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The First "Home Field" - County Fairgrounds

From the time the student Football Association was first organized in 1873, informal games and practice sessions were held on the "playground" on the north edge of campus. A baseball diamond was laid out near the site where Waterman Gym was later built and the Chemistry building now stands. In the Fall a gridiron was laid out on the baseball field, usually in a north south direction. The playground was also the site of many spirited contests between class football teams. Games for which admission was charged were held off-campus at the Washtenaw County Fairgrounds. Originaly located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Hill Street and Forest. In 1890 the fairgrounds moved to what is now the site of Burns Park.

Plaing filed on Diag, ca 1890
The campus playing field, on north edge of the DIAG, ca. 1890

The first University of Michigan intercollegiate football game played on a home field occurred on May 12, 1883, when the Michigan varsity took on the Detroit Independents team in Ann Arbor. The game took place at the Fairgrounds as part of the Field Day competition sponsored the student Rugby Association. The Field Day events got under way at 8:39 a.m. with the 10 mile walk, followed by the wrestling and hop-skip-and jump competition. According to the reporter for the student newspaper, "the most interesting feature of the morning sports," the rugby match between the University and Detroit elevens, got under way at 10:20. The Detroit team was comprised largely of U-M graduates, including several former football team members. Though most had not played since leaving college, the reporter felt the opponents "contained some good material, however, and with practice might give our men some hard work."

Horace Prettyman
Horace Prettyman, winner
of football letters 1882-86,
1888-90 and 3 time captain,
scored Michigan's first
home field touchdown.

Horace Prettyman scored the first home field touchdown for the university at about the fourteen minute mark of the first "inning." and "the leathern sphere was put neatly between the goalposts" by Tom Gilmore. Prettyman scored another touchdown before the end of the 40 minute "first inning." Half-time featured competition in boxing and several field events. Michigan scored three more touchdowns in the second inning . The final score in the first home game was five touchdowns and four goals for Michigan and one goal and three safety-touches for the visitors: UM 40 - Detroit 5 under the scoring rules of the day.

The Chronicle reporter remarked that "the audience was not as large as would be expected, though the first four rows of the bleachers were comfortably filled, while the rest of those present remained on the ground."

For the next ten years Michigan would play its Ann Arbor home games at the Fairgrounds. The team compiled a home field record of 17-1 against Albion (8-1), Detroit Independents (1-0), Chicago University Club (1-0), Windsor Club (1-0), Purdue (1-0), Oberlin (2-0), Butler (1-0), Michigan A.A. (1-0) and Ann Arbor High School (1-0).

The Detroit Games

For a number of years the "big game" of the season was played in Detroit to accommodate the large group of alumni who wanted to see their Wolverines in action. The field of the Detroit Athletic Club was the usual site for these "home games" but the 1895 game against Minnesota was held at the Detroit Baseball Park. The Wolverines fared well in Detroit, recording a 12-4-1 mark in games played there, including Michigan's first triumph over a major eastern school, the 12-4 win over Cornell in 1894. The last "home game" played in Detroit was a 22-0 victory over the famed Carlisle Indian School in 1901.

1894 Cornell game at Detroit Athletic Club Field
1894 Cornell game at Detroit Athletic Club Field

The campus field and the Fairgrounds soon became inadequate to accommodate the growing interest in football. The university administration was concerned about events taking place off-campus and the condition of the Fairgrounds field was not the best. In 1902, Charles Baird, the graduate director of athletics who had been manager of the 1890-1891 football teams, recalled the Fairgrounds field as being "rougher and rockier than they are today, and a very poor place for championship contests."

In October 1890 the Michigan Board of Regents authorized $3,000 for the purchase of land for a permanent home football field for the Wolverines. Twelve months later, the Regents voted to add $5,000 more to this allotment to improve drainage and put the field into shape. By the fall of 1893, this new facility was ready, and on October 7th, Michigan played on a permanent home field site for the first time, defeating the Detroit Athletic Club 6-0.

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