Michigan football adds new layer to Northwestern game with rivalry trophy

Michael Cohen
Detroit Free Press

If anyone needed further proof of how cheerful the mood is within Schembechler Hall following Michigan football's 6-0 start, the scene at practice over the weekend should cement the idea.  

Coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff gave the players a little time off toward the end of the bye week before preparations for Northwestern began. What might have been a sluggish return instead shed light on this team’s commitment.

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“One thing I really continue to be pleased with is just how they attack every single day,” Harbaugh said during his weekly news conference on Monday. “I mean, they didn’t practice Friday, they didn’t practice Saturday, they came back Sunday and we had as good a practice in terms of guys moving around, knowing what they were doing, locked in and focused, as I’ve ever seen a team come back off a two-and-a-half-day break. That was really exciting.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh looks on in the first quarter against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 2, 2021 in Madison, Wis.

In other words, when the Wolverines are winning, everybody loves coming to work.

“I thought we were flying around on both sides of the ball yesterday at practice, so that’s a good sign always after having a little break,” defensive tackle Chris Hinton said. “It felt like the morale was high, like everybody was just excited to be back.”

Their concentration will be tested this week as Michigan approaches its final hurdle before a potential showdown of undefeated teams in East Lansing on Oct. 30. Michigan State did its part by improving to 7-0 with a narrow win over Indiana on Saturday, and now the Wolverines are tasked with holding serve as three-touchdown favorites over the Wildcats.

U-M already pushed through proverbial trap games on two occasions this season. Harbaugh’s club bludgeoned Northern Illinois in its final non-conference matchup before opening Big Ten play against Rutgers. And then U-M inched past Rutgers with a rivalry game against Wisconsin on the horizon.

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The test this week is to channel that mindset again as U-M’s first ranked opponent of the season looms.

Michigan defensive tackle Chris Hinton rushes against Rutgers at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Sept. 28, 2019.

“We can’t look to next week because we’ve got a very good opponent coming in on Saturday against Northwestern,” Hinton said. “We’ve got to take every week one game at a time because if we don’t handle our business this week, then next week and the week after is not as significant. We want to go 1-0 every weekend so by the end of the season we’re 12-0.”

Vying for a trophy

Michigan and Northwestern will compete for a new piece of hardware Saturday after the schools created the George Jewett Trophy in honor of George Jewett II, the first Black man to play football at each school.

Raised in Ann Arbor, Jewett enrolled at Michigan after being named valedictorian at Ann Arbor High, now known as Ann Arbor Pioneer. He pursued a medical degree at U-M while playing football for the Wolverines during the 1890 and 1892 seasons as a halfback, fullback and kicker.

Jewett left Michigan in 1893 and enrolled at Northwestern, where he completed his medical degree while playing two additional seasons. Jewett eventually became a doctor in Chicago before returning to Ann Arbor in 1899.

The George Jewett Trophy is the first rivalry game trophy named for a Black person in FBS history.

“It has tremendous depth to it, and we’re very excited to be playing for this trophy,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something significant.”

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Harbaugh told reporters he has a personal connection to the trophy from his time at Tappan Junior High in Ann Arbor — now Tappan Middle School — where Jewett’s grandson was an assistant principal. And for Hinton, whose mother (basketball) and father (football) were star athletes at Northwestern, the trophy carries both familial and historical significance.  

“The first African-American to play on both teams, I mean, that’s huge with everything that African-Americans have endured throughout this country,” Hinton said. “For him to set that milestone, I think it’s huge. When you look at teams down south and teams up north, when you look to see who was the first African-American to play, I mean the first African-American to play in the south was not that long ago. So I think it’s super significant for him to play at the time that he played. It means a lot.”

Michigan's Roman Wilson tries to get past Wisconsin's Alexander Smith during the first half Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Madison, Wis.

Harbaugh mum on injuries

After a remarkably healthy start to the year for Harbaugh’s club, Michigan began experiencing some injury issues leading up to the Nebraska game.

Wide receiver Roman Wilson suffered an undisclosed injury during his career-best performance against Wisconsin and not travel to Nebraska. Offensive lineman Zak Zinter (leg) and Trevor Keegan (shoulder) both dropped out against the Cornhuskers. After the game, Harbaugh implied their injuries were preexisting when he said both players held on as long as they could.

Harbaugh provided little information when asked about those players during his Monday news conference, though he previously told reporters the injuries did not seem long-term in nature.

On his radio show Monday evening, Harbaugh said "there's a good possibility" all three players will be available against Northwestern and he'll have a better idea following Tuesday's practice.

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.