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Friday, October 27, 2006

God Bless His Cotton Pickin' Maize and Blue Heart

Twenty-five years ago today, Michigan lost a legend when the Voice of Michigan football, Bob Ufer, passed away. And while obits of the day might have listed him merely as a play-by-play guy or "football announcer," he was so much more.

Bob Ufer was a self-described "homer" who did away with the convention of the time in which sports announcers were supposed to be non-partisan. Ufer was unabashedly, over-the-top pro-Michigan and didn't care how much that came across during his broadcasts. It's what made him great and different in his day. A day before ESPN. Before the "passion" of most announcers seemed manufactured, a form of "schtick" specifically invented, not from the heart, but merely as an indentifying calling card.

Back when Ufer was on Detroit's WJR and heard heard each Saturday in the fall from "coast-to-coast, "from the coast of Lake Michigan, to the coast of Lake Erie," a team was only allowed to have just two (yes, two!) games televised a season. So a team's local radio announcer was the only way to follow one's team most Saturday afternoons. And for Michigan fans, even during those two televised games, there was no better way to follow the Wolverines than Ufer. His excitement was our excitement. His enthusiasm contagious. His pain over a last minute loss palpable. In many ways, he put a voice to that roller coaster we all go through when we cheer on our favorite team. Bob Ufer called the games like the fan in all of us would.

It's a testament to the man that even 25 years after his death, walking among the tailgates on a fall Saturday in Ann Arbor today, one can still hear classic Ufer clips blaring from car stereos. And even if you didn't grow up on Ufer nor are even a Michigan fan, you've probably heard at least one "Uferism." For instance, when ESPN's Reese Davis refers to U-M as "Meeechigan," that's Bob Ufer. The exaggerated pronunciation was a Ufer staple, his tribute to former Michigan coach Fielding H. Yost.

On October 17th, 1981, just nine days before he succumbed to cancer, Ufer called his last game as Michigan played Iowa. While most folks had only recently learned of Ufer's illness, the events that day hinted things were grave. At halftime, the band marched out on to the field and silently began to spell out "U-F-E-R." Then the press box window slid open and Ufer addressed the crowd. He said his 37 years of calling Michigan football games had been a "privilege, a pleasure, and a true labor of love." He then led the entire stadium in a chorus of The Victors and let fly with a couple honks on the Bo "George Patton" Schembechler scoring horn for the last time.


I was just a kid but I still remember being in the stadium that day, 100,000 people all staring up at the press box. Silent. Many with tears in their eyes.

All for a "football announcer."

God bless his cotton pickin' maize and blue heart.

11 comments:

theweiler said...

The call he had in the '79 Indiana game is the closest you'll ever come to hearing how being a Michigan fan feels.

PeckHorn78 said...

25 years ago (I still can't believe a quarter century has passed!) I was standing in that MMB formation. Coming from out of state, I was not familiar with Ufer and was taken aback by his extreme partisanship. But try as I might to resist, his spirit was infectious, and won me over. That it still lives on today is a testament to his spirit....!

Jeremy said...

peckhorn:

tell more stories, please.

-mmb '02-'06

goblue1983 said...

I was also a part of that Michigan Marching Band formation in 1981. Thank you for the post about Ufer - he is a wonderful part of Michigan history. The MMB played at a memorial service at Crisler Arena for Ufer - it was a beautiful, moving service - fitting for such a great MEECHIGAN man. I'll never forgot the speech he gave at the 1981 Rose Bowl before Bo's first Rose Bowl victory. Great memories............

beast in bama said...

Thank you, Fielding Yost, for that tribute.

Anonymous said...

I still remember listening to him call Michigan games. Gives me chills.

Andy said...

The best ever.

WillinSacto said...

In a word: Awesome!

TitleIX said...

Andy said it...
best. ever.
still get chills and tears when I hear Ufer's voice.

His son and extended family tailgate in the Victors lot along the grass on the East side of Crisler. Look for the Ufer Maize n' Blue balloon blimp in the sky.

Ali Haji-Sheikh said...

Robert Frost Ufer is the reason I am the crazy Michigan fan that I am and, in turn, is a big reason why I went to Michigan. As a result, Ufer is in part responsible for most of the great things I have in life. My brother and I used to huddle around the stereo in my brother's bedroom and listen to (and record on casette tape) portions of his broadcasts. Two of the worst days of my childhood were the day that Ufer died and, a few years later, the day my brother's car got broken into and those tapes were gone. He was so great that I don't just wish I could have heard him call some of the great moments over the past 25 years (End of PSU game last year, MSU 3 OTs in 2004, Rose Bowl 1998, etc.) I also wish I could have heard his take on the low points as well (MSU "clockgate," Colorado Hail Mary, osu "bomb sniffing" incident, etc.). But he was more than just a broadcaster. Ufer was an example of everything a person should be: passionate, loyal, honest, hardworking, humorous and humble. Michigan is lucky to have him as one of our own. I'm confident Ufer is in Football's Valhalla with Canham, Yost and Crisler looking down on this team with a big smile.

Anonymous said...

The Iowa game was my first visit to Michigan stadium. I remeber bringing my radio to the game so I could her Bob Ufer call the game. I was another one who would sit by the stereo and tape parts of the game. I remeber "My name is Butch, dont call me Harold Woolfolk."

WJR did a great tribute to Ufer a few days after his death. I recorded it off of the radio and hopefull have it somewhere. It has the speech that Ufer gave at the President Ford rally and the the speech he gave a the Rosebowl." You have 60 minutes of football to play and a lifetime to remember it. Think Victory. Beat Washington!" Its amazing after all those years the things you remember most.