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Michigan, Northwestern honor Big Ten’s first Black football player with new trophy

Michigan and Northwestern made college football history Thursday morning, announcing the George Jewett Trophy. It will be the first rivalry game trophy named after an African-American football player in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history. 

Jewett is the perfect person to hold this honor, as his name is synonymous with both universities. Jewett was the first African American to play football at Michigan and Northwestern. Along with that, he’s the first black football player in the Big Ten Conference. 

At Ann Arbor High School, now known as Ann Arbor Pioneer, Jewett was a standout in track, football, and baseball. He held the distinction as one of the fastest runners in the midwest. Additionally, Jewett was also the class valedictorian. While those accomplishments are outstanding, they pale in comparison to what he did in college. 

The arrival and departure of Jewett at Michigan is a story worthy of discussion.

George Jewett began his collegiate career at Michigan during the 1890 and 1892 seasons. As a Wolverine, he starred as a fullback, halfback, and primary kicker. Along with being Michigan’s primary threat on offense, Jewett was a force to be reckoned with on defense as well. He was not a student during the 1891-1892 season. However, returned in 1892 to help lead Michigan to a 7-5 record. 

One of his most memorable games as a Wolverine came in 1892 against Oberlin. Coached by the great John Heisman––whose name graces college football’s highest individual player honors––Oberlin suffered a 26-24 loss to Michigan. According to reports, both schools agreed on a set time that the game would end. The reason was so Oberlin could catch their train in time. Oberlin claimed the time expired, but Michigan stated two minutes were remaining on the clock. Oberlin would leave the field, celebrating a victory. Nevertheless, Michigan had other plans. The Wolverines would center the ball, allowing Jewett to walk in the game’s final score. Jewett finished the game with four touchdowns.  

During that year, Heisman referred to him as a “superior athlete.”

Unfortunately for Jewett, his time at Michigan eventually was cut very short. 

As a student, Jewett studied medicine and played football simultaneously. Despite achieving in both lanes, Michigan’s Medical Dean, Victor Vaughn, soon disapproved of it. Instead, he insisted that Jewett pick between his two loves: football or studying medicine. Jewett disagreed with Vaughn’s suggestions, and it would soon backfire. 

Instead of choosing between the two, he left Michigan for Northwestern. As a Wildcat, Jewett was a stellar athlete. He played two more seasons of football before graduating, earning his medical degree. Upon leaving Northwestern, Jewett earned yet another honor. He became the first African American to letter in football for any of the schools that formed the Big Ten.

It took 40 years on the dot before Michigan awarded a varsity letter to another black player.

Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel spoke on the landmark announcement Thursday morning. 

“This is a historic moment in major college football history,” said Warde.

 “We are proud to partner with our peer institution, Northwestern, to recognize and honor an African American pioneer in George Jewett. George achieved at a high level as an athlete and doctor. His hard work and effort led to success not only for himself, but for those who would follow a similar path after him. His excellence at two Big Ten institutions as a student, athlete, and citizen is something we want our current student-athletes to aspire to during their collegiate experience.”

“The George Jewett Trophy will become a proud celebration of the importance to diversity on our teams, campuses, and in our society.”

Warde Manuel wasn’t the only person who had strong thoughts on the monumental occasion, as Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren released a statement also.

“Dr. George Jewett’s academic, athletic, community and cultural accolades transcend time,” stated Warren.

“We are proud that the University of Michigan and Northwestern University will honor Dr. Jewett’s extraordinary humanity, courage, intelligence, success and legacy with the first rivalry game trophy featuring an African American football player in FBS and Big Ten history. Dr. Jewett’s dedication and perseverance to achieve excellence in every area of his life are an inspiration to every man and woman and provide evidence that with hard work and passion there are no limitations to achieving your dreams. We must continue to work together to honor Dr. Jewett by eliminating racism and hate and creating equality in our society.”

The George Jewett Trophy addition gives Michigan their third rivalry game with a trophy on the line. Michigan has two additional Big Ten rivalry games with a trophy on the line. First, there is “The battle for the Little Brown Jug” with Minnesota. Then of course, there is the in-state rivalry game with Michigan State for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

The George Jewett Trophy will become the 16th rivalry game trophy in the Big Ten.

Michigan and Northwestern’s first game with the George Jewett Trophy on the line will be on Oct. 23, 2021, in Ann Arbor.

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