Michigan’s New Football Jerseys Honor Gerald Ford [Video]
Gerald Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, and went on to play football at Michigan in the 1930s. This week, when the Michigan uniform contract switched to Nike, they unveiled a new football design which contained a subtle 'Easter Egg' nod to the late former President.
The Detroit News reports that former interim Athletic Director James Hackett invited the media to find the hidden tribute in the new jerseys when he stepped down back in March. Later, he revealed the story behind the tribute to the News' Angelique Chengelis :
Hackett, who played football at Michigan, has always been moved by the famous story from the 1930s about Michigan football teammates Gerald Ford and Willis Ward, the second African-American to play on the team.
Georgia Tech refused to play Michigan on Oct. 20, 1934 because of Ward. University officials had Ward, who would become a lawyer and Wayne County judge, sit out the game and Ford, who would go on to become a U.S. president, threatened to quit the team because of the incident. Ward asked him to stay.
In a team photo, Ford and Ward are seated next to each other. The No. 4 on Ford’s jersey No. 48 is like all the other 4s on the team – the top of it extends. The way Hackett sees it, though, it’s like a “little hat” from Ford’s jersey.
When I looked at it, I go, ‘Gerald’s hat is pointing to Willis, and this is the man he quit the team for,’” Hackett told The Detroit News. “Jim’s (Harbaugh) has put the championship team pictures back up, and I was looking back in time, and there’s no black people. And Gerald Ford’s year, we still didn’t do a great job of integrating.
“I started looking at the more modern photos like in the ’70s, and you see Bo (Schembechler) was with it. Bo kind of broke the color barrier at Michigan.”
The detail on the No. 4, which will appear in all current Michigan uniforms extending to all sports, is Hackett’s tip of the hat to diversity at Michigan.
Forty-two years later, Ward told the AP that his friend never told him about threatening to quit and that Ward had learned about it afterward, from the future president’s brother. It appears Ward’s family tells the story how Michigan tells it.
Playright Arthur Miller, a Michigan graduate, reported the story for the Michigan Daily, and it came up in a biography written about him called Arthur Miller's America, in which it's revealed the Tech players had a desire to kill Ward.
Here's a photo of Ford and Ward on the 1934 team, notice how the 4 on Ford's jersey has a 'wing' or 'hat' as Hackett called it on the top.