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Bob Ufer - The Voice of Michigan Football

Ufer at WJR mike
Bob Ufer at the WJR mike

No story of Michigan Stadium could be complete without mention of Bob Ufer and his "cotton pickin maize and blue heart." Ufer broadcast Michigan football for 37 years over WPAG and WJR. An exaggerated pronunciation of "Meee-chigan," which he adopted from Fielding Yost, a host of "Uferisms" and an unapologetically "homer" attitude endeared him to several generations of Michigan fans

In the accompanying article, Gerry Zonca captures something of the spirit of Bob Ufer, but to truly appreciate Ufer, you must hear him. Ann Arbor radio stations occasionally rebroadcast some of the great games Ufer called. But whether you grew up listening to "The Voice of Michigan Football" or have never heard a "Uferism," here are some Ufer classics.

 

Bob Ufer Audio Clips

Links to these audio clips from the CD "UFER Five Decades of Michigan Football" are provided courtesy of the Bob Ufer Foundation.


 

Bob Ufer came to Michigan in 1939 with ambitions of becoming a football star, but instead made his mark in Michigan athletics on the track. Like his father Clarence, Bob became a world-class middle distance runner.

Bob Ufer, track photo
Bob Ufer, 1943

Among Ufer's accomplishments on the cinders

  • set world record of 48.1 seconds in the indoor 440 at 1942 Big Ten meet, record stood for five years
  • All-American, 1943
  • at one time held eight U-M track records
  • Big 10 champion
  • indoor 440, 1942,1943
  • outdoor 440, 1943
  • indoor mile relay, 1941-1943
  • outdoor mile relay, 1941
  • Millrose Games
  • 600 yard, 1943, 2nd
  • 2 mile relay, 1943 1st.
  • Penn Relays
  • 2 mile relay, 1943, 1st
  • sprint medley, 1943 1st







Clarence  Ufer, track photo

Clarence Ufer competed in the 440 yard, 880 yard and mile races as well as the mile and two-mile relays. He won varsity letters in 1915 and 1916. His best performance came in the two-mile relay in a 1916 meet at Buffalo against Cornell. Running the third leg, Ufer helped the Michigan squad break the college record and equal the world record with a time of 7:55.6.

Ufer of Mee-chigan

[This tribute to Bob Ufer by Gerry Zonca appeared in the 1981 Ohio State game program, just a month after Ufer's death. ]

BOB UFER -loved life. He especially loved his University of Mee-chigan. For 37 years Bob Ufer had been the voice, the heart, the soul of Michigan football; he still is. On October 26 Ufer lost his courageous battle with cancer at age 61, having broadcast a remarkable 362 straight games for the Maize and Blue since 1945. He leaves behind a colorful legacy of play-by-play memories that will be the topic of discussion among Michigan fans for years to come.

Ufer attended the University of Michigan from 1939-1943 and played freshman football but size dictated that he focus his efforts on track, where he excelled. In 1940 he set 8 all-time Michigan varsity track records, including the world's quarter mile record which stood for 5 years and was a Michigan varsity record for 32 years.

But football was Bob's great love and as fate would have it, he entered the radio booth at WPAG in 1945 and began a colorful career that spanned 5 decades. He soon initiated a new style of broadcasting: partisan hysterics. The booth was filled with screams, sighs, rage, cheerleading and horn honking.

Ufer broke every rule of objective sports broadcasting, and he loved every "cottin' pickin' Maize 'n Blue minute of it." He was often heard to say "Prejudiced? Partial? You better b'leeve I am. Michigan football is a religion and Saturday's the holy day of obligation."

Football and broadcasting were his tonic in life. He was attracted to the game because, as he put it "During the 60 minutes on that gridiron a player experiences every emotion in life ... pain, pleasure, pride, disappointment, accomplishment, hope, doubt, success, and failure."

Bob Ufer had a passion for life. He was a doer, a believer, a winner. He regularly echoed Coach "Bo" Schembechler's statement "What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve. And those who stay, will be champions."

His passion and enthusiasm for Michigan were mirrored by his broadcasts. But beyond the rah-rah image was an accomplished broadcaster who prepared several hours for each game.

His booth was wallpapered with 3x5 cards on which he logged important player and game statistics. His computer-chip memory could instantly recall minute details of games 20 years past that paralleled the play on the field. But Bob Ufer will most be remembered for his patented "Uferisms."

In 1969 he described Barry Pierson "Going down that mod sod like a penguin with a hot herring in his cummerbund. "

In 1975 he delighted over "That whirling dervish, Gordie Bell, who could run 15 minutes in a phone booth... and he wouldn't even touch the sides."

In 1976 it was Russell Davis "Running through that Buckeye line like a bull with a bee in his ear."

In 1978 he said "We're down in the snakepit at Ohio State and our Maize In Blue dobbers are high right now cuz we're getting ready to do battle with Dr. StrangeHayes and his Scarlet and Grey Legions."

And in 1979, "Johnny Wingin' Wangler" and "Anthony the Darter Carter" combined for "the greatest single play in the 100-year history of Michigan football." Ufer was beside himself for 3 1/2 minutes after that last second touchdown and so were we. But he maintained sufficient composure to entertain us with the most graphic description of the pandemonium that followed. AS 100,000 of us saw it in person; another 100,000 "saw" it on radio when Bob described it. Perhaps the radio audience saw it better

"Bob Ufer had the ability to paint a word-picture like no one I know," remarked Athletic Director Don Canham. "He could build a drama to make you feel like you're on the sidelines. But it was that boyhood enthusiasm that endeared him to people who never even met him."

And enthusiastic he was. People found him to be so entertaining that they often turned the sound down on televised coverage of Michigan games and substituted Ufer for the audio portion. In fact, Ufer crammed so much color and statistical information into his broadcasts that it seemed like one long sentence separated by commas and semi-colons. His exuberance could rarely be restrained. "My heart's so pumped-up when Michigan comes out of the tunnel. It's just like I'm playing," Ufer once said.

Bob Ufer with props
Bob Ufer with some of his props, including
the horn, "from General Patton's jeep,"
which he blasted after every UM score.

On Thursday evenings before contests with Ohio State Bob Ufer would be the featured speaker at the Mudbowl rally, where Woody Hayes was regularly roasted in effigy before 5,000 screaming fans. No Michigan alumnus will ever forget these affairs. He'd recount key games from memory, rehash the play-by-play and have the fans at fever pitch. Then he'd make his prediction "Michigan can beat Ohio, they are prepared to beat Ohio and dammit, they'll whoop those Buckeyes."

Bob Ufer was an eternal optimist and he felt his "well-drilled, well disciplined Michigan football team under the leadership of General "Bo" George Patton Schembechler was invincible. ""Michigan can't lose" Ufer once insisted. "They can only beat themselves."

He would liken Michigan's game of football to the military conquest of Patton in World War 11 and this provided him with a colorful backdrop for his broadcasts.

"General Bo's gonna stay on the ground now. There's no Luftwaffe; he's got the tanks in."

"Michigan's going to shoot down the aerial attack of Purdue's Mark Herrmann."

"Wasn't that Michigan drive just great. That's like riding into Berlin."

And then there's the horn from George Patton's jeep used to acknowledge Michigan scores.

The Michigan players were his second family. He had an enviable buddy relationship with each of them. There's Ricky "the peach" Leach, Dennis "the menace" Franklin, "Little Donny Dufek," Johnny Wrangler, AC Carter-the human torpedo * ' * the list goes on. They were all important to him. And he made them feel important to Michigan.

In November of 1976, Ufer was asked by former President Gerald R. Ford to be the keynote speaker at his kickoff rally for the Presidency. Michigan's football team just happened to be ranked #1 in the country at the time and Ufer capitalized on it to give one of the most electrifying speeches of his life. He transformed a 20,000 member political forum into the largest college pep rally ever assembled. President Ford didn't mind a bit.

Bob Ufer at Rose Bowl rally
Photo by Per Kjeldsen

Two months later, before a capacity crowd of 4,000 at the Rose Bowl kickoff luncheon in Pasadena, he brought down the house in a seven-minute delivery that left even USC fans breathless. NBC commentators Don Meredith and Curt Gowdy declined to follow with their planned speeches; instead they gave him a souvenir game ball for his performance and left the dais, upstaged.

Bob Ufer's most inspiring speech was given in Pasadena on the eve of last year's Rose Bowl victory (the full text is on his recent record album, entitled "Run for the Roses."). He instilled such confidence into those players that many felt it was one of the keys to their victory the next day against Washington.

On October 17, the Michigan family gave Bob Ufer another opportunity to deliver an inspiring speech, this time during half-time at Michigan Stadium. After the band spelled his name on the field, Bob Ufer was handed the PA microphone and proceeded to speak. He told them that his 37 years of broadcasting Michigan football had been a "privilege, a pleasure, and a true labor of love." Then, while 100,000 pairs of eyes focused up toward the broadcast booth, he led them in a chorus of the Victors. Later he would say it was the greatest moment in his life. It would prove to be his last, because three weeks later those same 100,000 fans would observe a moment of silence in memory of the late, great Bob Ufer.

Bob Ufer holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of the entire Michigan family because more than anything else he symbolized everything great about Michigan: hard work, dedication, intensity, pride and love,

He lived an exemplary life. He accomplished much for himself and much for his beloved university.

He has served the tradition of his alma mater well and now he is forever a part of it.



M Club suports Ufer sigh 
The M Club paid Ufer a unique tribute
at the 1981 Illinois game.

In years to come we'll reminisce often about those "golden years" of Michigan football while Bob Ufer was behind the mike. We'll recall his many Uferisms, his partisan play-by-play descriptions, his unbridled exuberance and his eternal optimism. And if it is possible to sum up his character in a single passage, I would choose the statement made by Coach "Bo" Schembechler at the Crisler Arena Memorial Tribute a few weeks ago.

"As I stand here, I just know that Bob Ufer is looking down at me from up there in football's valhalla and he's saying to me ... 'Bo, you can do it. MEE-CHIGAN can do it. MEE-CHIGAN can do anything.'"

 


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