Today's Tidbit... John Heisman and Michigan's 1,000 All-Time Wins
What would you think of a first-year coach who opened the season by beating Ohio State 40-0, trouncing them a second time 50-0, and ending the season with a 24-22 victory over Michigan? Those three wins define John Heisman's first season coaching at Oberlin. He also picked up two victories against Adelbert College, a predecessor to Case Western Reserve, and wins over Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon. That 7-0 season came in 1892, immediately after Heisman left the University of Pennsylvania with a law degree and three years playing for the Quakers under his belt. (He played two years at Brown before transferring to Penn.)
It is important to note that while Oberlin counts the Michigan game as a victory, the outcome remains in dispute today due to a 130-year-old disagreement over timekeeping. As often occurred in the 1890s, the teams agreed to end the game in time for Oberlin to catch the last train home. However, shortly before the was scheduled to end, Oberlin took the lead 24-22 and, at the appointed time, left the field per the instructions of the referee, an Oberlin substitute, and the game’s timekeeper. Michigan, whose man umpired the game, argued the time was not up because the referee did not account for several minutes of stoppage to tend to an injured player, though that had no impact on when the train left the station. As a result, Michigan stayed on the field without Oberlin, ran another play, and scored a touchdown to claim a 26-24 victory.
The game's result ended in dispute, with both sides claiming victory. Ordinarily, we would not fret today about the outcome of a game played in 1892, but depending on who you believe, Heisman tallied either 185 or 186 career wins. More important, Michigan now has either 988 or 989 all-time victories. With twelve regular season games scheduled for 2023, Michigan is within reach of claiming 1,000 all-time wins by the end of the 2023 season. Where you stand on the 1892 Oberlin-Michigan debate will determine the point you credit Michigan with that achievement.
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