The University of Michigan has started its 2010 campaign and two African-American quarterbacks, freshman Devin Gardner and sophomore Denard Robinson, are battling sophomore Tate Forcier for playing time.
No big deal, right? Well, it has not always been this way.
Recently the Michigan Chronicle interviewed Dennis Franklin, who in 1972 became the first African-American quarterback to start for the Maize & Blue. Since his noteworthy breakthrough, there has not been a steady stream of African-American quarterbacks running the Wolverines offense.
After Franklin’s ascension only Demetrius Brown (1986-1989) and Michael Taylor (1985-1989) have had any measurable impact at the UM quarterback position.
Franklin, a Massillon, Ohio native, said during his tenure in Ann Arbor he was always “Michigan’s first Black quarterback” in stories and television reports. Eventually, during his three years as a starter (1973 through 1975) with coach Bo Schembechler, he led the Wolverines to a 30-2-1 record. Those two losses were to Ohio State and the tie was also to the Buckeyes.
“Bo was the greatest coach I’ve ever been associated with,” Franklin said. “His values, what he stood for and his being a disciplinarian helped him teach young players how to be men. As I look back I see what it meant to be around Bo and you still remember his teachings.
“I was the first Black quarterback at Michigan and Bo told me that it was going to be a big deal, because the Wolverines had never started a Black quarterback before.”
Franklin also said he was so thankful to Bo because he believed in him and entrusted him to run his team.
“Bo started me for three years,” he noted, “but we never went to a bowl game.”
The Wolverines never went to a bowl game with a three year record of 30-2-1?
Under Franklin’s leadership as quarterback, Michigan tied with Ohio State for three consecutive Big Ten titles from 1972 to 1974. Franklin was a First Team All Big Ten quarterback in 1974 and led the team in passing and total offense every year from 1972 to 1974, becoming the second player at Michigan since Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon to accomplish that feat for three consecutive years. He also finished sixth in the 1974 Heisman Trophy balloting.
“Back in the day a Big Ten team could only play in the Rose bowl,” Franklin recalled. “I think our team and its plight helped change the Big Ten policy and rule. If we were in today’s world we would have played in a BCS Bowl every year.”
Why didn’t Michigan go to the Rose Bowl when the Wolverines tied the Buckeyes in the season’s final regular season game and for the Big Ten title?
“The powers that be went to the Big Ten Athletic Directors and let hem vote on who should go to the Rose Bowl,” Franklin noted, “Had it been a 5 to 5 vote we would have gone to Pasadena. But MSU’s AD voted for his own team making the vote 5-4.
“I would not have mind playing in this era, because the bowl experience would have been great. My teams surely would have played on New Year’s Day. I think the game has gotten so much bigger, with ESPN and all the other sports channels that it is just wonderful for the kids today.”
In the 1973 season Ohio State had gone to the Rose Bowl the year before, which normally would have given Michigan the tie-breaker edge. But Franklin broke his collarbone in that game many believe that was the deciding edge for the AD’s.
After graduating from UM Franklin was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1975 NFL Draft. Of course he was moved to receiver because the Lions had Super Star quarterbacks Greg Landry and Bill Munson. His brief NFL career that lasted nine games and totaled six catches over two years.
“I would have loved to have been given a chance at quarterback,” Franklin said, “but there just were not many opportunities back then to play that position. I think my skill set could have adjusted to the pro game.”
Franklin noted that he almost did not come to Michigan.
“Woody (Hayes) really wanted me to come to Ohio State,” hesaid, “but he put pressure on me to sign early. I told him I wanted to at least feel through things. Bo in turn told me to take all the time I needed to figure things out and it worked out great for me being in Ann Arbor.”
Franklin said he will always be a Wolverine and he keeps a close eye on how the team is doing.
“I’m disappointed the team has not been very competitive lately,” he said. “I live in LA now and I have to deal with all these USC people and they wear out the Maize & Blue. Still I think they will turn it around and get back to being competitive.”
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.