I woke up today to find out that in a few brief comments to the radio, Brady Hoke seemed to "spill the beans" regarding the newest addition to the Legends Patch jerseys. Over the past few weeks, we've actually debated several players, including Anthony Carter, William Cunningham, and Jim Harbaugh, on whether or not they should receive the Legends Patch honor.
The jersey number discussed was #48, the jersey worn by former Michigan player and former President Gerald Ford. The number's current status with the football program is retired. No player has been allowed to wear the jersey for years. However, if the hints given by Hoke are true, the jersey's status will soon change and a player will begin wearing the jersey next season.
Many would point to this with great support. If any player deserves a special honor with the program, it's Gerald Ford. Not only for his contributions to two national championship teams at Michigan, but also for his off the field contributions to both the program and the school. Obviously, he is best known for becoming President, but he also did some amazing things while still a player on the team. For instance, when Michigan was scheduled to play Georgia Tech, he demonstrated tremendous character.
Back in those days, racism was fierce across the nation and especially in the South. Georgia Tech had demanded that Michigan sit any of its black players. When Ford heard of this development he actually threatened to quit playing for the team if Michigan bended to Georgia Tech's demands. Ultimately, the situation left a black mark on both programs for many years and most notably on Athletic Director Fielding Yost. However, many earned an increased respect for Ford and this scenario demonstrated his tremendous contributions to the football team and program.
Which brings me back to the topic of the day; Should Michigan allow a current player to wear Gerald Ford's retired number? To me, the idea of the Legends Patch is for players to be remembered by newer players that show similar characteristics. When you actually look at what Ford accomplished both as a Wolverine and a person, it's going to be nearly impossible to find someone who resembles his accomplishments. I mean, just look at his status of President alone. He's the only person from a Big Ten school to become President in history.
Now, I agree that it might be a tad unfair to judge current players against Ford's accomplishments after he graduated. I mean, no player on the team is even eligible to run for President for another ten or so years. However, one can measure them against Ford's contributions on and off the field when he was a player with the team. He was an outstanding player on two national championship teams, received numerous offers from NFL teams when he graduated, and did great things off the field such as before the Georgia Tech game.
I find it extremely unlikely that any current player on the team, or any future player, will be able to meet those requirements. Football teams and programs just don't have as many political implications as they did sometimes in the past. It's certainly possible, but the player needs to be a significant contributor on and off the field. Has any current player done anything close to Ford's actions during the Georiga Tech game? If they have, I certainly haven't heard of them.
And to go even further, let's assume that, hypothetically, a player did meet these requirements. The Athletic Department would still have to remove Ford's number from the list of retired jerseys. I know that they were retired before the Legends Patch idea started, but come on, that seems like a downgrade, at least in my opinion. If you tell someone you're retiring their jersey, you should keep it retired. I'm fully aware that some things will change with the status of retired jerseys in the near future, but in the case of Ford, I simply think it's ridiculous.
Ford's contributions go far beyond the football field and represent the clear reason why his number was separated from others. Throwing it back in the mix just doesn't make sense. In my opinion, it would be a dishonor to the number, Gerald Ford, and most importantly, the school. Ford is undeniably Michigan's most famous alumni ever. Why would you do anything to question that distinction? Michigan's Athletic Department needs to get serious and re-assess this decision. The process of un-retiring Gerald Ford's number is not a good move for the football program or the school.