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Go blue, Michigan Photography

Truly 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, an author and historian, is a Michigan alumnus and professor of journalism at Miami of Ohio. His latest book is The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency ( Simon & Schuster, 2013). He contributes regularly to the U-M Heritage website, an online repository of historical stories and images about the University. For the story "Hair down to there," he delivered this alternate profile picture to showcase his own long locks, circa 1974,