Office of the VP for Communications – Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Meechigan man

“Michigan football is a religion…”

Bob Ufer, 1975

Ufer with “General Patton’s horn,” circa 1975. (Image: U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)

A generation of Michigan football fans has grown up expecting that every U-M game would be on TV.

But it wasn’t always that way. For many Michigan fans, radio provided the primary link to Wolverines football. And nobody made those broadcasts come alive more vividly than Bob Ufer, ’43.

Ufer’s announcing style was energetic and unashamedly pro-Michigan.

“Michigan football is a religion and Saturday’s the holy day of obligation!” Ufer often would say during his Michigan broadcasting career, which spanned 362 consecutive games, from 1945 through 1981. It took a terminal illness to break that streak.

Today, 35 years after he left the airwaves, Ufer’s spirit survives among the Michigan faithful. Have you ever heard someone pronounce “Michigan” as “Mee-chigan?” That’s because of Bob Ufer. Have you ever watched a U-M football hype video? If so, you’ve probably heard Ufer’s voice at some point, even if you didn’t recognize it.

Dan Chace, BA ’83, is a film producer and director at L.A.-based Black Point West Films. He was among the listeners who enjoyed Ufer’s passionate, excitable, and memorable broadcasts. Now, he wants to bring Ufer’s energy to the big screen with a new documentary.

Now hear this

Chace's radio

Chace’s introduction to Ufer came through his mother’s radio. (Image courtesy of Chace.)

It was Chace’s mother, Anne, who introduced him to Ufer — by way of the family radio. Chace remembers Anne carrying the radio with her from room to room while doing housework on fall Saturdays. She loved listening to Ufer, even though she wasn’t a big sports fan.

“She was interested in him as an entertainer,” Chace recalls. “She found him to be delightful and funny. And that’s what got me listening to him.”

An Ann Arbor native, Chace followed his own path in entertainment, studying theater at U-M. He worked professionally as an actor, producer, and acting coach, and then found an ideal way to combine his love for film with his passion for Michigan athletics. In 2012 he directed his first documentary, about three-time U-M All-American Billy Taylor (Perseverance: The Story of Dr. Billy Taylor). Chace included some Ufer audio in the award-winning film, and interviewed Ufer’s son, Tom, during production. That conversation helped spark the idea for the Ufer documentary, which Chace began filming last fall. If all goes as planned, the film will debut in late 2017.

A joyful topic

Harbaugh with Chace.

Chace interviews Coach Jim Harbaugh for the film. (Image courtesy of Blackpoint West Films.)

Telling the story of a man who passed away in 1981 is a challenge, but Chace already has found many devotees who are eager to share their Ufer memories.

“One of the fun things for me about this is that it’s a joyful topic for people,” Chace says. “They love to talk about this guy. What they talk about is his enthusiasm – that is a word that comes up more than anything else when I talk to people about Bob Ufer. But also words like ‘love.’ He was a loving, passionate, maize-and-blue, loyal kind of guy. He was childlike in some ways. He was playful. He was articulate. I want to make sure that whatever I do really touches on his passion and his enthusiasm and his humor.”

Among Chace’s enthusiastic interview subjects is Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who “has very strong feelings about Bob Ufer and strong, positive memories about him,” Chace explains. “We had a wonderful interview where he spoke very openly about his childhood in Ann Arbor and how Bob Ufer affected his passion as a player and now as a coach.”

More than a voice

Ufer, 1944, with trophies.

As a student, Ufer set a world record in track. He also set a number of U-M varsity records.  (Image: U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)

While most people remember Ufer as a broadcaster, he also was an excellent athlete. He played on Michigan’s freshman football team in 1939, but made his mark as a track and field star. Ufer won seven Big Ten championships – three individual, plus four relay titles – earned All-America honors in 1943, and set an indoor world record of 48.1 seconds in the 440-yard run, which stood for five years.

Fielding Yost, the legendary former U-M football coach, was the athletic director when Ufer entered Michigan. Ufer enjoyed hearing Yost talk about Michigan’s athletic tradition, leading to Ufer’s later use of “Mee-chigan,” which echoed the way that Yost, a West Virginia native, pronounced the school’s name.

“After 40 years at Michigan, Yost was an icon, he was a bridge back to the earliest days of Michigan football,” Chace says. “Bob Ufer was obviously affected by Yost’s love for Michigan, and he went on to carry that torch for over 40 years himself, all the way up to 1981. Now Jim Harbaugh is carrying it, and fueling it.  And I hope that’s what this film helps to do: keep that old torch burning brightly into the future.”

Another little-known fact is Ufer’s impact on the Michigan Athletic Department. In 1968, Ufer campaigned for one of his former track and field teammates, Don Canham, to replace retiring Michigan Athletic Director Fritz Crisler. Ufer’s campaign was successful, as was Canham’s tenure as Michigan’s AD. One year into the job, Canham hired Bo Schembechler as Michigan’s head football coach. Schembechler went on to influence Michigan’s current coach, Harbaugh, when Harbaugh played at U-M. So it’s fair to say that Ufer’s impact on Michigan football continues to resonate.

It’s appropriate, therefore, that the documentary “will not just be about Bob Ufer,” Chace explains. “Bob Ufer is kind of the lens through which we will hopefully learn something about this passion for Michigan football that’s shared by so many people – and not just football, but for the University of Michigan as well.”

Our treasure

Dan Chace

Michigan football fan and future filmmaker Dan Chace in 1968. (Image courtesy of Blackpoint West Films.)

As production continues, Chace is eager to hear from anyone with photos, videos, or Ufer memorabilia they’re willing to share. He’s also open to suggestions about who to interview.

“I want people to reach out if they want to contribute to this,” he says. “I’m seeking alumni involvement. Documentaries like this require a team effort.”

Interested fans can contact Chace and watch a trailer at bobuferstory.com.

“Ufer is just as much an Ann Arbor treasure as he is a University of Michigan treasure,” Chace says. “So my goal with this is really to do everything I can to open this project up to Ann Arbor, to the University, and try to get it right.

“I’m not going halfway with this. It’s the same feeling I had with the Billy Taylor film; I want to do this one well enough that once it’s finished, people will see it and they’ll say, ‘It’s done…they won’t need to do this for a while.’ This is a story that I’ll tell from the heart; one that I hope I’m able to tell completely.”

 (Share your memories of Ufer in the comments section below. Top image courtesy of U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)

Comments

  1. Michael Schwartz - 1983

    1980 Michigan vs. Minnesota – Michigan’s Anthony Carter returned either a kickoff or punt for a touchdown. After he scored, Bob Ufer exclaimed: “He ran that back like a bat out of . . . well you know where bats come from.”
    Fantastic! Long live Bob Ufer!

    Reply

  2. Richard Charlton - 1989, 1996

    Wangler to Carter for the game winner as time expired against Indiana in 1979. Pure infectious joy.

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    • Cindy Farina - 1983

      I was there as a freshman. Saw the whole thing from the north end zone. I’ll never forget it. I’ve played the YouTube video for my kids.

      Reply

  3. Albert Meyer - LS&A 1957

    Bob Ufer was not only exuberant in victory, but devastated by a loss. How well I remember the 1980 Notre Dame game and the 51 yard field goal, that beat us. Bob was so upset that it took him three tries to get the final score right. He was one of a kind.

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  4. Jan Zielinski Karnes - 1982,1984

    It was such an honor for the Michigan Marching Band to be asked to play at his memorial service at Crisler Arena. I remember how big a hole I felt he left in the Michigan family. And how difficult it was to play well that day but that it seemed very important to do so, as if it were up to us to somehow fill that hole.

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  5. Steve Strinko - 1975 & Completed 2016

    Bob was insturmental in the influencing of so many athletes’ decisions to choose Meechigan. Acting as the consummate recruiter his passion for the school, Bo, and the football program was instrumental in my choosing to leave the Buckeye state and head north. He and his family opened up their lake home and shared a wonderful afternoon of boating and BBQ. I will never forget that weekend, highlighted by the gracious and effectuous spirit of Bob Ufer.

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    • David Sayfie - 1980

      Steve, I heard Ufer say your name often. Great name by the way. I had classes with Lilja, LP Reed and Huckleby back in the day.

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  6. William Lindhout - BArch '50

    As a Sigma Phi member I was recently approached on the subject of “what was the Red House on the Hill like on the inside?”
    This was coming from brothers that had only seen pictures of the classic Albert Kahn 1899 fraternity house that had been purchased in the early 60’s by St. Joseph Hospital – and torn down. The Chapter relocated to Lincoln St.
    In responding to the question I prepared a slide show (ProShoGold) in an attempt to show a flavor of the interior, taking from black and whites of the late 40’s. It was interesting to point out to the younger crowd a number of things only taken for granted by them now. We had only three telephones in the house. I owned the only typewriter in the house. The were numerous parties requiring, gasp, tuxedos! And we dressed for dinner.
    The biggest one of all, of course, was NO TV. My slide show naturally used the audio background of Bob Ufer at the “Listening Party”. All I had to work with was the “Ufer – Five Decades of U of M Football” CD. The photos were taken during the 1949 Minnesota game party, and fortunately the Ufer disk featured a Minnesota game (probably in the 70’s) where he expounded at great length on the virtues and history of the Little Brown Jug. Ufer had only been calling the games for a shot while in 1949, but had nailed his fans already.
    The slide show was well received – more so by the Sigs that had lived in the Red House. It brought back a lot of good stuff.
    Thanks for letting me throw this into your pile. And, I certainly hope you have been in touch with Howard Wikle.
    Best Regards,
    Bill

    Reply

  7. Marsha Katz - 1975 and 81

    I entered Michigan in 1963, and both Bob Ufer and Doc Losh were revered fixtures around Michigan football. My education was interrupted for a few years with marriage and children, and by the time I finished my BGS, my two sons, whose dad was a Michigan football player, had grown up in Michigan stadium and were big fans of Bob Ufer on the radio. By the time I finished my masters and started my PhD program as a single parent, my sons were using my tickets to go to the games, while I watched from my TV on North Campus, with no sound, and Bob Ufer’s voice calling the game. As long as Bob was broadcasting, I felt like I was right there. He was the best!

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  8. John Huntington - LS&A 1952, MD 1955

    Ufer broadcasting from Pasadena in the ’70s I think, “I can’t believe Michigan is going to lose another G..D… Rose Bowl game.” Feel free to correct me, as my memory has been blurred by time.

    Reply

  9. Bart Foreman - 1961

    There is not a game that I watch that I do not think of Bob Ufer. Sometimes after a great play, I wonder how he would have described it. I have no idea how many times I have listened to the Ten Year War CD.

    Reply

  10. Bill Flinn - 1953 B. Arch

    Recall Bob Ufer’s screaming broadcast picturing a player’s running style: “there goes Harlan Hucklebee running down the sideline like a penguin with a hot herring in his cumberbund”.

    Reply

  11. Andy Walcott - 1969

    Coming from New York I had not heard Bob, but friends had some favorites: I remember “the Michigan draubers are up” and something about a trailing leg

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  12. Aaron Gerstman - 1977, 1982

    Bless his Maize and Blue heart!

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    • Renee DeGraaf - 1977

      My sentiments exactly! At my first game as a freshman, I noticed a fellow student nearby listening to his transistor radio while the football games was underway. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was watching the game, and simultaneously listening to Bob Ufer’s commentary. “Who is Bob Ufer?”, I wondered. My curiosity led to discovery of the voice of the biggest Michigan fan that ever lived. Those WERE the days!

      Reply

  13. David Sayfie - 1980

    Bob Ufer is partly responsible for me becoming a Michigan fan and Michigan Man. Class trip to a UM game in 1971…on the bus ride home Ufer was doing the post game. So entertaining. Listed to him ever since, first only available out of Battle Creek. Listened and taped his broadcast of osu 1972-4, and heard Billy Taylor’s td live. You got to know all the players and coaches in an era of limited information.

    Reply

  14. elliot micahel reisman - 1979BS, 1983 MD

    Bob Ufer painted a beautiful picture of Michigan football via radio broadcast…”Hucklebee deep ,Davis close, two tight ends and a balanced line…”. One could vividly “watch ” the game via radio.
    While in Medical School, my room mate told me a story about Bob Ufer. My room mate was also a farmer in southern Michigan and used to listen to Michigan Football games while on his tractor. He reminded me that Ufer would get so excited calling plays,embellishing as he went, that after what seemed like a 50 yard play was really three yards and a cloud of dust. “Was Bob Ufer really watching the same game?”
    We both loved listening to his broadcasts and his “Michigan spirit” always came through.

    Reply

  15. John Schaefer - 1988 BS IOE, 1995 MBA

    My dad grew up in Toledo, went to Michigan, all of his High School friends went to Ohio State. Every other year in the 70’s his friends and wives came to spend the weekend at our house for the game. We always listened to Ufer, even the OSU fans enjoyed him. I taped a couple of OSU games and we did pre game and half-time commentary.

    Reply

  16. Randy Schafer - 1977

    I had the two Ufer stereo albums (1969-1976; 1977-1981), and I’d play them for childhood friends from NJ. In the east, college football wasn’t even on the map but for Penn State. Ufer may as well have been from planet Mars. They had no concept of the big-time college campus, the school spirit, how a town shuts down on a Saturday afternoon. College broadcasters were a unique breed; Ufer was unique among the unique.

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  17. Robert Oade

    My son and I flew from Colorado in 1961 to see see Meechigan play Iowa. The fans were cheering for UFER and he leaned out of the Press Box and honked his Patton horn and the croud went nuts. It was his last game

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  18. Douglas Clementz - December 1982

    I first arrived on campus of the University of Meechigan in September 1980 and was there (student Rose Bowl tour) during Bo’s fabulous “run for the roses” that culmInated on New Year’s Day 1981 with a 23-6 victory over Washington. Lots of Ufer football memories prior to and after arriving on campus. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Ufer on two occassion, the second was after Purdue ’80 postgame OSU up next. He departed from us with a “God Bless Your Cotton Pickin’ Maize and Blue Meeechigan Hearts!” However the Most Vivid was post Rose Bowl in the stands with “victory ringing in our ears” when as we were celebrating I looked up to the press box and began shouting U-fer! U-fer! U-fer! The nearby students and fans joined in and yep you guessed it, Bob Ufer appeared out on the balcony/catwalk and saluted us and waving us on! (He predicted that that team was a team of destiny for themselves and Bo during one of the away broadcasts (Indiana?) and also at the pep rally speech at Citrus College.) I could go on and on…

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  19. Dave Hamm - AB 1967; rheumatology fellowship 1977-79

    Around 1978 I having lunch at Crazy Jims with my family on a winter Saturday, and in comes Bob Ufer. My wife (AB 1967) persuaded our three year old son to yell out Go Blue!, which came out Go Boo! – accompanied by a downward whistle pull-like motion, rather than the traditional upward fist pump. Ufer was apparently so charmed that he gave us his tickets to the U of M – CMU basketball game that was about to start that afternoon. I also recall a pep rally in that same era (probably before the OSU game) held at the Mud Bowl. At the climax of the event, Ufer emerged from the SAE house clad in a maize-colored suit and delivered a spellbinding speech. Finally, his Lake Michigan cottage on the north shore at Grand Haven had a large yellow block M on the chimney.

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  20. Ramona Bashshur - 1984

    Bob Ufer’s radio broadcasts made me so happy to be alive in the 1970s. Raking leaves in my parents’ yard, cranking up the radio to hear the games, the crisp fall air and apples from the trees instead of stores, that’s what life was at its finest.

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  21. Walt Jend - N/A

    Bob was MEEECHIGAN football, and it broke my heart
    in the pre-game of the MEEECHIGAN vs Wisconsin game at Camp Randall the middle of October 1981 and he couldn’t call the game and turned the microphone over to Frank Beckman. Bob was dead in about a week or so afterward.
    One of his favorite players he loved to give glory to was Butch Woolfolk and I agreed with Bob 100 %. I LOVED BOB UFER, THE VOICE OF MICHIGAN FOOTBALL.

    Reply

  22. Sandy George - 1978, 1980

    We listened to “Ufe” every Saturday. If the game was televised, we turned down the voice on the TV and listened to Ufer. He was so enthusiastic and was so fun to listen to. I remember actually crying when we lost a game because he got so wrapped up in it. I remember his words when the Buckeyes tore down the banner, or his call when a field goal that looked good ended up being “no good, no good.” Or who can forget his “Touchdown Billy Taylor” call. He was the best and there will never be another one like him.

    Reply

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