Today’s post celebrates a Happy Birthday wish for a Wolverine named John Henderson. A “buckeye” named John William Henderson was born on this day in Dayton, Ohio. He grew up to be an excellent high school athlete at Roosevelt High School in Dayton. After graduation, he chose to come to “enemy territory” and play for Bump Elliott’s Michigan Wolverines.
John Henderson was listed on the 1961 Michigan Football Roster as an End. Of course, like all freshman, he did his “time” on the freshman team. Henderson’s job that first year was to learn the Bump Elliott football system and work hard in the classroom. So, that’s exactly what he did!
Henderson made the varsity in 1962, but he didn’t earn a letter in that first year on a team that finished with a record of 2 wins and 7 losses. The Wolverines went 1-6-0 in the Big Ten and finished last (10th place). Not a good year! The only good news for Henderson was that Michigan was losing most of their receivers to graduation in 1963. He would have a chance to start in his Junior season. Maybe he could help the Michigan offense that was not very good in 1962. The Wolverines only scored 70 points in nine games – ouch!
Coach Bump Elliott had predicted that it would take 3-5 years to rebuild Michigan into a championship contender when he took over the team in 1959. So, there was no pressure in 1963, but it was year five of the Elliott Era. The Wolverines started the season with high hopes, but injuries to some key players and some early losses put them in a deep hole that they could not get out of. Michigan did a little better in 1963 (3-4-2), but instead of a Big Ten Championship they had to settle for a fifth-place tie (2-3-2).
John Henderson did his best to help the team. He caught at least one pass in all nine games and totaled 27 receptions for the 1963 season. He gained 330-yards on his catches and scored 4 touchdowns. His best game in 1963 was against Navy. He caught 6 passes for 103-yards and 2 touchdowns. John Henderson earned his first varsity letter at the end of his Junior year.
The 1964 season was the one that Bump Elliott, and Michigan fans, had been waiting for since 1959. The Wolverines won their first three games before losing a heart breaker to Purdue (20-21). Michigan ran the table and finished the regular season with a record of 8 wins and 1 loss. Finally, the Wolverines were Big Ten champions (6-1-0) as Bump Elliott had predicted. Michigan rolled over Oregon State (34-7) to finish with a final record of 9 wins and 1 loss.
John Henderson was a solid performer for Michigan in that championship season. He grabbed 31 more passes for 377-yards and 3 touchdowns. His biggest game came against Michigan State. He caught 3 balls for 82-yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Once again, John Henderson’s career started slow, since he didn’t play much in his Sophomore season. However, once he got on the field he was a dependable receiver who did his job at a high level. Here are some “firsts” that connect John Henderson to Michigan football:
· Played on the first, and only, Michigan team in the modern era (1950 and beyond) to score less than 100 points in a nine-game season in 1962 (70 points).
· Played on the first Michigan team to record two (2) ties in a Big Ten season in 1963 (2-3-2).
· Scored the winning touchdown in Bump Elliott’s first ever win over MSU on October 10, 1964. (Final score: UM 17 and MSU 10)
· Played on Bump Elliott’s first, and only, Big Ten Conference Championship team in 1964.
· Played on the 1964 team that became the first, and only, Big Ten team to win at least one conference title in all eight decades of conference play!
· Played on Bump Elliott’s first, and only, Rose Bowl Championship team in January 1965. (Note-this win made Bump Elliott the first, and only, Michigan Man to win the Rose Bowl as a player and a coach)
Like I said, the rebuilding program was a year late, but right on time for John Henderson. He helped Michigan win their first Big Ten championship since 1950. It was a long wait, but it was great for Bump Elliott and his players. John Henderson went on to a successful professional career in the National Football League. Congratulations John Henderson on an excellent Michigan football career and thank you for your contributions to the great history of Michigan Football. I hope you have a very happy birthday on your special day! Go Blue!