Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Gerald Ford — Football Player
Today’s Packers artifact is a 1935 letter from Curly Lambeau to college prospect Gerald Ford, who was a student and football player at the University of Michigan at the time.
Ford attended Grand Rapids South High School and was a star athlete and captain of his football team. In 1930, he was selected to the All-City team of the Grand Rapids City League. He also attracted the attention of college recruiters. Attending the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, Ford played center and linebacker for the school’s football team and helped the Wolverines to undefeated seasons and national titles in 1932 and 1933. The team suffered a steep decline in his 1934 senior year, however, winning only one game. Ford was the team’s star nonetheless, and after a game during which Michigan held heavily favored Minnesota (the eventual national champion) to a scoreless tie in the first half, assistant coach Bennie Oosterbaan later said, “When I walked into the dressing room at half time, I had tears in my eyes I was so proud of them. Ford and [Cedric] Sweet played their hearts out. They were everywhere on defense.”
Ford himself later recalled, “During 25 years in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, I often thought of the experiences before, during, and after that game in 1934. Remembering them has helped me many times to face a tough situation, take action, and make every effort possible despite adverse odds.” His teammates later voted Ford their most valuable player, with one assistant coach noting, “They felt Jerry was one guy who would stay and fight in a losing cause.”
During the same season, in a game against the University of Chicago, Ford “became the only future U.S. president to tackle a future Heisman Trophy winner when he brought down running back Jay Berwanger, who would win the first Heisman the following year.” In 1934 Gerald Ford was selected for the Eastern Team on the Shriner’s East West Crippled Children game at San Francisco (a benefit for crippled children), played on January 1, 1935. As part of the 1935 Collegiate All-Star football team, Ford played against the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game at Soldier Field. The University of Michigan retired Ford's #48 jersey in 1994.
At Michigan, Ford became a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and washed dishes at his fraternity house to earn money for college expenses. Following his graduation in 1935 with a degree in political science and economics, he turned down contract offers from both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League in order to take a coaching position at Yale and apply to its law school. Each team was offering him a contract of between $100 and $200 a game, but he wanted a legal education. Ford continued to contribute to football and boxing, accepting an assistant coaching job for both at Yale in September 1935.