Today’s post celebrates the life of a Michigan Wolverine named Howard Yerges. Howard Frederick Yerges, Jr. died on this date in 2000 at the age of seventy-five. He played quarterback for Fritz Crisler from 1944 to 1947. But that’s not all he did. Let’s find out more about this unique football player.
Howard Yerges was the son of an Ohio State Buckeye named Howard Yerges, Sr. The elder Yerges was the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes from 1915 to 1917. He led Ohio State to a record of 20 wins, 1 loss and 2 ties as a starter, including back to back Conference Championships in 1916 and 1917. So, yes, Howard’s father was pretty good. Guess where Howard Yerges, Jr. started his college football career? Well, if you guessed Ohio State you are correct!
Howard Yerges, Jr. enrolled at The Ohio State University in the fall of 1943. He wore jersey number 25 and is listed as a quarterback. He lettered during that season, but Yerges was only a Buckeye for one season thanks to the U. S. Navy. The war years caused some very interesting things to happen in college football. One of them was a special officer training program that was conducted at The University of Michigan. As a Naval trainee, Howard Yerges, Jr. left Columbus in the summer of 1944 to train in Ann Arbor. He never looked back!
Fritz Crisler didn’t really need a quarterback in 1944 because he had a stud named Joe Ponsetto. Yerges was an able back-up to the talented Ponsetto. Howard earned a letter in 1944. Howard Yerges continued to back-up Ponsetto during the 1945 season. When Ponsetto was injured late in the year, Yerges was ready. Howard Yerges started two games in 1945 and Michigan won both. Interestingly, one of them was a 7-3 victory over the Buckeyes.
With the graduation of Joe Ponsetto, the Michigan quarterback position was wide-open in 1946. Howard Yerges played well enough to earn five starts, but he shared the job with Jack Wiesenburger (3 starts) and Pete Elliott (1 start). Yerges helped lead the Wolverines to a record of 6 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie. They ended the season with a conference record of 5-1-1 which was only good enough for second place.
Team Number 68 had a glut of talent and Fritz Crisler used it well. Fortunately, he had the talented Howard Yerges for one more season thanks to a special ruling by the Big Ten Conference which waived his first year of eligibility at OSU in favor of a fourth year at Michigan. Yerges started nine of ten games in 1947. One sportswriter dubbed him as Fritz Crisler’s “second brain.” Yerges was smart and he became an integral part of the “Mad Magician” backfield that would become famous by the end of the season. He played well enough to earn All-Conference honors in 1947.
Of course, Michigan went undefeated in ten games that magical year and won the Big Ten Conference championship with a perfect record of 6-0-0. And, in an unprecedented event, the Wolverines were named National Champions by the Associated Press in the first ever vote after the bowl season.
Howard Yerges had a very successful career at Michigan. He is the first and only man to play quarterback at both Michigan and Ohio State. Yerges was one of the few men in Big Ten Conference history to play five years of varsity football. He is also the first, and I think the only, man to catch a touchdown pass and throw a touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl. Finally, his 1947 team was the first team to be declared a national champion after the bowl season had ended. Interestingly, Notre Dame claims the Associated Press regular season National championship from 1947 while the Wolverines claim AP’s special vote that declared Michigan as the best team in college football.
So, let’s celebrate the memory of another Michigan Man who contributed to the long and rich history that is Michigan football. Thank you, Howard Yerges, Jr. for your contributions to the history of the winningest team in college football. May you always rest in peace Wolverine! Go Blue!