In just 16 months on the job, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has made a handful of cosmetic moves to bring his football program into the modern age, including installing lights and new scoreboards at the Big House. But he has created the biggest stir among the school's notoriously conservative alumni with what at first seemed to be his most innocuous suggestion.
On June 16 Brandon told the alumni magazine Michigan Today that he was considering (but not actively pursuing) creating a costumed mascot to roam the sideline. "You can't get your picture taken with a block M," he said. "Our history and our tradition [are] great for those of us who were there to experience it, or remember it, but there's a generation coming up, and you've got to connect with them and keep them excited."
Fans worried that a fuzzy mascot would make the Wolverines appear soft should remember that they essentially already are. Michigan has lost seven straight to Ohio State and three in a row to Michigan State, and has won just once in its past six bowl games. The Wolverines last finished in the top 25 in 2007. Two years ago Central Michigan was No. 23.
The notion of a mascot is not without precedent in Ann Arbor. Students in the 1980s created an unofficial one dubbed Willy the Wolverine, a seven-foot caricature that looked more like a Wisconsin badger, and that was quickly banned from Michigan Stadium.
The football team has always been among the nation's most recognizable, with its maize-and-blue color scheme, its winged helmets and its triumphant fight song. But such emblems were all just accoutrements to what made the program truly indelible: winning. Much of the Wolverines' cherished tradition means little without it.
The truth is, kids can get their picture taken with a block M. If you turn your head just so, the 13th letter of the alphabet has the unmistakable look of a W. Which is what Michigan really needs more of at the moment.
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY (MICHIGAN)
CRITTER JITTERS Students drafted this design in the '80s, but school officials scrapped the idea.