Friday, December 23, 2011

Michigan's Best: No. 47 Bennie Oosterbaan

For most players, earning All-American honors once is an honor, but for #47, it was just one of his many accomplishments that helped craft one of the greatest athletes in Michigan history.  When Bennie Oosterbaan graduated in 1928, he had set a bar that would never be topped throughout the school's history.  He did this by breaking records in all three of his sports (football, basketball, and baseball) and earning a total of nine varsity letters, something that would be baffling in today's world.  Certainly times have changed since the late 1920s, but this in no way diminishes the accomplishments of #47 at the University of Michigan.  He was one of the school's first "superstar" athletes and remains an icon today.


While attending Michigan, Bennie played three sports, but he is probably known best for his football accomplishments.  He played as both a wide receiver and defensive end.  He was the first player in history to achieve three seasons as an All-American football player at Michigan and remains one of only two players in team history ever to accomplish this feat (the other is famed receiver Anthony Carter).

Bennie's impressive three All-American awards were impressive, but not unwarranted.  Bennie led the Big Ten during the 1925 with eight touchdowns and made numerous crucial plays that propelled the Wolverines to an impressive 20-4 record with two Big Ten championships under famed coach Fielding Yost (his second tenure as the school).  One of his bright moments occurred in the Michigan v. Minnesota battle for the Brown Jug, where Bennie returned a fumble 60 yards for a touchdown that ultimately decided the game.

At one point, Bennie was even voted as the team's MVP.  Part of this consensus was because of his performance in big games.  In one of the most historic games in school history, the dedication of the Big House against Ohio State in 1927, he ended up throwing three touchdown passes in a 21-0 victory over the Buckeyes.  This marked a historic period for Bennie and The Game as Michigan never lost to Ohio State while Bennie attended school (Bennie played three years on the varsity team).

Basketball & Baseball

Although most athletes, at least currently, limit themselves to one sport, Bennie was an award winning athlete in three different sports.  Not only was he a 3X All-American football player, but he also was a 2X All-American basketball player.  One of his major accomplishments during basketball play was when he led the Big Ten in scoring during his senior season.  He still remains the only athlete in Michigan history ever to achieve the distinct honor of being a basketball and football All-American.

One top of his amazing football and basketball accomplishments, he also was a good baseball player.  Aside from earning three varsity letters on the baseball team, he also earned the honor of being the Big Ten's Batting Champion in 1928.  This is an incredible feat by itself, but accompanied by his oustanding football and basketball success, it becomes even more impressive.  Baseball is technically the sport that Bennie was "worst" at while he was at Michigan, but he still ended up being an All-Big Ten player.  The only difference was his amazing success on the basketball court and football field.


For most players, this would have been the end of the story, but not for #47.  Instead of taking his shot in the professional football or basketball leagues, he decided to return in an attempt to coach at the University of Michigan.  Most claim this decision revolved around Bennie's religious practices, which banned him from playing on Sundays.  Whatever the reason, he quickly became an assistant football and basketball coach for the years following his graduate.  He served in this capacity until he took over as head basketball coach at Michigan.

Bennie was certainly a talented basketball player, but he never seemed to be able to translate that talent as a basketball coach.  The best finish under Bennie's tenure was 5th in the Big Ten during his almost 8 year span. Following his tenure as basketball coach, he succeeded the famed Fritz Crisler as head football coach and led one of the most dominant periods in Michigan history.  His first three teams all won Big ten championships and he led the team that won the 1951 Rose Bowl.  The team faded in the later years of his tenure as they failed to win another Big Ten championship under #47.  After he resigned from the head coaching position, he moved to a staff position to handle alumni relations.

#47 Retired

Bennie's number was the first number to ever be retired in Michigan football history.  When his collegiate career ended in 1927, it only took until the 1928 season for his jersey number to be removed from team rotation.  It took until the 1938 season before the number's retirement was officially announced to the media, but in truth, the #47 has never been used for another player since Bennie walked off the field.  He had an enormous impact on both the football and basketball programs and is truly one of Michigan's "Leaders and Best."

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