The 1897 Michigan Wolverines football team represented the University of Michigan in the 1897 Western Conference football season. The team, with former Michigan halfback, Gustave Ferbert, as head coach, compiled a record of 6–1–1 and outscored opponents by a combined score of 168 to 31. The team suffered its first setback with a scoreless tie against Ohio Wesleyan in the second game of the season. The season also featured the first game between Michigan and Ohio State, with Michigan winning the game by a score of 34 to 0. Michigan won its first two Western Conference games against Purdue (34–4) Minnesota (14–0), but lost the final game of the season to Amos Alonzo Stagg's Chicago Maroons by a score of 21 to 12
After losing the final game of the 1896 season due to the kicking of the University of Chicago's Clarence Herschberger, the Michigan football team began practice early in 1897, gathering in late August. The team announced that, as a direct result of the 1896 loss to Chicago, a "radical change" was being made in the method of play. Michigan promised to produce an improved kicking game, with more hard work being dedicated to kicking than any other part the game.
The expectations for the 1897 team were low. Michigan had lost most of the players from the 1895 championship team. One eastern newspaper described the talent level in Ann Arbor as follows:
"The University of Michigan football team of '97, as compared with Michigan teams of tho past few years, is decidedly weak and uncertain. It is not as good by any means as the eleven of last fall. It is not in the same class with the champion eleven of '95. What it lacks is first, weight, second, experience, and third, 'ginger.' There are other lacks as well, but those three are most noticeable."
Adding to the difficulties, Michigan's team captain, J.B. Wombacher, contracted typhoid fever and was unable to report to the university in September. Wombacher had played every game at center for Michigan in 1896. Shortly before his illness, The World of New York had published a football preview feature in which Wombacher had been touted as the key to Michigan's success:
"The man who will captain the Unlversity of Michigan eleven is a big, strapping fellow, who was forced into the game by his classmates because of his size and ability to get over the ground. His name is John B. Wombacher, and he hails from Peoria, Ill. He plays centre rush and is something terrific."
Wombacher was unable to play in 1897, remaining at his parents' home in Peoria to recuperate from the illness. Halfback, James R. Hogg, was elected to replace Wombacher as the 1897 team captain.
Another key Michigan player was injured before the season began. In late September 1897, Michigan end, Clayton Teetzel, fell during a practice session and "bit off half of his tongue," and was compelled "to live on milk for a week."
Michigan opened its 1897 season with a game against Michigan State Normal School (now known as Eastern Michigan University) from Ypsilanti. The game was played at Regents Field in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines won by a score of 24 to 0.
Michigan played Ohio Wesleyan to a scoreless tie on October 9, 1897, at Regents Field in Ann Arbor. A newspaper account of the game stated: "Neither side scored today in the game between the Michigan and Ohio Wesleyan universities. The Michigan team was composed mostly of substitutes and the visitors had big line men. The only hard work was done in the last four minutes, when the Michigans nearly secured a touchdown."
The 1897 marked the first game in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. The two teams met for the first time in Ann Arbor on October 16, 1897. Michigan won the game by a score of 34 to 0. A newspaper account of the game reported that Michigan's scoring was made in the first twenty minutes, "after which the play assumed the form of a practice game," as players were substituted and kicking and defense were the feature for the rest of the game. According to the report, the "Ohio players made no impression on the university of Michigan line," as Michigan's varsity "showed up in fine form during the first half, the play being fast and the work steady."
Michigan played the football team from Oberlin College on October 23, 1897, at Regents Field in Ann Arbor. Oberlin scored a touchdown in the first two minutes of play after the Wolverines fumbled the kickoff. Michigan responded with 16 points to win the game by a score of 16 to 6. One newspaper account credited the win to the famous "Michigan brace": "[T]he famous 'Mlchigan brace' took place a series of brilliant runs being made in the last fifteen minutes of play netting 16 points."
Michigan opened its Western Conference schedule in Ann Arbor on November 7, 1897, with a game against the Purdue Boilermakers. Michigan won the game by a score of 34 to 4.
Michigan played Minnesota on November 13, 1897, at the Detroit Athletic Club's field in Detroit. The game was played in good weather in front of an "immense crowd" that included approximately 1,500 students who traveled from Ann Arbor for the game. Although some of Michigan's "best men" were unavailable to play, Michigan won the game by a score of 14 to 0. Minnesota's fullback and punter, Loomis, suffered a broken ankle early in the first half. The game was largely a kicking contest, with each team punting the ball back and forth. One newspaper account reported that, due to the frequency of the punts, the ball was "in the air nearly half the time." Michigan scored its first touchdown on a drive that started on Minnesota's 45-yard line and consisted of a series of "hard line plays and end skirts." Michigan's right halfback, James Hogg, missed on the kick for goal after touchdown. The Wolverines added another touchdown in the first half on two end runs by Clayton Teetzell and John Bennett. In the second half, Minnesota threatened to score twice, but the Michigan defense "braced up and held it." Michigan added a third touchdown in the second half with Hogg kicking the goal after touchdown. After the game, the Mlnnesota players opined that Michigan was "not in the same class" with Wisconsin, which had defeated Minnesota the previous week by a score of 39 to 0.
Michigan returned to its home field in Ann Arbor to play the football team from Wittenberg College on November 20, 1897. Michigan won by a score of 32 to 0. One newspaper account described the game as follows: "The game was characterized by lack of team work on both sides and fumbling. Hodgman for Michigan kicked two goals from the field. Captain Hogg and Stuart, halfback, did not play for Michigan. Wittenberg was weaker than expected."
Michigan closed the 1897 season with its traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Chicago against the Chicago Maroons. The game was played in front of a crowd of 12,000 spectators at the Chicago Coliseum. Chicago scored first on a 35-yard run by Gardner. Chicago's fullback, Clarence Herschberger, kicked the goal after touchdown to give the Maroons a 6 to 0 lead. Herschberger next added a drop kick field goal from the 17-yard line to increase Chicago's lead to 11 to 0 at the end of the first half. In the second half, Clayton Teetzel, playing at left end, scored a touchdown for Michigan on a 15-yard run through Chicago's left tackle and end. Teetzel added the goal after touchdown to make the score 11 to 6. Herschberger added two more field goals to increase Chicago's lead to 21 to 6. Michigan's scored a second touchdown when Michigan's fullback, Frederick Hannan, kicked the ball for Michigan from its own 25-yard line. The ball touched a Chicago player, and Michigan tackle, William F. Baker, grabbed the ball and ran 55 yards for a touchdown. Teetzel kicked the goal from touchdown resulting in a final score of 21 to 12. Although Michigan scored two touchdowns to Chicago's one touchdown, field goals were worth five points in 1897, and Herschberger's three field goals were worth 15 points.Norwood B. Ayers, Colorado Springs, Colorado - end
William P. Baker, Woodville, Ohio - tackle
Clifford A. Barabee, Negaunee, Michigan - halfback
John W. F. Bennett, Jackson, Michigan - end
William Caley, Boulder, Colorado (Univ. of Colorado) - guard
William Cunningham, Grove City, Pennsylvania - center
John E. Egan, Excello, Ohio = guard
Howard Felver, Batavia, Illinois - quarterback
Frederic C. Hannan, Chicago, Illinois - fullback
James R. Hogg, Knoxville, Tennessee (St. Albans Military Academy) - halfback
Charles F. Juttner, Powers, Michigan - tackle
Leo J. Keena - fullback
Herbert E. Lehr, Marine, Illinois - guard
R.S. Lockwood, Kankakee, Illinois (Shattuck Military Academy) - tackle
Hazen S. Pingree, Jr., Detroit, Michigan - halfback
J. De Forest Richards - quarterback
Muir B. Snow, Detroit, Michigan - guard
Allen Steckle, Freeport, Michigan - tackle
G.D. Stewart - halfback
Clayton Teetzel, Chicago, Illinois - end
Allen - guard
Anderson - tackle
James Chivis Armstrong - quarterback
Walter G. Bain - halfback
Arthur Ganschow - end
Edwin H. Gordon - halfback
James Ronald Henry - fullback
Burt B. Hodgman - fullback
W.D. Kasper - captain and quarterback of the reserve squad
Carl Sears Kennedy - fullback
Thomas R. Marks - tackle
John F. McLean - halfback
Moore - guard
Don F. Pagelson - halfback
James Blakely Pell - end
Ard E. Richardson - end
Fred N. Savage - center
James Shirley Symons - tackle
William Wilson Talcott, Chicago, Illinois (reserve) - quarterback
Joseph Thomas - halfback
Walter E. Welz - guard
Alanson Weeks - fullback
Coach: Gustave Ferbert
Trainer: Tom Cox
Assistant coaches: James Baird, John R. Duffy, Ignatius M. Duffy, Thaddeus S. Farnham, Raynor S. Freund, Frederick W. Henninger, William C. Malley, Giovanni R. Villa, Archibald Stevenson
Managers: Ward W. Hughes, Henry T. Heald