It is football season and I’m a football guy. Our next stop on this Small World takes us to Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the winningest college football program in the country. Unfortunately for fans of Big Blue, this hasn’t been the best season. There have been a few rotten eggs of late, and I can commiserate, as I’m a faithful (but beaten) Illini fan. Nonetheless, a few tough years can’t spoil the history and prominence of the program; they’ll rebound sooner than you’d think (albeit maybe under the direction of a different coach). The city checks in at about 113,000 permanent residents; and on game day, the football stadium holds 109,000, though in 2013 against Notre Dame there were 115,000 in attendance, thus eclipsing the size of the city. No wonder they call it the Big House.
Ann Arbor is known for being the home of the University of Michigan (not just their football team), a member of the Big Ten conference and one of the top academic institutes in the country. In fact, Michigan is considered one of the original “Public Ivies,” a term coined in the 1980s for the top public universities in the land. The University was founded in 1817, but it was done so in Detroit. It would not call Ann Arbor home until 1837 when it moved on to 40 acres now known as Central Campus. Today, the campus covers nearly 800 acres. When the university was founded it was known as Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania. A territory at the time of its founding, it became a state in the same year that the University moved to Ann Arbor.
Before Europeans settled in the area, Michigania was predominately made up of American Indians from the Fox, Sauk and Kickapoo tribes, though the Ojibwa also had a presence near the area.Ann Arbor was founded in 1924 by two land speculators who named the town after their wives (both Ann) in combination with a nod to the burr oak that comprised much of the area. Since the University’s establishment, the city and school have been interlinked, making the area ripe for growth in its formative years. The establishment of the Michigan Central Railroad linking Ann Arbor to Toledo, Ohio was significant for growing local businesses and industries.
An interesting aside about Toledo: The Toledo War, also known as the Michigan-Ohio War, was fought between 1835 and 1836. Both states felt they laid claim to an area known as the Toledo Strip, a 468 square mile chunk of land that abutted Lake Erie. The “war” never actually saw blood loss. Reportedly the only shots fired were into the air, ultimately resulting in Ohio getting Toledo. Today, however, the story is often told differently in jest. The way I like to tell it is that neither state wanted Toledo, and Ohio lost the war, resulting in the chunk of land becoming a part of the Buckeye (that word certainly just ruffled the feathers of some UM alums!) state.
The deep-seated dislike (hatred really) between UM Alums and OSU Alums will forever make the region surrounding Toledo testy at best. As legend has it, the great head coach of The Ohio State University football team, Woody Hayes, would never use any resources when he went into the state of Michigan to recruit. Never referring to them by their proper name, only as ‘that team up north,’ Hayes was actually the mentor of Michigan coaching great, Bo Schembechler. Their friendship and rivalry gave us great classics like The Ten Year War, a period that saw a 5-5 split from 1969 to 1978. The first campaign was Schembechler’s first year as head coach, and his legend grew from there. Starting with 140 players in training camp, only 75 made it through the whole way. Before that attrition began, Bo famously said, “Those that stay will be champions.” I’m sure that last line invoked a little chill down the spine of many Wolverines’ fans.