On November 28, 1931, the Michigan Wolverines hosted Wisconsin in front of the smallest crowd ever at Michigan Stadium. If you can believe it, only 9,190 people showed up to watch the final game of the 1931 Wolverine Football season. Yes, you read that correctly, it was the first, and only, four figure crowd in the history of Michigan Stadium.
One interesting “twist” about this game was reported by Will Perry in his wonderful book, The Wolverines: A Story of Michigan Football. The depression was still haunting millions of American families and many “fans” simply could not afford the “luxury” of a ticket to a sporting event. The Big Ten, in an effort to make things better for their fans, approved “five postseason games for charity.” Imagine that, a whole weekend of games for charitable causes? That was quite a commitment on behalf of the conference.
Unfortunately, the Wolverines did not generate all the money they probably hoped for. However, this “extra game” gave them one more chance to compete for the Big Ten championship. Here’s how Perry described the result of two of those games:
“Northwestern, with five straight victories, was upset by Purdue, while Michigan, with a 4-1 mark, toppled Wisconsin rather easily, 16-0. A three-way tie for the championship was created among Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue.” (Perry, Page 141)
Of course, Michigan Stadium was not as big as it is now, and it was not yet called “The Big House.” However, it is difficult to imagine what a “crowd” of 9,000 “looked” like in that cavernous stadium. Capacity was only listed at 85,753 for this “fund raising” event, but I’m certain that it looked “empty” for that all-important game.
In summary, here are five unusual “firsts” that came out of the 1931 Michigan Football season:
- First, and only, game with less than 10,000 fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium.
- This was the first home game ever played on November 28th in Michigan Football history.
- First, and only, season with a full schedule of “charitable” games to raise money for families of the Great Depression.
- Will Perry also noted in his book (referenced above) that Michigan rejected an invitation to play in the 1932 Rose Bowl (in accordance with Big Ten policy). I believe this was also another “first” for the Wolverines.
- Finally, this was the first season that average attendance at Michigan Stadium was less than 35,000 people for each game. The Wolverines only averaged 26, 293 people for each home game in 1931.
Yes, it is hard to believe that Michigan Stadium wasn’t filled to capacity for every game back in the 1930s. However, the timing of the Great Depression impacted Fielding Yost’s efforts to fill his magnificent stadium for every home game. After setting attendance records in 1927, Michigan struggled to “pay the bills” and the “mortgage” on Michigan Stadium. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Yost got a lot of gray hair on his head from 1928 to 1937! Attendance was a challenge every season. He tried everything he could think of, including “double headers,” but his efforts did not fill his stadium like he hoped they would. Actually, it is quite impressive that Michigan was able to do as well as it did financially during the Great depression. Things finally turned around in 1938 and attendance has been going strong ever since! Next time you’re at “The Big House” try to visualize what a “crowd” of 9,000 would look like – I dare you! Go Blue!