October 11, 1941 – Michigan Football Team Defeated Pittsburgh

1941 Michigan Football Team | bigbluefootballhistory.com
The 1941 Michigan Football team played, and won, the first ever game against the University of Pittsburgh in 1941. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Today’s post recalls the anniversary of the day when the Michigan Football team defeated the University of Pittsburgh by a score of 40-0.  Michigan Coach Fritz Crisler liked to play teams from the East and the West, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Although they never became big rivals, a game against Pittsburgh in 1941 was a good thing for both teams. Pittsburgh was in the early stages of “lobbying” for the conference “vacancy” that would occur when the University of Chicago dropped out of the Big Ten Conference.

The Wolverine-Panther matchup was the third game of the season for Michigan. Coach Fritz Crisler’s Michigan Football team was off to a good start with wins over Michigan State (19-7) and Iowa (6-0). Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was off to a winless start having lost to Purdue (0-6) in their only game of the season.

Bob Westfall Michigan Football 1941 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Captain Bob Westfall helped lead the 1941 Wolverines to a 40-0 win over Pittsburgh. He played very well during the entire season and earned All-American honors. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

As it turned out, Michigan was the much better team. Crisler’s Wolverines dominated the game from start to finish. Michigan won another home game by a score of 40-0. Interestingly, Pittsburgh scheduled four of their first five games of the season against Big Ten teams. Unfortunately, they lost them all. In addition to losses to Purdue and Michigan, the Panthers also fell to top-ranked Minnesota (0-39) and Ohio State (14-21).

The Michigan Football team finished the 1941 season with an excellent record of 6-1-1. They ended the Big Ten campaign with a record of 3 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie which was good enough for a tie for second place. It was the third time in four years that Crisler’s team finished second in the Big Ten. He would have to wait until 1943 before his team would win his first conference championship.  

Both teams played again in 1947 and the result was even worse, if you were a Pittsburgh fan. The second-ranked Wolverines scored their biggest win of their championship season with a 69-0 pounding of the Panthers. Michigan went on to post a perfect record of 10 wins, 0 losses and 0 ties. The Wolverines also claimed the Big Ten Championship, the Rose Bowl Championship and a share of the National Championship. It was quite a year for Michigan and for Coach Fritz Crisler. In addition to everything else, Crisler was named national coach of the year. A few months later, he announced that he was retiring from coaching, but would continue to be Michigan’s Athletic Director.

It comes as no big surprise that Pittsburgh and Michigan never played another game. The series stands at 2-0-0 in favor of the Wolverines. Since Pittsburgh failed to gain entry into the Big Ten, it is not likely that they will play a regular season game in the near future. A bowl game is always a possibility, but maybe not.

The only Michigan Football “firsts” that took place on this day were the first game between Michigan and Pittsburgh and the first series win for the Wolverines. That’s it!

Of course, there was a lot going on in the Fall of 1941.  A few months after the Michigan defeated Pittsburgh, the United States suffered a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. America went to war the next day. However, the 1941 season was an important time in Michigan Football history. Although the Michigan vs Pittsburgh series ended abruptly, it is interesting to think how things would have turned out if the Panthers got into the Big Ten instead of Michigan State.

I hope you come back tomorrow to learn about another Michigan Wolverine football player who contributed to the great legacy that is Michigan Football history.

http://bentley.umich.edu/athdept/football/fbteam/1941bt.htm

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher is a self-proclaimed Michigan Football Archeologist. He spends a considerable amount of his time digging into the 138-year history of Wolverine Football. He is on a mission to share his findings with Maize and Blue football fans everywhere. He is the author of one book about Michigan Football titled "21-194-13 Michigan Football's Greatest Era". His second book titled, "The Legend of Bo Schembechler-How an Unknown Buckeye Became the Winningest Coach in Michigan Football History" was released on September 12, 2017. You can learn something about Michigan Football everyday by going to his website at: bigbluefootballhistory.com. You can also follow him on Social Media.
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