Looking at the list of players who are to be considered for Michigan's Mount Rushmore of Football, my eyes were drawn immediately to Bennie Oosterbaan. Why? Because he may not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the greats. His name comes up, but it's usually after men like Harmon, Howard, and Woodson...and we all know what those three have in common.
What about Bennie Oosterbaan?
During his career at Michigan, which ran from 1925-1927, Oosterbaan was a part of what Fielding Yost called "the greatest football team I ever saw in action". That's saying something since Yost was also in charge of the "Point-a-minute" teams. Benny Friedman and Bennie Oosterbaan (the "Benny-to-Bennie Show") were unstoppable during the 1925 season...almost. After outscoring their opponents 180-0, Michigan ran up against Northwestern and lost that battle 3-2. Those three points would be the only points surrendered all season, finishing with a remarkable 227-3 margin. Oosterbaan's 1925 breakout season saw him tally a Big Ten-leading eight touchdowns along with two interceptions...and his first of three All-American honors. Only one other player in Michigan history can boast of being a three-time All-American--fellow Mount Rushmore candidate, Anthony Carter.
In 1926, Michigan played the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Little Brown Jug...twice! After a 20-0 victory on October 26, 1926, the two teams faced off again on November 20th. Oosterbaan's fumble recovery and 60-yard scamper gave the Wolverines the slim 7-6 win to retain the Jug for the eighth consecutive game.
However great the 1925 and 1926 seasons were for Michigan, and Oosterbaan, it would be the 1927 season's battle with Ohio State that would cement Oosterbaan's legacy as an all-time great.
On October 22, 1927, Bennie was the team captain and named MVP for his three-touchdown-passing performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes...on dedication day for Michigan Stadium. Not a bad way to dedicate the stadium, is it? Here's a little more of what Oosterbaan and Michigan was able to accomplish on the day, via the Bentley Historical Library's site...
"CAPTAIN Oosterbaan gave an exhibition of defensive play at end which was nothing less than a classic. He had to meet a running game which, even in defeat, must still be classed as one of the most formidable in the west. Again and again he stood alone while the Ohio ball-carrier swung down on him in a perfect phalanx of red jerseys, yet always managed not only to keep his feet but either to knife through and tackle the man with the ball or force him out of bounds."
Again, that's in addition to the three touchdowns he scored. Not a bad way to be remembered.
Why is Bennie Oosterbaan important?
He may not have the hardware of Heisman Trophy winners Harmon, Howard, or Woodson, but to say that Bennie Oosterbaan doesn't have the same flash or isn't as important a figure in Michigan history would be a inaccurate--he is, after all, memorialized with a Legends patch. Yes, he came after the "Point-a-Minute" teams, but that only adds to his stature. He was a receiving threat during a time when teams were focused on running the ball. His teams were so prolific in scoring that they outscored opponents 555-80 during his time on the field, but the snippet above shows that he was clearly a defensive threat as well. The fact that he was able to continue Michigan's success with two consecutive Big Ten Championships (although no national titles...as a player, that is) proves that Oosterbaan belongs not just in the pantheon of Michigan greats, but on the mountainside with those who define the program.
Cast your vote for Michigan's Mount Rushmore at BTN.com.