 50-14.

Because it’s everywhere. It’s taped on their lockers, painted on the walls, marked on every single practice jersey. It’s on the floors in front of the toilets, on the mirror and the inside of the shower curtains. They couldn’t be in the locker room with their eyes open and not see 50-14 in at least three places. It was even painted on the wooden sign over the door, right above ‘Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.’

An hour later, Bo stood before the team in their Monday meeting.

“Men: there is not a single person outside of this room that believes we can beat Ohio State. Fifty-to-fourteen. Everyone, including the men in this room, remembers that score. That game last year in Columbus. The old man hung fifty points on this team. Fifty points because he chose to go for two with a minute-and-a-half left in the game when they were up by thirty-four.”

Bo laid it out there. He didn’t need to do anything other than that. These seniors remembered that game like it happened yesterday. The humiliation. Ohio State kicking their (expletive) in the second-half, blowing them off the ball. The long, cold bus ride home with the clanging of that Ohio State victory bell chasing them back to Ann Arbor.

“50-14, men.” Bo scans his team and stops on Mandich who has tears in his eyes. Bo doesn’t need to say another word.

“Let’s get to practice.” The words out of his mouth before the guys leap off their chairs and head for the field.

Generally, Monday was for scouting report and a half-pad practice to go through the basic game plan. Simple, get loose, get a feel for the opponent, no tackling to the ground.

But this team had been preparing for Ohio State for months. They knew Kern. They knew Otis and Tatum and Stillwagon. Back before Spring Ball, Bo had changed Michigan’s defense to look like Ohio State’s just so they could practice against it every day. They had been scouting the Buckeyes since March. Before that. Since 50-14.

So, despite the half-pads there was no half anything that Monday. The guys flew around the cold field like it was already Saturday, smashing into each other, tackling to the ground, the offense hooting and hollering and the defense quietly setting about to destroy. It was absolute bedlam. On a Monday.

Hanlon grabbed Bo. “They’re way too high, Bo. We gotta settle them down before someone gets hurt.”

Bo watched Barry Pierson crash into Billy Taylor. Hanlon had a point. The guys could burn out by Saturday. Or, worse, someone could get hurt. It was risky.

“Bo?” Hanlon pressed.

“Let ‘em go for now,” Bo replied. “We gotta let ‘em go.”

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 1969 – 2:15 PM

Bo and the staff dressed for practice in the coaches locker room. Canham had paid for some new chairs, replaced the lightbulb overhead and built some shelves. But the nails in the walls stayed per Bo’s request.

He wanted to hang his hat on the same nail as Fielding H. Yost.

“Seventy-eight percent of the time that Kern gives up the ball it goes to Otis,” Jim Young said as he layered on a sweatshirt. It was twenty-six degrees outside.

“So, we stop Kern and make him go to Otis,” Bo said.

“Exactly,” Young replied.

“No one has been up on them, not once all season, let alone early in the ballgame. We get an early lead and make Woody throw it.”

“We can run the football on them,” Hanlon says, “Eat the clock and move the ball.”

“We can run the ball but we are not running it at Tatum – he’s too damn fast,” Bo says.

“That’s good!” Hanlon says. “He rushes up the field – fast! And we run Taylor right underneath him.”

“Goddammit, Jerry, you don’t drive your car into a tornado!”

“They won’t know what to do with it! It’ll slow Tatum down!”

Coach Stobart charges up the stairs.

“Are you with him on running the ball directly at Tatum?” Bo asks Stobart.

“Yes, I am, it’ll work, but – ”

“Oh, horses***! You’re both dumber than a box of rocks!”

“Maybe, but we’ve got a bigger problem right now.”

Five minutes later, Bo, Stobart, Hanlon, Moeller and Young are on the practice field.

Well, what should be the practice field. Right now, it’s piled with a foot of snow and ice.

“Grounds guy swears he put the tarp on last night, ” Stobart says.

Bo’s face is beet red, veins bulging, as he surveys the snowy tundra.

Bo looks at the two maintenance men at the far end, shoveling. Slowly.

“We can watch extra film with the guys until the field’s cleared – get in some solid mental reps,” Jim Young says.

“Bulls***!” Bo shouts as he marches back toward the door to the players’ locker room, “You’re gonna fight in the North Atlantic, you gotta train in the North Atlantic!”

The team is finishing dressing for practice when Bo slams through the doors –

“I need every single freshmen with me – NOW!” He storms back out.

Fifteen minutes later — SCHHHUP! – a shovel crunches through the snow and ice. Bo grunts, strains, lifts the heavy snow-filled shovel and tosses its contents to the side of the field.

Inside the doors to Yost, Mandich, Craw, Curtis, Hill – the rest of the team – crowd the vestibule windows and watch the coaching staff and freshmen clear the field by hand.

Bo shovels like he’s being buried alive. This is Woody, he thinks. Somehow that sonofabitch got someone to take the tarp off the field. And right now, at this very second, Woody and his Buckeye squad were already done with warm-ups and working on beating Michigan. Right now, they were getting better. It was definitely Woody.

Bo stops, sucking wind, chest pounding — the cheeseburgers and stress have taken their toll. He looks to Yost and sees Hill and Mandich watching.

SCHHHUUP! – right back at it – they can’t waste a single second.

Mandich can’t take it. He gets what Bo is doing – trying to save the starters’ energy for practice – but he can’t sit here, in the warmth, doing nothing.

“Alright, listen up!” Mandich yells. “Sophomores! Go get more shovels from maintenance. Everyone else – to the field, use whatever you can to clear it off and let’s get to practice!”

Turns out a hundred and seven guys can clear a football field of snow and ice pretty damn fast.

Thirty minutes later, Don Moorhead is barking out signals, taking the snap from Guy Murdoch and handing off to Billy Taylor who starts to the outside and — WHUP! — his feet slide out from under him and down he goes. At least he held onto the ice cube of a football. So far, Tuesday practice of the biggest week of their season, has been a complete wash.

“Run it again!” Bo yells, “And, for crying out loud, be patient with it Taylor!”

Bo wheels and kicks at the frozen field. He hisses in Coach Stobart’s ear, “We’re gonna make sure this goddamn field is covered tonight.”

Probably not the best time for Hanlon to say it but he does, “They’re too high, Bo, we gotta calm ‘em down.”

“Let ‘em go!!” Bo barks. He whirls back to the huddle, “Run it again!!”

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1969 – 5:15 PM

“Run it again!!” Bo barks through the dark, cold night.

Moorhead drops back and hits Mandich over the middle. Mandich breaks a tackle and sprints into the endzone. Which is 65 yards away. Senior safety, Tom Curtis, Mandich’s roommate, chases him the whole way.

The players are unfazed by the freezing temperatures and slippery field. They’re flying around like it’s the first week in August.

“Cheese n’ crackers, Bo, they’re going to have nothing left by Saturday,” Hanlon says.

“Goddammit, Jerry – say that one more time and you’re fired!!”

Hanlon waves his practice schedule in disgust. “Aw, you can’t fire me the Wednesday before this game and you know it!”

“I’ll fire you anytime goddamn time I want!”

“Fine, go ahead, “ Hanlon say, “Just promise me you’ll run the ball right at Tatum and I’ll clean out my locker myself!

“Aw, you sonofabitch with the running it into Tatum – you’re whistlin’ in a graveyard, Hanlon! Run it again!!”

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1969 – 6:30 PM

“One way or another, men, you will remember this day, this football game, for the rest of your lives.”

Thursday’s practice had been more of the same – focused and fast. It had been a miserably cold week but there wasn’t a single grumble from a player, coach, manager or trainer.

And now Bo walked up and down the aisles of the team meeting room. The final address. Bo did this on Thursday night. He knew Saturday was too late. The game was won or lost Monday through Thursday.

“Each and every one of you must beat the man across from you. And, yet, this will not be enough, men. You must also beat the man who plays your position. Every single one of you must outplay your counterpart! Ohio State has the All-American, Rex Kern, at quarterback. Moorhead, are you prepared to play better than Rex Kern this Saturday?”

“Yes, coach!” Moorhead yelled.

“Henry Hill. Ohio State has the All-American Jim Stillwagon at nose tackle – are you prepared to outplay the great Jim Stillwagon?

“Yes, coach!” Henry said.

“Ohio State has the All-American Jim Otis at fullback. Garvie Craw, are you ready to play better than the mighty Jim Otis this Saturday?”

“Yes, coach!”

And on it went. Bo went through each and every player and got the same response each and every time — “Yes, coach!”

“As I told you men at halftime of the Minnesota game, this is your team now. You seniors – this is your team. And the only thing that matters this Saturday is that we play as a team! They can throw out all those great backs and quarterbacks and linebackers – all those All-Americans! And it won’t make a lick ‘a difference if we play as a team. Individuals win games, men, but they do not win championships. A TEAM wins the championship! And after all you’ve been through – after all we’ve put you through – you are a team!”

He stands still, eyes on fire, and points to their game calendar on the wall. Every week now crossed out except Ohio State.

“It comes down to this, men. A cold Saturday in November. An opportunity. An opportunity to do what we set out to do. Every single one of you had the courage and the toughness to stay and be a part of something bigger than yourself. And I promise you, men, you may go on to travel the world and do great things but here is nothing – nothing! – in this world better than that. Nobody’s got it better than us, men, right here, right now – I’ll guarantee you that. ‘Cause we’re Michigan. The team. The team, the team, the team! We’re gonna win the goddamn Big Ten Championship and we’re gonna to do it by beating Ohio State!!”

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1969 – 11:34 PM

Bo leans against the kitchen counter and finishes off a bowl of cold chili.

Ice cream is next, vanilla. He pulls a jar out of the fridge and examines it. A handmade label reads: Millie’s Hot Fudge. He unscrews the lid and scoops it out, covering the ice cream.

“I guess the hot fudge is a winner.” Millie walks in, wrapping her bathrobe around her.

“What are you doing up?” he asks.

“Feeding Shemy.”

Bo gestures to the hot fudge, “You made this?”

“My mom’s recipe.”

“The best hot fudge I’ve ever had,” Bo says.

“I donated 20 jars to Meals on Wheels.”

“Meals on Wheels?”

“They deliver hot meals to senior citizens and people who can’t leave their homes,” Millie replies.

“That’s terrific, “ Bo says. He shovels in another scoop.

“I hate to break it to you but, hot fudge, no matter how good, isn’t going to guarantee a victory.”

Bo nods, tries to smile. He always eats when he’s nervous. They both know that.

“What are you going to say to Woody?” Millie asks.

“Whaddya mean?” Bo says.

“You always talk to the opposing head coach on the field during pre-game. I’m guessing it mostly small talk but this is Woody. What are you going to say?”

“I haven’t thought about it.”

“Baloney. You’ve been thinking about it since the moment Canham hired you.”

She’s right. He’s come to know that, most of the time, she’s right.

“I’ll ask him how Anne is doing,” he says. “Congratulate him on a helluva season. Then tell him we’re going to kick his (expletive).”

“You will not, “ Millie smiles.

“Yes, I will. Ask him about Anne.”

Millie smiles. He’s still got his sense of humor. That’s good.

“Promise me you’ll get at least five hours of sleep tonight,” she says.

“I make no promises I can’t keep,” he says.

She pecks him on the cheek and heads back to bed.

Bo looks out the kitchen window. A silver moon hangs low in the sky, the craggy arms of the trees reaching upward. Thirty-six hours to kick-off.

Ohio State has the four-time National Championship winning head coach in the great Wayne Woodrow Hayes. In 1968, Woody had won every major Coach of the Year award including The Sporting News, the Walter Camp and the Eddie Robinson.

“Bo Schembechler! Are you prepared to out-coach the great and mighty Woody Hayes?”

In thirty-six hours, he’d find out if he had.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1969 – 12:15 PM

via Michigan Bentley Historical Library

“Hello everybody! Yessir, it’s finally here – Meeechigan vs. Ohio State in football!”

Bob Ufer, the legendary, longtime announcer for Michigan Football on WPAG radio, leaned forward in his seat, and looked out over the rapidly filling Michigan Stadium.

The atmosphere absolutely electric.

“Twenty minutes until blast off as two of the oldest rivals in the Big Ten  square off in what promises to be the game of the day, the game of the year, the game of the century!

“Call it what you will, it promises to two-and-a-half hours of some of the most exciting football ever in the 104 years of man’s inhumanity to man! All the blue chips are right out there on Canham’s carpet, right now! It’s all here in the hole that Yost dug and it’s building to a dramatic climax. This is what intercollegiate football is all about! All morning long the caravans of cars filled with Buckeye fans have been pouring across the border from down south and echoing from each one of those cars is the old familiar chant, ‘We don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan,’ while all of us up here in the water wonderland never forget that Ohio is a four-letter word!

“And here they are – the parade of All-Americans – Kern, Otis, Stillwagon, Tatum – the list goes on as the Ohio State Buckeyes take the field for pre-game on this beautiful Saturday in November!!”

In the middle of the press box, Canham sets a hot cup of coffee down in front of Dean Rosenstein. President Robben Fleming sits next to him.

“Fresh pot, Marc.”

“Thank you,” Rosenstein says.

“My pleasure,” Canham replies.

“Quite a crowd today,” President Fleming says casually.

“I’d say so. Over 103,000.”

“This tailgating really seems to be catching on.”

“I’d say so. It’s possible we’ll have the largest crowd in the history of collegiate football today.”

Fleming nods, looks to Rosenstein and very calmly says, “Look at this, Marc. Look at the energy, the community, the excitement. What can possibly be wrong about this?”

For once, Rosenstein has nothing to say. He knows Fleming is right.


Down in the Michigan locker room, it’s quiet. The crowd noise and Dr. Revelli’s marching band are muted. Mandich tapes his fingers, Curtis adjusts his helmet, Dierdorf tightens his cleats. Business-like. 50-14.

Student manager Red, motions to Coach Hanlon that Ohio State is on the field for final warm-ups. Michigan’s turn to head out now.

Bo strides to the middle of the room. The players strap on their helmets in anticipation.

“Men…it’s time.”

The team explodes, leaping to their feet and charge after their captain, Mad Dog Mandich who, his eye-black already streaked with tears, has literally knocked the door off its hinges.

In the tunnel, cleats clacking on the cement mixes with the trumpets and drums as that small square of light at the bottom — the entrance to the field — grows bigger and bigger.

Finally, Mandich, leading the way, gets to the field and the crowd ROARS!

It’s a madhouse. Michigan Stadium may very well lift off the ground.

And then Mandich sees it…

“Bo!” he yells over the noise, “Hey, Bo!!”

Bo pushes his way to the front and sees what Mandich is yelling about: Woody has Ohio State on Michigan’s side of the field.

“You sonofabitch,” Bo says to himself.

Mandich and Henry Hill and Tom Curtis and Caldarazzo are all up front now, looking at him, waiting for him to do something. So is the entire stadium.

Bo swallows hard and jogs straight to Woody. What the hell was he supposed to say?

“Hey, Woody.” Bo says.

Woody, ever the gamesman, coolly keeps his eyes on his team.

“Hi, Bo.”

“You’re on our side of the field.”

“What’s that?” Woody says, holding a hand to his ear, still not looking at Bo.

“You’re on our side of the field. You need to move.”

Woody finally looks at Bo, a gleam of competition in his eyes.

Bo holds his stare. There are no congratulations or asking about wives or wishing each other ‘good luck.’ This is not the handball court. It’s just two men, who have tremendous respect for each other and live to compete, staring at each other, wondering who will blink first.

A long few seconds…and finally —

“Let’s go, men!” Woody takes off across the fifty-yard line to the visitor’s side of the field.

“WOOO HOOOOO!” Mandich lets out a warrior cry as he and the others gallop onto the field.

The game hasn’t even started and Bo had passed his first test with flying colors.

Up in the press box, the ABC broadcasters, Bill Flemming and Lee Grosscup, are sent out to millions of televisions across the country.

“Well, Ohio State has won the toss,” Flemming says, “and we’ll see right away if this Michigan defense can stop the Buckeyes.”

Grosscup says what everyone at home is thinking, “The last time Ohio State lost a football game was October the 28th, 1967. Most believe Michigan will be their 23rd consecutive victim which would set an all-time record.”

“Dana Coin will kickoff, “ Flemming says, “Tom Campana and Larry Zelinas are deep to receive for Ohio State.”

And, on the field, for Bo and his coaches and the players, the crowd, the band, the TV cameras, the last eleven months – it all fades away. Their entire focus narrows to the only thing that matters: the hundred yards of turf between the white lines. Sixty minutes.


Dana Coin’s foot meets the ball — The Game is on.

The first drive of the game, Ohio State drives the length of the field but Michigan’s defense holds on 4th down and 1 when Henry Hill stuffs All-American fullback, Jim Otis, inches short of the first down.

After a Michigan punt, Ohio State All-American fullback, Jim Otis, does score first. They miss the extra point. 6-0, Ohio State.

Jim Otis scores first for Ohio State. Photo: Michigan Bentley Historical Library

Michigan comes right back and Garvie Craw – Otis’ counterpart – plunges in from the 3-yard line. PAT is good. 7-6, Michigan.

OSU’s All-American QB, Rex Kern, throws 22 yards to WR White for a touchdown. They miss another PAT. 12-7, Ohio State.

Michigan comes back – largely on a 28-yard run by Billy Taylor, a draw play directly past a weak side fire by OSU All-American Jack Tatum. A few plays later, Craw scores again. 14-12, Michigan.

After a 60-yard punt return by senior safety Barry Pierson, Michigan scores again when Don Moorhead, The Warbler, runs it in from the 4-yard line. 21-12, Michigan.

After OSU misses a field goal, Michigan’s counterpart kicker, Tim Killian, makes one. 24-12, Michigan.

The next two Ohio State drives are ended by senior safety Tom Curtis’ interceptions, including one in the end zone.

Halftime. Michigan leads 24-12.


In the locker room, the normally reserved and quiet defensive coordinator, Jim Young, pounds on the blackboard, over and over. “They will not score again!!”

He was right.

Barry Pierson has three interceptions in the second-half. Woody benches All-American QB, Rex Kern, but his backup is intercepted as well, by Michigan LB Thom Darden with 1:34 left in the game.

Don Moorhead QB sneaks it to the ground and it’s over.

Final score: 24-12. Michigan.

via Michigan Bentley Historical Library

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1969 – 3:18 PM

via Bentley Historical Library

“Hail! to the Victors Valiant,
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes,
Hail! Hail! To Michigan
The Leaders and Best!

“Hail! to the Victors Valiant,
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes,
Hail! Hail! To Michigan
The Champions of the West!”

It had taken the team nearly twenty minutes to get off the field. Mandich, triumphant tears in his eyes, a rose in his hand, was carried into the tunnel by fans. Caldarazzo and others had gotten an ecstatic Bo up on their shoulders and done the same for him.

But now here they were, together, in their locker room, singing The Victors.

The mighty Buckeyes had fallen in what papers all over the country would call ‘The Upset of The Century.’

Michigan had shocked everyone but themselves.

Bo, hat long gone, hair askew, steps to the center, a game ball in his hands, his eyes full. The room gets quiet as he studies his team.

“Congratulations, men. You stayed — and you’re champions.”

The room explodes! Bo looks to Hanlon, who’s grinning back at him. Guess they weren’t too high.

Bo holds the game ball high and they quiet down again.

“In fifteen years of coaching, I have never been prouder of a group of players – of a team – than I am at this moment. There is not much more to say right now…you all know how I feel about each and every one of you. But there is only one game ball. And today, this ball goes to a man who has as much to do with this victory as anyone in this room. A true Michigan Man…Bump Elliott.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in that locker room as a gracious Bump accepted the game ball from Bo. Many would say it was the classiest gesture they’d ever see in the world of sports.


There was a party at the Schembechler house that night. Millie had tons of chili and homemade hot fudge. The Schembechler and Pilcher boys replayed the game highlights in the backyard.

Bo and the staff and Don Canham tried to watch the game film in the basement but kept getting interrupted by well-wishers stopping by the house. Finally, they gave up.

Bo and Canham found themselves on the front porch around midnight, the party still going strong inside.

Canham sips his Manhattan. “Well…not bad for a bunch of high school coaches from Ohio.”

“Not bad at all,” Bo says. “I appreciate the opportunity, Don. I see you got that stadium full.”

“You held up your end of the bargain. Let’s keep it going, shall we?”

“Sounds fine by me,” Bo says as they shake hands. “I’ll just need the players’ locker room re-done and raises for all my assistants.”

Canham nods and smiles. He expected nothing less.


Fritz Crisler, the legendary Michigan coach and athletic director, didn’t make it to Michigan Stadium for the game that day in November 1969. He had fallen ill. But he watched the game from his hospital bed and wrote the following letter to Bo sometime that evening:

My Dear Bo,

I have had a lot of football thrills in my lifetime, but the masterpiece you and the Michigan team turned in this afternoon will stand prominently in the list. In game preparation against seemingly overwhelming odds, I have never seen a team better conditioned, technically, physically and mentally, to reach such a high inspirational peak, as you and your staff had those kids this afternoon. It was the greatest upset I have ever witnessed. The achievement will have a long life in the contribution to the richness of Michigan’s enviable football history and tradition.

Even callous me shed a few uncontrolled tears from sheer pride and joy as the game ended. My very best to you and the team, always…always.


Fritz Crisler

Bo framed the letter and hung it on the wall by his film screen in his basement so he could see it all the time. That 1969 season and win over Ohio State would set the stage for the next 40 years of Michigan Football. Bo kept his promise for the next 20: every single player that played for him won a championship. Many also went on to become doctors, lawyers and heads of corporations. And all of them would look back on that season, and that game, as one of the greatest achievements of their lives.

Hail. Hail…
The Team, The Team, The Team…
Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.











A Michigan native, Brian Letscher is a writer/actor who graduated from the University of Michigan in another century.  Best known for heavy recurring roles on SCANDAL and VALOR, he also earned a Rose Bowl Championship ring while playing football for the Wolverines under Head Coach Gary Moeller and coached Division 1A football for several years.  He is currently shopping a limited-run scripted television series on which “THOSE WHO STAY: The 50th Anniversary” is based.
[lawrence-auto-related count=5 category=642706251]

Those Who Stay: The Build-Up (Episode 10)

From the mind of Brian Letscher, a historical fiction on Bo Schembechler’s first season in Ann Arbor, 1969. This episode: the season climb.

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary” is a historical fiction series based on a true story and draws on first-hand interviews with the players and coaches of the 1969 Michigan Football program. It will be ongoing through the 2019 Michigan/Ohio State game. 

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary”

Episode 10


[lawrence-related id=16530,16067,15011,13332,11675,9362,8994]

THOSE WHO STAY – The Build-Up – Ep. 10

Pre-Game Speech

“I want to thank you, men.”

Bo stands before his team and staff in the visiting locker room of Spartan Stadium, the opening kickoff minutes away.

Eyes flooding with emotion, he scans the game-ready faces of his players – Mandich, Curtis, Hill, Dierdorf, Pryor, all of them, packed around him, helmets strapped on  – and forces the words past the lump in his throat.

“You have finally accepted me as your head coach.  Finally accepted me into the Michigan Football family.  And I thank you for that. I am proud of you, men. I am proud to be your coach.”

The tears were surprising to all – including Bo. But they were understandable. It had been a roller coaster ten months. Getting the job, Winter Conditioning, Spring Ball – half the team quitting in the process – Fall Camp, the birth of his son just three weeks ago, followed by the loss to Mizzou and then coming right back and beating a strong, tenth-ranked Purdue squad the week before. Now, here was Michigan State, unranked, coming off back-to-back losses, including a shellacking by the mighty Ohio State.

Things were coming together, Bo thought. The team was coming together and they could be pretty damn good. They had four more games after MSU to sharpen their claws before No. 1 Ohio State came to Ann Arbor. Michigan was ranked thirteenth at the moment so, Bo figured, if they win out, they’d have a shot at being a Top 5 team by the Ohio State game. Woody bringing his boys into Bo’s stadium. Maybe Canham would even fill the place by then.

They could be that good, Bo thought. Everything was coming up roses.

Of course, in hindsight – weeks and even decades later – Bo would recognize that they were over-confident and under-prepared. Everyone – the players, the coaches and – most inexcusably in his mind – himself.

But, right now, as he stands addressing his team with tears in his eyes, hindsight was, by definition, unavailable.


“Sonofab—! Jim! What the hell is going on?” Bo screams over the roar of the home crowd that shook Spartan Stadium midway through the 2nd quarter.

Jim Young, the Defensive Coordinator, didn’t exactly know what was going on other than Michigan State was running the ball down his defense’s throat. 228 yards on the ground and it wasn’t even Halftime.

“They’re running through us like a goddamn sieve!!” Bo screams, slamming his headset into the ground.  He chases Young down the sidelines, yelling after him, “You gotta fix this, Jim, you gotta fix it!!”

Bo trusted Jim Young. And with good reason. Young was an excellent coach and coordinator. He particularly excelled at analyzing data, finding tendencies in an opposing offense and exploiting them.

But the only tendency on this day was that the Spartans were kicking their tail. And Young and his Michigan Defense had no answers. When they finally did get MSU to punt, he called a rush and Michigan got flagged for roughing the kicker.  F—

First down, Michigan State.

That’s when Young fainted.

One second he’s staring at his call sheet, trying to focus, blood rushing through his ears and, the next second, he’s down, out cold. Bo screaming at him, his defense getting destroyed and now a crucial penalty.

“Goddammit, Young!! If you’re gonna pass out on me at least wait until we’re AHEAD!!”

But that wouldn’t happen. They wouldn’t be ahead the whole game. They’d lose 23-13. Three fumbles, five penalties for eighty yards and gave up 355 yards on the ground. Very ugly football.

Back in that Visitor’s locker room, the game over, the coaching staff waits outside the small visiting coaches locker room. Nobody talks. They all stare straight ahead, waiting for it to be over –

SMASH! Inside the coaches locker room, Bo throws a metal chair into a wall. CRASH! Another one.


Hindsight was quickly getting clear for Bo:  Michigan was now 1-1 in the Big Ten. If he was going to keep his promise to this team – the one painted on that wooden board and hung in the players locker room – ‘those who stay will be champions’ – then they could not lose another game the rest of the season.

(Four hours later)

The three Michigan team buses rattled into the parking lot of Yost Fieldhouse around eight o’clock. Bo watched the subdued players limp off into the dark October night. The coaching staff dug under the bus for their overnight bags. Gary Moeller hustled to catch Bo who was striding toward the offices.

“Bo. Bo, hold on,” Moeller said.

Bo turned on a dime, his eyes still burning from the loss, “We’ll watch Minnesota film until the game movies get here. Have Red get some cheeseburgers.”

Moeller took a deep breath, glancing back at the exhausted staff. “Maybe we give the guys the night off.”

Bo’s face twisted, “Why the hell would we do that?”

“Because they haven’t had one in three months.”

Bo knows Gary well. He coached him at Ohio State.  Gary is as tough as they come.

Bo sighs, turns and yells to the other coaches, “7AM tomorrow morning!”

Hanlon drops his bag and stares at Bo. He can’t believe what he just heard.

“What?” Hanlon asks.

“Gary thinks you all need some rest. 7AM sharp, we watch the game film.”

Bo marches off toward his car, leaving a bewildered and concerned staff. Who were also happy as hell to get a night off. The loss had taken a lot out of all of them.

(15 Minutes Later)

Bo swings his car into his driveway off Arlington Road. He flicks off the headlamps, jumps out and heads to the front door. It’s locked. Strange. He digs around, finds his keys and lets himself inside.

“Hi, Coach Schembechler.”

“Sonofab—!” Bo jumps as he turns from the door and sees a gum-chomping teenage girl in his living room. “Who the hell are you?”

“Cynthia Rodgers.” She blows a bubble and pops it, “I babysit the boys.”

“You scared the hell out of me.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Where are the boys? Where’s Millie?”

“She called about an hour ago and said they were going to stay at the Pilcher’s for a while longer. She the boys were having a lot of fun. She said you’d be really grumpy and that I shouldn’t say anything about the game.”

Bo just stares at her. She pops another bubble and stares back, either unaware or just full of 1969 teenage ‘I don’t care.’

“Shemy’s asleep in his crib.”

“Thank you,” Bo says.

Cynthia doesn’t move. Bubble, pop.

“I’ve been here since five o’clock, that’s three and half hours. Mrs. Schembechler usually rounds it up so that’s four hours at three dollars an hour. Twelve dollars. Please.”

Bo nods, pulls out some cash, “There’s fifteen.”

“I don’t have change.”

“That’s fine. Thank you for watching the boy.”

“Sorry you lost,” Cynthia says over her shoulder as she bounces out the door.

Bo stands in the dark living room. The roar of that Spartan crowd just now fading. It’s completely quiet.

He sees some chili on the stove. Bowls and cups out, ready to serve the coaches as they return from East Lansing, triumphant. He doesn’t blame Millie for not being here. He’s beyond grumpy. He’s beyond angry.

He’s having doubts.

Doubts about whether he can handle the job. Doubts that he’s done the right things for his team over the last ten months. Doubts that he can beat his mentor, Woody Hayes, and his Buckeyes, who just crushed Minnesota by 27 points.

Bo wasn’t used to doubt. He didn’t like it. But he had nowhere else to go right now. This was a huge loss in a lot of ways and he knew it. And it was his fault, he knew that too. It’s always the head coaches’ fault and Bo didn’t shy away from that. He couldn’t. He’d inherited his father’s integrity. A level of integrity that can be painful.

Bo peels off his button-down and kicks off his shoes. He’d grab a bowl of chili, go the basement and watch game film. Just needs to peek in on Shemy first, make sure he’s asleep as the bubble-popping Cynthia said.

The door to Shemy’s room slowly opens and Bo tip-toes inside.  A full moon casts a silver glow over the crib where Shemy is curled up in a onesie, pacifier, a fluffy maize and blue teddy bear in the corner.

Bo, slacks and an undershirt, eyes tired, hair ruffled, stands over the crib, watching his son. This innocent three-week old who knows nothing of fumbles or blocked punts or wins and losses. Or of doubt. He’s just sleeping. Did he even dream yet? Bo had no idea. Didn’t matter. He would dream someday. Someday he would have ambition and goals and promises hung over doorways. Right now, he’s just sleeping, Bo thought.

“Waaaa…” Shemy lets a small cry and turns over, restless. “Waaaaaa….” Another.

Before he can wake up completely, Bo gently scoops him up and holds him to his chest. It’s the first time he’s held his son in at least a week.

“Shhhh, I got you, kid, “ Bo says, patting Shemy’s back. “Your dad’s got you. Shhhh…”

(An Hour Later)

Millie quietly ushers the tired boys into the shadowy living room and whispers, “Brush your teeth and get in bed. Love you.”

The boys disappear toward their rooms as she closes the front door and looks to the basement stairs. Huh. No light on down there. Odd. And what’s that sound…?

She clicks on a floor lamp and sees them: Bo reclined in the lounger, holding Shemy on his chest. Both of them gently snoring.

Millie would later say it was the best night’s sleep Bo ever had after a loss.

Bo would agree.


“What the hell are you guys doing?!” Bo barks.

He’s talking to a group of players on the sidelines in street clothes. Which is crazy because it’s five minutes into Tuesday practice of the Minnesota week. Just three days after the loss to MSU. Any serenity Bo had from his night’s sleep with his son is long gone. He’s as hellbent focused on one thing:  beating Minnesota. They HAVE to beat Minnesota.

“We got a lot of guys that’re banged up, “ Lindsay McLean, the head trainer, says.

“Banged up or injured?” Bo barks.

“Tough to tell right now,” McLean says, gesturing to the group on the sideline. “Doughty and Gabler both have sprained ankles, no way they can practice today. But let them rest today and they may be ready for Saturday.”

Bo fumes.

The rule was that if you don’t practice during the week, you don’t play on Saturday. That kept guys from taking practices off just because they were a little tired or bruised. Tired and bruised is part of playing football! Bo wasn’t sure about Doughty and Gabler. How banged up they really were. But they were both wingbacks and without them the only wingback Bo had was sophomore Billy Taylor. Taylor was talented as hell but he also had injured his shoulder in Fall Camp and developed a fumbling problem. Bo could not abide by fumbling.

But there were Doughty and Gabler in street clothes and the trainer telling him they needed the day off.

“Goddamn soft,  “ Bo grumbles, kicking at the grass. He stares at his team and then blows his whistle, sharp, “Alright, men!! Every able-bodied player, get to your position coach and let’s get to work!!”

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were as tough a practices as they’d had all season. Bo and the staff went all in. Back to the basics of blocking and tackling. Smash-mouth football. There would be no more tear-filled speeches, not a goddamned chance.

“Men! I know some of you have been complaining about aches and pains. Some of you may even be truly injured. A few of you haven’t practiced all week. A couple of you are first team.  But, men…I don’t care how important you think you are, if you haven’t practiced, you will NOT be on the bus to Minnesota tomorrow!!”

This is Thursday evening, after practice, as they prepare to travel to Minnesota the next day.

Back in the staff room, minutes later, Bo stares at the official travel team list. He has to fill it out right away so Bobby Kohn, the equipment manager, knows whose stuff to load on the travel truck.

Hanlon and Stobart come in, clearly concerned and each clearly hoping the other one will speak up first. Finally, Stobart does.

“We gotta take Doughty and Gabler,” Stobart says.

“Why?” Bo asks.

“We can’t go to an away game with one wingback, Bo,” Hanlon says, “If Taylor gets hurt, we have nobody. And if he fumbles, you can’t bench him.”

“Then he better not fumble, ‘cause I will bench him. They don’t practice during the week, they don’t play on Saturday. It’s that simple.”

“If we lose this game, Bo, that’s it,” Stobart says, “We can kiss any chance at the Big Ten Championship goodbye.”

Bo nods. He knows. And he’d be lying if he said that didn’t scare the shit out of him. He looks down at the travel list again, for a long time…finally…

“We win or lose with the guys who practiced, period. And if Taylor fumbles, I will take him out of the game if I have to suit up myself.”

That’s the answer. The end.  They know there is no changing his mind.  And they know he’s right.


Don Moorhead winces in pain as Dr. O’Connor examined his hip.

“Can he play?” Bo asks.

“I’m playing,” Moorhead says. “I was asking Doc O’Connor, “ Bo says.

Dr. O’Connor shrugs, “Up to him. It’s a hip pointer, a bad one. Hurts like hell but he’s not going to make it worse by playing.”

“I’m playing, “ Moorhead says, “I’m playing and that’s it. Shoot me up.”

Bo nods and walks away, into a little tunnel that ran along the back of the locker room. Equipment shoved everywhere, a rusted blocking sled tucked against the wall.

They were down 9-7. The guys were sluggish. Tired? Or just pissed off that Bo left so many starters back in Ann Arbor? Didn’t matter. This was it. They lose this game and it’s over.

“Well..what the hell, “ Bo said to himself and walked back into the locker room,

“Alright, men, listen up.” Conversations stopped. “I need your eyes, men, every single one of you.” Eyes reluctantly came up to meet him. Yeah, Bo thought as he took them in, they’re tired and pissed.

“Look around. Take a look at the guys surrounding you. This is our team right now. The guys in this room. That’s it. And what we have here, right now, is enough to beat Minnesota and keep our championship hopes alive, I believe that. But, the thing is…it doesn’t matter what I believe anymore, men. This is your team now. The coaches and I are going out to the field right now and get ready for the second-half. Take a couple minutes and decide what you, this team, decide what you believe.”

No blame, no judgment, no exhorting. He never even raised his voice.

And in those couple of minutes the team spent alone in that locker room, something happened. A decision was made, a collective decision, that they were going to fight for their season.  They were going to fight for their championship and they were going to fight for each other, no matter what.

They kicked Minnesota’s ass in the second half.  Dierdorf and Caldo and Murdock and Baumgartner and Hapring and Craw blew truck sized holes in their defense and the swift, tough Billy Taylor ran for 155 yards and 3 TD’s.  The defense didn’t give up another point as Curtis and Hill and Pryor and Huff and Pierson and Keller swarmed all over the Minnesota offense.

And when Billy Taylor got smacked for a loss five yards behind the line of scrimmage, Bo was right there on the field, standing over him, screaming, “Great play, Taylor – GREAT play!!  Do you know why that was a great play, Taylor?!”

Billy, shaking out the cobwebs, says, “I got crushed, Bo.”

Bo, a big grin on his face, grabbed Billy’s facemask. “It was a great play because you held onto the football!!!!”

Even a loss was a gain in that second-half versus Minnesota.

Because everyone knew it now – this had become what Bo had pushed for from day one:

The team finally belonged to the players.  Specifically, to the seniors.

Minnesota didn’t have a chance.

And neither did Wisconsin or Illinois whom Michigan beat 35-7 and 57-0, respectively. Taylor was holding onto the football and running like a madman. Moorhead and Mandich were in sync and the defense was dominating.

Next up, the always tough Iowa Hawkeyes.

The weather had turned chilly now that it was mid-November. The game was in Iowa City in front of just 45,000 fans. But none of that mattered to the Wolverines. They would’ve played on a sandlot in front of the referees only if that’s what they needed to do to keep marching through the Big Ten.

They destroyed Iowa, 51-6 behind Billy Taylor’s 225 yards and 2 TD’s.  Craw and Moorhead added touchdowns as did Jim Betts with two in the fourth quarter.  The defense held Iowa to just 70 total yards at the half. It was total domination, from the very first play.

The Michigan team floods the visiting locker room and singsThe Victors at the top of their lungs, high fives and hugs all around.  Then, from somewhere in the back, no one is quite sure who started it, someone begins chanting, “Beat the Bucks…beat the Bucks…”

Within seconds, the entire team is on its feet, jumping up and down, screaming in unison, “Beat the Bucks!  Beat the Bucks! BEAT THE BUCKS!!”

Hanlon looks over and sees Bo…chanting right along with them!

“Bo!” Hanlon yells over the noise, “They’re too excited. They’re gonna get too high!”

Bo just grins, “To hell with it! Let ‘em go!”

Bo jumps right back into the fray, hat sideways, smiling from ear to ear, knowing that they were one game away – one win away – from keeping the promise.

In one week, on November 22, the undefeated, No. 1 ranked Buckeyes would be in Ann Arbor for what was known simply as…

…The Game.










A Michigan native, Brian Letscher is a writer/actor who graduated from the University of Michigan in another century.  Best known for heavy recurring roles on SCANDAL and VALOR, he also earned a Rose Bowl Championship ring while playing football for the Wolverines under Head Coach Gary Moeller and coached Division 1A football for several years.  He is currently shopping a limited-run scripted television series on which “THOSE WHO STAY: The 50th Anniversary” is based.
[lawrence-auto-related count=5 category=642706251]

Those Who Stay: Early Season 1969 (Episode 9)

From the mind of Brian Letscher comes a historical fiction breaking down the 1969 season, Bo Schembechler’s first in Ann Arbor.

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary” is a historical fiction series based on a true story and draws on first-hand interviews with the players and coaches of the 1969 Michigan Football program. It will be ongoing through the 2019 Michigan/Ohio State game. 

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary”

Episode 9


[lawrence-related id=16067,15011,13332,11675,9362,8994]

THOSE WHO STAY – Early Season 1969 – Ep. 9

Don Canham, decent suit and a light, tan overcoat, watched the Tuesday practice from the sideline. There was a spring in everybody’s step after the win over Vanderbilt. All phases of the team – offense, defense and special teams – had played fairly well, especially considering it was the season opener and Bo’s first game at Michigan. Canham wasn’t at all satisfied with the attendance of 70,000+ but it was close to 10,000 more than last year’s per game average. Something to build on, he thought.

“Taylor!!  You soft sonofab—, you bounce like a goddamn cork!! Stay inside – right off of Dierdorf’s big butt, you hear me?! Washington is no Vanderbilt. You bounce outside like that and they’ll eat you alive! Run it again!!”

Bo also had some spring in his step. He had to keep the team on track. No one resting on the laurels of a single win. His staff was right there with him – pushing the guys the way they had for the last nine months.

Decades later, Dierdorf would say, “Hanlon thought a facemask was a handle to be used to bring you down to his level so he could make a coaching point.”

And that’s just what Coach Hanlon was doing right now. “You hear that, Dierdorf? Those halfbacks are going to keep it right off your outside cheek!!  Fire off the darn ball and get some movement on the guy across from you!”

Hanlon released Dierdorf’s facemask, shooed him over to the huddle and that’s when he saw Lynn Koch hurrying toward him, moving fairly fast across the hard turf in her dress and low heels.

“Millie went into labor, “ she said. “Jane Pilcher took her to the hospital and has the boys.”

Hanlon nods and heads over to Bo who is about to give a play to QB Moorhead.

“Bo, come here.”

Bo turns to Hanlon, “What is it?”

“Come here, I need to talk to you.”

“Goddammit, I’m right here, what is it?”

Hanlon didn’t want to announce such a private thing so publicly but Bo was giving him no choice.

“Millie’s at the hospital. She went into labor.”

Bo takes that in, nods, “Okay. Great!” He turns back to the huddle and Moorhead, “I Right, Strong Right, 24 Power.”

“Bo!” Hanlon yells.

Bo turns back, “What?”

Moorhead and the guys aren’t moving, all eyes on Hanlon.

“She’s in labor.”

“I heard you. That takes awhile, doesn’t it? I’ll go right after practice.”

Lynn jumps in, “This is her fourth child, Bo, it may not take that long.”

Hanlon marches over to Bo gets behind him, grabs his shoulders and starts marching him off the field.

“What the hell are you doing?!”

“You’re going to the hospital right now!”

“Goddamit, Jerry – “

“Don’t you goshdarnit me, Bo – you’re going, right now, period, end of story!!”

“We got it, Coach!” Mandich yells. “Go on, Bo!” says another.

Bo relents and starts to jog so Hanlon doesn’t have to push him.  They get to the gate.

“I’m going!“ Bo says. “Now get back there and make sure the off-tackle play doesn’t bounce!”


“Jane says you got here just in time.” Millie rests in a hospital bed.

“An hour to spare. Just enough time to light a cigar.”

She smiles…closes her eyes. Bo watches her rest. He looks out the 3rd story window. Michigan Stadium is visible a few miles away. He looks back to his wife.

“You know what I’m seeing?”

“You’re looking out the window at the stadium,” she says, eyes still closed.

“I’m looking at a pretty tough gal, “ he says.

She opens her eyes. He grins at her, “One more and we’d have an offensive line.”

Millie just shakes her head and closes her eyes again, “Go hold him.”

“They won’t let me yet. Kid was just born and he’s already sleeping.”

“He needs rest. So do I.”

And she’s out. Bo watches her sleep. And can’t help but sneaking a peek out the window at the stadium.  Finally, he gets up, pats Millie’s hand and heads out.


Bo peers through the glass at a dozen or so newborns in basinets, searching for his son.

“Boy or girl?”

Bo turns and there is his fullback, Garvie Craw.

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

Garvie smiles, “My wife went into labor this morning.”

“She better have – you missed practice! Congratulations, Craw.” Bo says as he claps him on back, “It’s for real now, isn’t it?”

“Yessir,” Garvie replies with grin.

A Nurse wheels a basinet over to the window where Garvie can get a good look. A pink cardboard sign on it reads: Stephanie.

“She’s beautiful, Craw.”

“Thanks, I agree. Where’s yours?”

Bo searches the basinets, finds what he’s looking for and waves at the nurse, who matter-of-factly wheels the basinet over and places it next to Stephanie.

A blue sign reads: Glenn.

“It’s a family name,” Bo says, unable to take his eyes off of his son.

“Your name is Glenn?” Garvie asks.

“And my father’s name,” Bo replies. “He was a great man, my father. A firefighter. More integrity in his pinky finger than most men have in their entire being. A great father.”

Garvie nods. Watching Bo watch Glenn the III…studying him…Bo’s eyes getting ever-so-slightly watery around the edges. Craw now understands his demanding, relentless coach a little bit better.

“This very well may be the most important thing we do in our lifetimes, Craw.”

“I think so,” Garvie replies.

A long moment as the coach and player, fathers, stare at their newborns.

Finally, Bo breaks the silence, “I don’t know if it’s any indication as to who he will be in this world…but my son has the biggest pair of gonads I have ever seen!”

Craw bursts out laughing.

“You keep your daughter away from my son, Craw!” Bo grins.


CRASH!! Garvie Craw barrels his way into the endzone to make it 44-7 Michigan in the fourth quarter.

The extra point made a final score of 45-7, Michigan over Washington. Bo and Garvie shared a special high-five as they ran off the field, disappearing up the tunnel and into the locker room to sing The Victors for the second time in two weeks.

Up in the press box, President Robben Fleming shakes Don Canham’s hand, a tight smile lines his face. “Team looks good,” Fleming says.

“They do,” Canham replies, knowing full well that neither man needs to acknowledge the fact that there were only 49,684 fans in the house.

Fleming nods again. “I look forward to next week – Missouri?”

“That’s right,” Canham says, “They’re a good team. We’ll be ready for ‘em.”

“I hope so,” says Fleming as he’s pulled away to meet some alumni.


Gary Moeller and Dick Hunter plop down a half dozen bags of cheeseburgers, fries and shakes. Bo had declared there would be no post-game film-watching party at the house this week. Millie and the baby – they were calling him Shemy – needed to rest.

ABC Sports news played on a TV in the corner. They were interviewing Fred A. Taylor, the head coach of TCU, who’d just gotten beat 62-0 by Woody and Ohio State.

“It seemed like the field was just awash of scarlet and gray. They were everywhere,” Taylor said. “They are the finest college team ever assembled.”

“Turn it off,” Bo says evenly. “Put on the game film.”

“It’s not here yet. The guy said it wouldn’t be ready ‘til eight o’clock because the game started an hour later than Vandy,” Hanlon says.

“I meant the Ohio State game. From last year. I wanna watch the ‘finest college team ever assembled.’”  Bo says. He takes a huge bite of his cheeseburger and settles into his chair as Hanlon racks the well-worn film reel. They all know, victory or not, it’s now going to be a long night.


Jim Mandich and the gang, all a bit buzzed after celebrating their victory, walk up State Street, heading home.

Mandich pulls up.

“What the hell,” Caldo says, running into the back of him.

They follow Mandich’s eyes through the fence to Yost Fieldhouse. The flickering light of rolling game film comes from the window of the staff meeting room.

“It’s almost one o’clock it the morning.  Doesn’t he ever sleep?”  asks Caldo.

“Not if he can help it,” replies Baumgartner, memories of The Mile Test all too clear.

“Well, if he’s working, we’re working,” says Mandich.

And before anyone can respond, he lets out a blood-curdling warrior cry and charges up State Street in a full sprint.

“Aw, sonofab—,” Baumgartner says.

“Mad Dog!” Caldo yells. But Mandich is already half a block away.

They have no choice but take off after their friend and captain, knowing not one of them will catch him. The time to celebrate beating Washington is over.

Next up, the No. 9 ranked Missouri Tigers.  Their third game in a row at Michigan Stadium.


Two thumps is not good. One thump – the punter kicking the ball – that’s good. But a second thump? That means the opposing team just blocked the punt.

Two thumps is bad, especially on a Bo Schembechler coached team. Bo hated turnovers more than salad and a blocked punt was the type of turnover that set him off twice as much as fumble or an interception.

But two thumps is exactly what was heard when Missouri blocked a Michigan punt. In fact, those two thumps summed up the game as a whole as the Tigers delivered a sound 40-17 butt-kicking of Michigan on their home field.

The blocked punt was just one of five turnovers, including fumbles by the talented sophomore halfback, Billy Taylor, and the generally reliable junior QB Don Moorhead.

“You’re soft, Taylor!” Bo screamed in the team meeting on Sunday evening.  “And Moorhead, you’re the goddamn quarterback! If you can’t hold onto the goddamned football you will not play another down for the University of Michigan!!”

Now it was Tuesday. Bo had barely slept a wink. The complete collapse of discipline was unconscionable to him. They had tenth-ranked Purdue coming to town on Saturday and, more important than ranking, it was a Big Ten game. He and the staff had to get the team back on track.

“Gentlemen, Ohio State will not lose a game before they play us. Our goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and sing The Victors in Pasadena. That starts this Saturday with the Boilermakers. They are a tough bunch of sonsab—es and if we are to win this game we must protect the football! We cannot turn the ball over and that includes the goddamn punt team!!”

This was still ringing in sophomore offensive tackle Jim Brandstatter’s ears when, an hour later during practice, as he was charging down the field after getting his block and releasing into punt coverage, he heard two thumps.

“Oh s—,” Brandstatter thought. “Some poor sonuvagun is gonna get his (expletive) handed to him when we get back to the huddle. Bo may kill the guy.”

Then he heard the screaming. The unmistakable bellows of an enraged Bo.

“You sonofab—!! Goddamnit – you SONOFAB–! BRANDSTATTER!!”

“Did he just say my name?” a confused Brandstatter thought as he slowed down. “That’s impossible. I blocked my man, I know I blocked my man.”

As Brandstatter turned around to see what was going on, Bo was only twenty yards from him and sprinting straight at Brandy like he’d been shot out of cannon.

“You sonofab—!!”

“Coach, no, I got my man, I got my –”

Bo covered the last ten yards remarkably fast and – WHAM! – slammed into the 6’3” 250lb. lineman, grabbed the Hanlon Handle and nearly stuck his head through Brandstatter’s facemask.

“You are the worst tackle in the history of intercollegiate football! Get the hell off my field! You will never play a single down of football for Michigan! Not a single down!!!”

Brandstatter didn’t know what to do. Bo was already marching back to the punt team, screaming at them to get someone in his spot. He started to walk toward the tunnel. And then turned it into a jog. This was it, he thought.  He’d go to the locker room, change into his street clothes and go back to his dorm room. He’d have to call his parents and tell them he’d lost his scholarship. He’d probably have to move back home and go to the same school his dad and brothers went to: Michigan State. He was 18 years old and it was over. He’d blown his chance. And he didn’t think it was fair.

He was halfway up the tunnel before Jerry Hanlon, his position coach, got to him, grabbed his arm and spun him around.

“Where the hell are you going?” Hanlon asked.

“Home,” Brandstatter said, tears in his eyes.

“No, you’re not – “

“He kicked me off the team, Coach.”

“He fires me every other week, Brandy. I go get a cup of coffee, walk around the block and then go back in the staff room and he’s asking me how we’re going to protect a weak side fire game. Come on. Get your butt back out there, it wasn’t your fault.”

“Does he know that?!” Jim says.

Brandstatter finished practice. In fact, he ended up as an All-Big Ten tackle including playing what Bo later called, ‘one of the best games I’ve ever seen a tackle play’…against none other than Michigan State. After Brandy was done playing, he and Bo became good friends and remained so until Bo’s death in 2006.

Two days after the Double Thump incident, the Thursday before the Purdue game, Bo came up to Brandstatter at training table, “I’ll bet you still think it wasn’t your fault?”

Brandstatter held his ground. “It wasn’t. I got my guy, I know it.”

“Well,” Bo grumbled, “Maybe. But you still took too big a split.”

Brandstatter chuckled to himself as Bo walked away. He knew he’d just gotten a very rare apology.


“Yes, that’s true,” Bo said, answering reporter Joe Fall’s question, “I go see every player in their hotel room the night before the game. But that’s not unusual for a head coach to do, Joe – I hope that’s not your headline.”

“But word is you do something that is a bit unusual – you wheel around a cart and deliver cookies and milk, is that right?” Falls asks.

“I believe in the power of cookies and milk, yes.” Bo replies with a straight face. “I also hand out apples, if there are any mothers listening.”

Chuckles throughout the room, including Bo. He and the team have a lot to be happy about. Behind Jim Mandich’s 10 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown and three interceptions by linebacker Marty Huff, they’d just beaten a very strong No. 10 Purdue team, 30-17.

“Billy Taylor only played one snap today, why?”

“Aw, come on, Jimmy, you know why,” Bo said, his jaw tightening, “He fumbled the football on that one snap, that’s why.”

“How’s Tom Curtis doing?”

“Curtis took a good shot to the helmet there and our trainer, Lindsay McLean, and Dr. O’Connor thought it best to get him over to the hospital to get checked out. Of course, as they were wheeling him off the field, he was calling to Mandich, “Mad Dog, did we win?  Did we win??” That tells you what kind of competitor Tom Curtis is. Mandich didn’t have the heart to tell him it was only the second quarter. I think he’s going to be okay. I’m going over to see him as soon as we’re done here.”

“Bo, you have to be feeling good after beating this team.”

“Our kids and the staff worked hard this week. We cleaned up some of the sloppiness and turnovers from the Mizzou game. Yes, it feels good and we have to win Big Ten games if we want to be Big Ten champions. – even you can do that math, Don.”

More chuckles.

“You have Michigan State coming up.”

“That’s right.”

“Ohio State just beat them today, 54-14.  Do you feel any pressure to lay it on thick like that?  To measure up to your mentor Woody?”

“We’re not playing Ohio State this week. We’re playing Michigan State.”

“I know but – “

“We’ll worry about Ohio State when it’s time to worry about them, which is the last game of the season. Right now, the team, myself and the staff are going to enjoy this win for about sixteen more hours and, then, tomorrow at 7AM we’ll start watching film on Michigan State, who, as you said, we play this week.  That’s all I’m thinking about right now and that’s all I want the team thinking about, period.”

Joe Falls again, “Michigan State is your first away game.”

“That’s right,” Bo says.

“Will you be delivering milk and cookies at away games?”

“I will. And apples. But only to my football players, Falls, so don’t even think about it.”

And with that Bo nods goodnight and heads to the hospital to check on senior safety Tom Curtis. A dozen of his teammates are already there, something Bo liked to see. Garvie Craw holds his baby.

Bo pats Curtis on the leg, “Did Mad Dog tell you we won?”


Bo, Jim Young, Gary Moeller, Jerry Hanlon, Dick Hunter, Chuck Stobart, Larry Smith, George Mans and Frank Maloney – the entire staff – all grab a beer or two and a bowl of Millie’s chili and head down to the basement, feeling pretty good.

Ten months ago they were at Miami of Ohio. Half of them had been high school coaches a few years ago. Not a single one of them, including Bo, could’ve imagined they’d be coaching at Michigan, celebrating a victory over an excellent Purdue team and knocking on the door of a Top 10 national ranking.

The beer tastes good and the chili goes down easy as they watch the game film. Bo is relaxed. Happy. The Missouri game may have been a blessing in disguise. A non-conference wake-up call that didn’t cost them a chance at the championship that he had promised those who stayed.

Bo could feel it – this team was coming together.

Next up, their first away game…

…Michigan State.









A Michigan native, Brian Letscher is a writer/actor who graduated from the University of Michigan in another century.  Best known for heavy recurring roles on SCANDAL and VALOR, he also earned a Rose Bowl Championship ring while playing football for the Wolverines under Head Coach Gary Moeller and coached Division 1A football for several years.  He is currently shopping a limited-run scripted television series on which “THOSE WHO STAY: The 50th Anniversary” is based.
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Those Who Stay: Fall Camp (Episode 8)

Fall camp comes to an end for the 1969 Wolverines team.

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary” is a historical fiction series based on a true story and draws on first-hand interviews with the players and coaches of the 1969 Michigan Football program. It will be ongoing through the 2019 Michigan/Ohio State game. 

Those Who Stay: The 50th Anniversary”

Episode 8


[lawrence-related id=15011,13332,11675,9362,8994]

THOSE WHO STAY – Fall Camp – Ep. 8

“Say (expletive),” Bo said.

It was the end of the fourth day of Fall Camp and Bo had been running three-a-days.  One practice at 9AM, one at 2PM and one at 7PM. Three-a-days. It was mid-way through the evening practice and the guys were exhausted – especially Bobby Baumgartner, who still had not passed the Mile Test despite five attempts in a row at 6AM.

But no one was going to let Bo know their legs felt like cement columns or their forearms were black and blue, hell no. For one, they’d learned some things in Winter Conditioning and Spring Ball. When Bo inevitably yelled, “Run it again!!” the only thing to do was run the damn thing again.

Plus, after the very first practice, Jim Mandich, Garvie Craw, Dick Caldarazzo, Tom Curtis and the rest of the Seniors had gathered the team in the locker room and, in no uncertain terms, told the guys what they expected this season.

“I don’t give a (expletive) if Bo asks you to drag a goddamned boxcar end zone to end zone, you do it!” Mandich said, his dark, expressive eyes flooding with anger, “Remember what it felt like in Columbus last year.  Remember what it felt like to those Seniors – Ron Johnson, Dennis Brown, Goss, Broadnax, Stincic! I was embarrassed coming off that field. They kicked our (expletive).  Fifty points!!! “Because I couldn’t go for three” – that’s what Woody told ‘em!”

Mandich looked down the line at each and every guy. Not a single one looked away.  They couldn’t, it was impossible.  Because there wasn’t a (expletive) bone in Mandich’s body. This was no grand-standing attempt at “look-at-me” leadership. Not a chance. Mandich backed it up and every guy knew it.

“That’s not happening this year.” he continued, “This is our senior year and there is no way in hell that is happening! If you want to quit – if you’re not going to stay – then get out now!”

Nobody moved a muscle. Even if a guy wasn’t sure about staying, he sure as (expletive) wasn’t walking past Jim Mandich in order to quit.

That was four days ago. It felt like four weeks. Three-a-days in the thick air of August will do that to a young man.

And now here was Bo, all fired up, telling QB Don Moorhead to, “Say ‘(expletive)’”.

Moorhead blinks a few times in confusion so Bo repeats himself.

“Say ‘(expletive)’, Moorhead.”

“Excuse me, Coach?”

“'(Expletive).’ Go on, say it.”

Moorhead didn’t swear. Everybody knew that. He was intelligent, a bit soft-spoken, a quiet confidence – the kind you want in your quarterback – and, as Dierdorf had pointed out, he was nicknamed The Warbler. Words didn’t exactly come out of his mouth fully-formed.

Moorhead obliges, “(Expletive).”

“Come on, Moorhead!  You’re the leader of this offense – say it like you got a pair!!”

“(Expletive)!” Moorhead shouts.



“Hot damn!  You do have some fire in your goddamn belly!!” Bo says, “Now, knock it off. The only one that swears on my field is me.”


“Twenty-four hours a day?” Jane Pilcher asks.

That morning, Jane had popped in on Millie and the boys.  Her new friend was eight months pregnant, Bo was in the middle of Fall Camp and only home to sleep for five or six hours and Millie had mentioned she wasn’t feeling great.  Jane was popping in.

“This house needs an air conditioner or two! It’s like an oven in here.”

“Bo says he’s getting one,” Millie replied, laying on her side in bed, eyes closed.

“When? The man is holding three practices a day.”

“Yes, he is. He says this team needs it.”

“Well, that may be true but what about you? What about his wife? How are you feeling?” Jane asked.

Millie doesn’t respond.

“Millie, now is not the time for your Mississippi charm – tell me the truth.”

“Not well.”

Jane had known Millie for four months and never – not once – heard her complain about a thing.  Or say anything that approached “not well.”

“Let’s go.”

“Where?” Millie asked.

“I’m calling my Jamie and she can watch the boys. We’re going to see your doctor.”

“I’m fine, I just need a nap.”

“Millie, you’re a registered nurse. What would you tell a friend who was in your spot?”

Millie sighs. “Help me up.”

And a half hour later, they are in the doctor’s office.

“You should be off your feet as much as possible,” the doctor says, “Avoid stairs and lifting anything besides a cup of coffee.”

“Doctor, I know I’m forty but –”

“I am concerned, Mrs. Schembechler,” the doctor continues, “Yes, you’re forty but, also–”

“She does everything at home, Doctor,” Jane says. “She needs to rest.”

“That’s what I am advising,” he says.

“I will set up care for the boys and we’ll have meals brought over, Millie, don’t you worry.”

Millie looks to the doctor, “How concerned are you?”

“Your due date is in four weeks. I am strongly advising you go on bed rest until then.”

Millie nods, not what she wanted to hear.

“The Vanderbilt game is the season opener. I’ll save up my vertical hours until then because I am not going to miss Bo’s first game in Michigan Stadium.”


Bo stood on the starting line, stopwatch in hand. Bobby Baumgartner and two other poor sonsabitches stood in shorts and t-shirts, already sweating in the thick August humidity on top of the anxiety over having to run the Mile Test for the fifth day in a row.

Bo started the countdown, “Five…four…three…two…one – GO!”

He clicked the button on top of the watch and it started to run. The three young men once more entered the fray.  A lonely race now – their one hundred teammates already having passed muster.

Bobby Baumgartner had fallen asleep extra early the night before, exhausted from the multiple mile tests plus three-a-days.  At 5:30AM, he literally had to lift his own legs off the bed in order to get up and get moving. He’d slept in his workout clothes and shoes so he didn’t have to worry about getting dressed. He trudged down to the track, moving a bit faster with every step. He began to get his mind right.

He knew he couldn’t take another day of this – his he had to pass this test.  Yes, to be done with the torture – the aching legs and swollen feet – but also to show Bo and his teammates that he could. This was the last day for this. It had to be.

Exactly six minutes later – the longest six minutes in Bobby Baumgartner’s life – Bo clicked the button on top of the watch again.

And Bobby Baumgartner was now, by twenty-three seconds, the only Michigan Wolverine who had not passed the Mile Test.


The team gathered around Bo and took a knee before the afternoon practice. Hot. Muggy. The dog days. Caldo’s shoulder was aching. Billy Taylor had separated the day before which hurt, sure, but the worst part was he fumbled the ball. You could hear Bo screaming all the way on North Campus. A host of other guys were banged up, courtesy of Three-A-Days as well at this new, unforgiving Tartan Turf.

Bo looked over his battered team. Vanderbilt was just two weeks away. They were hanging in but it wasn’t going to be good enough – not for Vandy and certainly not for Ohio State.

“Gentlemen. We have a long way to go. Defense you gotta pick it up! You’re getting’ your asses handed to you! One practice at a time, one drill at a time, one rep at a time. Seniors, you must lead the way. Make no mistake about it: the fate of this team is in your hands! Now, speaking of seniors, I have a very important announcement. In last night’s team meeting you all voted to elect your team captain. It was anonymous and damn near unanimous. From the day we arrived in Ann Arbor, it was clear to myself and the staff that this individual understands and exemplifies what it means to be a champion. And the fact that you knuckleheads recognize it in him too gives me great hope!  The relentless hard work, the attention to detail, the toughness! Gentlemen…I am happy to announce that your captain for the 1969 season, as voted by you, his teammates…is Jim Mandich.

A ROAR from the team!! They loved Mandich and, indeed, it was nearly unanimous. And some secretly, desperately, hoped that maybe now they’d have a formal voice that could get Bo to back off just a little. Of course, that wouldn’t happen. Those were guys that didn’t know Mandich very well.

As the guys settled down, Bo took off his cap, spread his arms out wide, tilted his head back, closed his eyes…and called to the ball of fire high up in the blue sky.

“Ohhhhhhhh, heavenly sun god, may you beat down upon us as we take the field this afternoon!! Keep it scorching hot so that we may better learn how to play through adversity!!”

Dierdorf looked to Moorhead – a “this man is nuts” look. Then they all hustled to get their helmets on and catch up to Mandich, who was already leading the warm-up lap.


Bo slowly walked around the well-finished basement, studying the cleanly framed memories of a long and distinguished career.  An early version of Michigan’s winged helmet mounted on the wall. An article describing (and lambasting) the invention of the two-platoon system in college football.  But the one that Bo kept coming back to, the one he leaned in close to study, was a plaque commemorating the 1948 Rose Bowl which Michigan won 49-0 over USC.

“That was a fantastic season. An excellent group of football players, with character to match their achievement,” Fritz Crisler said as he descended the basement stairs. “That was the first Rose Bowl ever played.”

A tall, handsome, at times rigid man, Crisler could be intimidating to some.  He’d coached that National Championship 1947 Michigan team, dubbed the “Mad Magicians” for their backfield sleight of hand. Crisler himself had a moniker The Godfather would covet: “Chairman of the Board.” Because, well, he was the Chairman of the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics from 1941-1968. He was a living legend, not just at Michigan but also throughout the land of NCAA football.

“I remember it well,” Bo says. “Bump had a helluva game.”

“He did, indeed.”

The two men consider each other for a moment. The past and the present.

“Thank you for taking some time,” Bo says.

“Of course,“ Fritz replies. “You’re a Michigan man. I always have time for a Michigan man. Now: what can I do for you?”

One of the only people a head coach can turn to with concerns is another head coach. Or, in this case, a former head coach. Bo was passionate, opinionated and could be stubborn as hell. But he also held a deep respect for those who came before him and was smart and humble enough to know that, like his players, he could use some coaching too.

“I’m worried about our defense.”

Crisler nods slowly. “Go on.”


“5:56…5:57…5:58…5:59…Six minutes!!” Bo yelled.

He had to yell because Bobby Baumgartner was still forty yards from the finish line. Baum didn’t stop though. He kept plodding along until he passed Bo.

“Get some breakfast in you,” Bo said with only a tinge of gruffness. “We’ll try again tomorrow.“

Jim Mandich and Tom Curtis stood on the sidewalk at the end of the track, peering through the fence.

“He’s never going to make it,” Mandich says.

“No, he’s not. Not now. It’s been three weeks of this.”

The captain nods…wheels spinning.


Pete Newell didn’t like this at all.  He’d been pulled out of breakfast to go meet with Bo before the morning practice. He couldn’t remember what he’d done but Bo must’ve found out something. Maybe it was the couple of protests and marches Pete participated in over the summer? Or maybe it was Timothy Leary burning draft cards on the field in July?? Pete hadn’t been there for that but had yelled at him about it anyway. Truthfully, it wouldn’t have been entirely out of character. Or maybe he was just playing poorly.

“Newell! Get in here,” Bo barked from inside his office.

Pete went in and took a chair.

“Close the door.”

Pete got up and closed the door. Bo leaned back in his chair as he did and dove right in, “What the hell is going on with the defense?”

Bo had been concerned about the defense. A defense that had been lights out in Spring Ball and now seemed to be slow and tentative. Lacking aggression. He’d talked to Fritz Crisler about it and Fritz suggested he speak to his players about it. Thus, Bo and Pete meet.

“The defense is (expletive) right now. Why?”

“I don’t feel comfortable answering that,” Newell replied.

“Anything you say stays in this room,”  Bo says.

Pete was a Philosophy major. He was intelligent and, like a lot of college students in that era, he had a healthy skepticism of authority and believed in questioning it. He decided to take Bo at his word so question he did. Bo and Pete talked for over an hour. Pete questioned damn near everything Bo and defensive coordinator Jim Young and the entire staff were doing.

He wanted to know why they ran so much? Answer: Bo wanted to know who would quit and who would stay.

Why do we hit so much? Answer: Bo wanted to know who was tough and who wasn’t. And who would quit and who would stay.

Why is Coach Young so damn worried about every single detail? Answer:  The Football God is in the details. You cannot achieve big things – i.e., Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championships – without attending to the small things.

And on it went. Bo repeatedly dismissed important phone calls because “I’m talking to a player,  Lynn, I’ll call them back.” And that may have been the biggest thing Pete Newell got from that meeting with Bo. Yes, Bo answered all his questions with well-thought out answers – he wasn’t just making rules to make rules – but, also, Pete realized how much Bo cared about him. About his players. On the field he may rip your ass – sometimes you deserved it, sometimes you didn’t – but there was a method to his madness. And he really did care about his players.

Pete walked out of that meeting with energy. Buoyed. Ready to fight. And so did the other defensive players with whom Bo met. The Wolverine defense began to find itself again.


“Sonofabitch!!  CRAW!!” Bo screamed. “What the hell are you doing, son?!”

Garvie Craw had just missed his second block of practice, a rarity for him.  In fact, on the play Bo was screaming about, he didn’t miss a block – he just went the wrong way.

An assistant whispered in Bo’s ear, “He’s got a baby coming in a few weeks, Bo, go easy.”

“How come nobody told me that?” Bo asked.

“I just found out this morning myself.“ the assistant replied.

“Sonofabitch.” Bo said, then, “Craw!  Get your head on straight, son!”

Bo knew the best thing for Garvie Craw was to focus on football.  The baby stuff would take care of itself. Millie was due in a few weeks as well and Bo was concentrating just fine. At least on football.

Red, the team manager, ran up, “Bo, you have an urgent phone call.”

“What the hell – urgent?? We’re in the middle of practice, Red. I don’t care if it’s President Nixon on the line, tell ‘em I’ll call ‘em back!”

Red whispered in Bo’s ear. Bo shook his head, slammed his clipboard on the ground, “Sonofabitch! Hanlon! I’ll be right back. Call the offense for now and don’t screw it up!!”

Bo jogged off the field toward Yost Fieldhouse. Lynn Koch was waiting for him inside, handing him the phone receiver, a stern look on her face.

“Millie?” Bo said into the phone.

“It’s ninety-three degrees and humid, Bo.”

“I know, I –”

“I am on bedrest –”

“Millie, I know –”

“But I can’t rest when I’m sweating through the gosh darn sheets!!”

Millie was hot.  Royally pissed off. And she had a right to be. Bo had promised her weeks ago that he’d get air conditioners for the house.

“I don’t ask for much, Bo, but so help me God, if you don’t get an air conditioner in this house, right now – not after practice, not later on – right now!! – then I am taking the boys and we are going to a hotel and I don’t know when I’m coming back!”

Bo could see the practice fields out the windows. He watched as the defense intercepted a pass.

“Bo! Do you hear me?”

He did.  He heard her. And he knew he’d messed up.

“I’m going to the store right now, right this minute – I’m going to miss the rest of practice –”

“I don’t care.”

“- and I will have an air conditioning unit installed in an hour.”

The line went dead. She’d hung up. Bo handed the receiver back to Lynn.

“I’ve already called Sears,” she said. “They have one waiting for you on the loading dock. Take Red with you.”

An hour later, Millie Schembechler was resting comfortably in her cooled down bedroom.

6:00 AM, August 31st, 1969

“On your mark…get set…go!” Bo called.

And Bobby took off. Well, he put one foot in front of the other and began to move himself forward. Slowly. More than a walk but less than a jog.

Bo watched him go, filled with both a true admiration of Baum’s tenacity and a real desire for this to be over. They had Vanderbilt in the season/home opener in a few weeks. He needed Baum fresh.

“A minute thirty-four, Bobby, only four seconds off pace, pick it up,” Bo said as Bobby passed.

Really not bad for the first lap, considering. Bo knew Hanlon had stopped making Baum runs sprints with the rest of the Offensive Line after practices and they were down to just two-a-days so maybe Bobby would really pass this thing.

“Three minutes, seventeen seconds,” Bo called as Baum passed for the second lap, now seventeen seconds behind pace. Baum didn’t speed up but he also didn’t slow down. It was excruciating to watch.

“Let’s go, Bobby!”

Bo looked up from his stopwatch. Who was that?

“Come on, Baum!!”

And then he saw them. Led by Mandich and Curtis and Caldo and Craw and Hill – the entire team filed through the gates to the track. A hundred and seven guys who must’ve been skipping sleep to be here.

The chorus spread – “You got this, Bobby!!”

“Push, Baum!!”

“Last time, Bobby, let’s go!!” – the team spread out along the inside of the track and urged Baumgartner along.

Bobby, energized by his teammates, crossed for Lap 3.

“Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds!” Bo yelled.

Bobby had just eighty-three seconds to run his final lap. It’s doubtful he’d ever run a single lap in eighty-three seconds but that hardly seemed to matter right now.

The teams calls of encouragement turned to roars as Baum went into the first curve. Coming out of the second bend is when Mandich and Curtis joined him, one on either side, running with their big offensive guard friend.

Bo starting counting aloud when Bobby lumbered out of the final curve, just the last straight-away left to go.


Baum’s face was contorted in anguish. His gait was twisted, as if a someone had stuck a spear in one side, and he was pumping his arms like he was wrestling on an ill-fitting sports coat.

The entire team had now gathered at the finish line and were screaming their support at the top of their lungs!


And at 6:06 AM exactly, on the morning of August 31st, 1969, Bobby Baumgartner – with the support of his teammates – finally passed The Mile Test. Well, truthfully, the only person with a stopwatch that morning was Bo.  But it didn’t matter if Bobby finished over six minutes. He’d clearly proven two things to Bo and the team: One, he wasn’t going to quit, ever. And, two, some people just aren’t built to run a mile in under six minutes. It’s may be physically impossible.

Regardless, it was always the first thing done in Fall Camp for decades after.  Because, in the end, it wasn’t about whether you did it in under six minutes.  It was about whether you gave it everything you had, every time you were asked.


On September 20th, 1969, 70,183 fans watched Michigan beat Vanderbilt, 48-14. Don Moorhead scored a couple of touchdowns in the 4th Quarter to put Vandy away.

Bo and the boys had their first win. Although attendance still wasn’t where it needed to be to hold off Rosenstein’s death wish, Canham’s new “tailgating” concept – which he’d been advertising in newspapers since August – seemed to be catching on a bit.

Ready-to-pop Millie, tough as ever, had gone to the game and sat in the stands. Nothing could keep her away from seeing her husband coach his first game at Michigan. Also, with the help of Jane Pilcher and friends, she threw a terrific post-game party for the staff at the their home. Bo came in from the game, said some very quick hellos, gave her a very quick peck on the cheek, grabbed the pot of chili off the stove and disappeared into the basement.

“The game film will be coming soon!” he crowed as Hanlon and Stobart, Moeller and Smith and the rest followed him down.

Don Canham shrugged apologetically at Millie, “He made me promise him I’d put a rush on processing the film. Believe me, I’d rather not. It’s expensive.”

The team – Mandich, Curtis, Henry Hill, Dierdorf, Craw and everyone else – celebrated with some beers, no doubt.  They’d earned it after nine months of Schembechler hell and five weeks of a brutal Fall Camp. While the opponent wasn’t fierce or feared, it felt good to hit another team. This Vandy victory tasted extra sweet.

Little did they know that the next nine weeks what the next nine weeks would bring…







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A Michigan native, Brian Letscher is a writer/actor who graduated from the University of Michigan in another century.  Best known for heavy recurring roles on SCANDAL and VALOR, he also earned a Rose Bowl Championship ring while playing football for the Wolverines under Head Coach Gary Moeller and coached Division 1A football for several years.  He is currently shopping a limited-run scripted television series on which “THOSE WHO STAY: The 50th Anniversary” is based.
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