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Go blue, Michigan Photography

True blue?

By James Tobin
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How “Go Blue” began … we think

true-blue-sign-10-15It was a long time ago, that night at the old U-M Coliseum, where the hockey team used to play.

Sixty-five years, in fact.

So it’s hardly surprising that Bob Neir, BBA ’51, can’t remember every detail.

He can’t remember the date.

He can’t remember who Michigan was playing.

But he remembers what his roommate, Paul Fromm, BSE ’51, did that night.

Which means that Bob Neir is pretty sure he was an eyewitness to the spontaneous creation of a Michigan tradition.

One cold night

It happened on a cold night in the winter of 1950-51.

Neir (pronounced near), a native of Queens, N.Y., was a senior in business. His buddy, Fromm, was a senior in engineering from Buffalo, N.Y.

They were serious students, not rah-rah types. But, as a break from the winter grind, Neir and Fromm and a few friends liked to get dinner at the Old German or the Pretzel Bell, then trudge down to the Coliseum to watch a varsity hockey game.

Tell us about one of the most memorable times you heard someone say, “Go Blue!” Were you in Los Angeles? Madrid? Mumbai? On top of a mountain?
It wasn’t like Michigan hockey games now, with thousands of raving fans crammed up to the towering ceiling in Yost Arena. Admission was free. You sat anywhere you wanted in the Coliseum bleachers.

Fromm was a good guy. “Independent,” Neir remembers. “Very smart. He was a fun guy but he was not a back-slapper, ha-ha-ha kind of guy. Very serious student.”

So the Wolverines were out on the ice against somebody or other, hustling up and down the ice, scrambling, grunting, shooting. Fans were watching and cheering for this or that — the usual thing.

Then, with no preface or pronouncement of any kind, Fromm stood up.

“He felt good about Michigan, and up he went,” Neir says. “I think it was absolutely spontaneous.”

And Fromm shouted two words: “GO … BLUE!”

“Absolutely amazing”

Then he shouted the words again. And again.

At first, people nearby just looked up at Fromm and laughed a little. Nobody had heard anybody say that before. Everybody knew, of course, that Michigan’s colors were maize and blue. But nobody yelled, “Go Blue!”

true-blue-banner-10-15“Go Michigan!” — sure. But not “Go Blue!”

Fromm kept going. After a minute, people began to pick it up. It became a crowd chant, two words over and over, in rhythm:

“GO … BLUE! … GO … BLUE! … GO … BLUE!”

Neir was chanting along.

“It was absolutely amazing how two words like that would elicit so much emotion from the crowd,” Neir says. “We were part of the team with ‘Go Blue!’ One thing that’s nice about it is that it’s just two words. Any idiot can say two words.”

After a while Fromm sat back down and that was that.

Fromm went on to a successful career as an engineer at Bell Helicopter. He died a number of years ago. Neir became an executive with Boeing Aircraft.

He can’t remember if they did the cheer at other hockey games that year.

He just knows that “Go Blue” is now heard at every Michigan sporting event and that it’s the universal slogan of U-M loyalists everywhere.

“I just can’t believe it,” he says. “It’s all over the country now.”

Cheer up

So that’s how “Go Blue” was coined.

Unless it wasn’t.

The thing is, in a 1998 letter to Michigan Today, Margaret “Peg” Detlor Dungan, BA ’48/MA ’51, an Ann Arbor native, said Fromm was the inventor of “Go Blue,” all right. But she says her friend Fromm first yelled the words not at a hockey game, but at the home football opener against Michigan State in the fall of 1950 (a 7-14 loss, sorry to say).

“I know Fromm originated the cheer because I grew up in Ann Arbor and started going to the football games in 1934, when friendly guards turned a blind eye to us children when we went through the gates at the start of the third quarter,” Dungan wrote. “We, of course, joined in the cheers, and ‘Go Blue!’ was definitely not one of them.”

true-blue-italian-10-15

So she’s saying: Yes, Fromm was the first to say “Go Blue!” But it happened before Bob Neir thinks it happened. And at a football game … not a hockey game.

Unless it wasn’t like that at all.

Because there’s another claimant — Charles J. Moss, of Midland, Mich., (also a ’51 grad) who refuted Dungan’s version in his own 1998 letter, published in the following issue of Michigan Today. He said he invented and introduced the “Go Blue” cheer at a U-M baseball game in the spring of 1947.

“I began cheering ‘Go Blue’ and ‘Let’s Go Blue’ as an alternative to the lengthier cheers, such as ‘Locomotives,’ in use at the time,” Moss wrote. “The brief ‘Go Blue’ and ‘Let’s Go Blue’ could be cheered while batters came to the plate without disrupting the flow of the game.”

Moss said the cheer was picked up at Michigan football games the following fall, and thus was history made.

Not by Paul Fromm. Not at a hockey game. Or a football game. Not in 1950, or 1951.

So we’ll put the question to you, loyal readers: Do you have your own claim — with corroborating evidence — of the time and place when “Go Blue” was first shouted?

(Stay tuned for Part 2: The definitive story for how the “Let’s Go Blue” musical jingle was created.)

(All of the images in this story are of products that can be purchased at The M Den.)

James Tobin

James Tobin

JAMES TOBIN is an author and historian. His latest book, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency,was published by Simon & Schuster in November 2013. He contributes regularly to the U-M Heritage website, an online repository of historical stories and images about the University.

COMMENTS

  • Mary Ellen Kalkhoff - 1987

    Farthest place from home that I’ve heard it? While wearing a Michigan Alumni t-shirt on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, I received a Go Blue! shout out from a fellow alumni.

    Reply

  • Brandon Parker - 2014

    Frankly, I’m very skeptical about anyone who claims that they personally coined the phrase. To me it sounds like Fromm really did start it. He has two corroborating witnesses, at two separate events, saying he was shouting it before it was a thing.

    Moss could be telling the truth, but it sounds to me like he’s trying to shoehorn himself into the picture. If he started the cheer three or four years before Fromm, it certainly didn’t catch on. You can claim you invented “the Wave,” but if the crowd didn’t stand up to keep it going, you’re just some jackass flailing his arms.

    Reply

  • Jim Johnson - 1967 (MS) & 1979 PhD)

    I can’t verify exactly where Go Blue originated, but I recall that it was a fixture in 1966-67 at the Coliseum during hockey games. There was a twist though. That particular hockey team had a contingent of very good French Canadian players, and, depending on the line combinations, the cheer often morphed to ‘Allons Blue’ or as your graphic above states ‘Allez Les Blues’,

    Reply

    • Edith Goldstein - 1960

      Sacre Bleu!!!

      So why don’t you know what I learned in High school French?

      Allons Bleus! Notice the French word for blue…

      Reply

      • Bob Syrunkel - 1982

        Lighten up, Edith.

        Reply

  • Jeremy Segall - 2001

    Wearing a block M hat while crossing the Seine with my wife a few years ago, I heard a “Go Blue” as we entered onto the bridge, and another as we got to the other side. My Canadian wife (where they are not as rah-rah as in the states) looked at me incredulously when I was sad that nobody said anything in the middle of the bridge.

    Reply

  • Sara Agne - J.D. 2008

    The first time I heard it shouted at me was in Rocky Point, Mexico, in 2006. I had recently been admitted to the law school’s summer start program and my longtime saxophone teacher (a UM alum) had given me a UM baseball cap. I was sporting it with my pajamas, I think, early on a balmy beach morning, walking across the campground, when a fellow alum–must have been camping, too–grinned and shouted the cheer I’ve heard all over the country and world since.

    Reply

  • Rick David - BBA 1978

    In response to the request to relate an unexpected “Go Blue”

    I was visiting the wailing wall in Old Jerusalem in January 2014. A young gentleman was passing out yarmulkes to the Gentile visitors such as myself. He heard me say “thank you” with my American accent and asked me where in America I was from. I answered “Michigan” and he immediately responded “GO BLUE”

    Reply

  • Alice Davidson - 1976

    I was wearing a Michigan T-shirt in Tiananmen Square during the protests in ’89 when a young student came up to me and said ‘Go Blue!’ He then told me there was a group of UM students who had a banner and flag in the square and pointed me in their direction. I found a large blue and maize sign, with about 15 students camping out there. There were lots of ‘Go Blue!’ shouts as they saw me (my shirt) approaching.

    Reply

  • VICTORIA (HAWKINS) da Roza - 1967

    When I see anyone out here ln the West i.e. California that is wearing any Michigan ID, I yell back to them GO BLUE. A disappointingly large number then look at me like I have lost it! When giving Michigan regalia, you must
    explain what duties are entailed. And about what date did the nondistinctive Univ….-….Michigan come in(`.U-M) I know for sure I never would have been caught at all the different games cheering a hyphen. When we cheered for Univ. OF Michigan, when I was there, we took first in virtually every sport…..just saying guys. Victoria

    Reply

    • Amy (Olszewski) Cambareri - 2001

      I have had the same thing happen in upstate New York. I will say, “Go Blue!” when I see someone in a Michigan shirt, and most often get a blank stare in return. I have resorted to saying, “I like your shirt.” That just doesn’t have the same ring to it!

      Reply

      • Linda Kelsey - 1978

        Amy: I can relate! Certainly sorts the alums from the riffraff!

        Reply

    • John Harvey - '04 BSE, '05 MSE, '11 PhD

      I’ve gotten a surprising number of blank stares too… but I’ve gotten a “Go blue!” back as far away as Edinburgh and Venice.

      Reply

  • Ann Swayze - 1961

    Contact the Michigan Alumni Cheerleading group.They have officers and dues and a membership list–I just can’t find out to contact anyone!

    But they had cheerleaders similar to the modern men’s squad way back before 1950, possibly before. One of those early guys should have some knowledge of the origin of the “GO BLUE” cheer.

    Reply

  • Pat Cardiff - 1990

    In Ulaan Bator, Mongolia, one afternoon, I got a “Go Blue!”
    I was taking a break, shopping at the state-run mall for souvenirs.
    It was amazing. I was SO appreciative! That connection. Remembering Ann Arbor and just how lucky we are to be alive!

    Reply

  • Jonene Eliasson - 61 LS&A

    Two years ago my husband and I were in Munich for Oktoberfest. In the Munich train station I saw a gal wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. I yelled “GO BLUE” and she gave my the thumbs up!

    Reply

  • Ian Hartwell - '74 BS, SNRE

    Getting off a plane from Fairbanks in Anchorage and waiting for others in our party, a guy in a UM shirt passed by and we exchanged “Go Blue.” I’d been on a sampling cruise in the Arctic for a month where I sparred with an OSU fan and MSU fan on the crew and I always wore my winged hard hat. My co-worked from Anchorage looked at us funny, and I said, “we’re everywhere.” She just laughed.

    Reply

  • Patrick O'Leary - 1971

    My wife and I were waiting in a very long line to see Michelangelo’s David in Florence’s Accademia. I was wearing a baseball cap with Block M. Man comes up to me and asks if I’m from Michigan. I replied that I am an alumnus, but we live in Cleveland OH. He says he’s from Cleveland and went to Parma HS. Turns out he was in the graduating class a year before my wife. Just one of so many times wearing that hat has sparked a conversation in some foreign country or state … even with Buckeyes.

    Reply

  • Jim Lumsden - 1968

    No matter when the cheer “Go Blue” originated, it was clearly confirmed as a part of Michigan tradition when then director of the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, Philip A. Duey, wrote the fight song “Go Blue.” The song continues to be among the Club’s traditional Michigan Songs repertoire.

    Reply

  • Tim Reinman - 1986

    On our trip to Rome, last month, my wife said I should wear my Michigan polo to our tour of the Colosseum – the 2000 year-old one. “That’s Rome’s version of the Big House!” she said. I heard someone give me a “Go Blue!” as we walked up. And of course I gave a “Go Blue!” from inside.

    Reply

  • Julie Fromm Taylor

    I am the daughter of Paul Fromm. While I most certainly was not present when my father shouted “Go Blue” for the first time, I can confirm that he was very humble about his contribution to this now famous slogan. He never bragged about it, or touted his conception of the phrase. In fact, I did not know the story about its inception, or my father’s involvement until I was well out of college. My father said he couldn’t shout “Go Maize” because that would sound dumb, so “Go Blue” sounded right. While I did not attend U of M, my father instilled in me the wolverine spirit. He got goosebumps on his arms every time he heard “Hail, to the Victors”, loved Bo Shembechler, and cherished the lifelong friends, like Bob Neir, that he met there. We lived in Buffalo, and as we watched the football games, dad would turn off the volume of the TV and somehow tune in to the local Michigan radio station that aired Bob Ufer’s amazing play by plays of the “Meeeeechigan” football games and would get so excited when Ufer’s jeep horn would sound. I am so proud of my Dad and the legacy he created for his beloved alma mater. Note: while he lived in Buffalo post college, he came to U of Michigan from Chicago, IL.

    Reply

  • Ed Monaghan - DIDN'T went to the Univeristy of Viet Nam!

    Went in the Air Force in 1965 went to Viet Nam in 1967 and wearing a UofM Tee shirt got a M GO BLUE at Bien Hoa Air Force after I was there.

    Reply

  • Gregory Vitas - son Danny 2015

    My son Danny recently graduated from Michigan, BS in econ and math, and member of Michigan Men’s rowing. My wife and I were overwhelmed by the wonderful collegiality we experienced during all of our many visits, both on famous and off, and all of the “Go Blue’s” we received when wearing Michigan apparel virtually anywhere in the country.
    One memorable incident occurred while walking down Boylston Street in Boston. After passing a street person covered in newspapers, he raised his head, and with a loud yell threw us a “Go Ohio State!”

    Reply

  • Gina Ceisler Shapiro - 80

    See a Michigan shirt, hat, etc etc…the immediate and only reaction is to say “Go Blue”, it is just so disappointing when the wearer responds, “oh, someone just gave this to me”. Well, at least the person understood what I was saying. GO BLUE!

    Reply

  • John Tatum - 1971, 1981

    I heard this story from Barbara Cope, a colleague in the UM financial aid office who had worked in Admissions. UM Admissions staffer (later Director) Cliff Sjogren was traveling in Hong Kong and had shirts laundered. When he went to pick them up, his wallet lay open with his UM ID visible. The clerk looked at the ID and said to Cliff, “You wait one moment.” He went to the back of the laundry and came back with a wizened old man. The man looked at the ID, then looked up at Cliff, and said, “Go Brew!”

    Reply

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