Just forty days to go until Harbaugh Year Two.
Forty years ago, Michigan had a special team. Bo Schembechler said more than once that it may have been his best team in his twenty-year career at Michigan. The roster featured several all-Americans, a Heisman finalist, and a quarterback few would forget, Rick Leach. The team was ranked number one in the country for eight weeks, and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The team’s 10 wins were impressive, scoring at least 30 points in 9 of the 10 victories. Right out of the gate Michigan beat Wisconsin 40-27 after taking a 20-0 lead in the first five minutes of play. After that, Michigan ascended to the number one ranking in the country. They tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten title and were voted to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl against USC.
It was also the year Bob Ufer, Michigan’s radio broadcaster, introduced the famed General Bo “George” Patton Schembechler horn. The nephew of the late General George Patton was a Michigan fan reached out to Ufer and sent the horn from Patton’s Army jeep to Ann Arbor. For the rest of Ufer’s career, three honks always meant a touchdown, two honks for a field goal, and one for an extra point.
Leach, as I wrote previously, was an extremely gifted athlete and broke loads of records while playing quarterback at Michigan.
As beloved and admired as Leach was, it was Rob Lytle who became a Michigan legend at an even greater pace. The ‘76 season was Lytle’s senior year, and he gained 1,469 yards over 12 games. On November 13th, he broke the Michigan program rushing record against Illinois and extended the final total to 3,317.
Side note: Lytle is now eighth all-time and Mike Hart stands atop the pack at 5,040 yards.
Because Lytle was so integral to Michigan’s success, he made it into the group of finalists for the Heisman trophy after the regular season finished. He received 413 votes, but lost to Tony Dorsett from Pittsburgh. He also had a successful career in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, but Lytle passed away in 2010 from a heart attack.
Last year, Lytle was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, and his family was honored during halftime of a Michigan home game soon after.
The 1976 Wolverines came close to a national title, but still remain one of the more dominant teams in Michigan football history.