The moniker “Michigan Man” may lack precise definition, but Wolverine legend Ron Kramer might best embody the essence of a Michigan Man.
Kramer played three sports at Michigan in the first half of the 1950s — football, basketball and track — but football made his name. He earned two All-American nominations in his time wearing Maize and Blue, excelling both as a tight end and defensive end in the one-platoon days.
What makes Ron Kramer a true Michigan Man isn’t his football prowess — not exclusively, anyway. Rather, it’s the dedication he had to the university throughout his life, as Lloyd Carr described after Kramer’s passing in 2010.
Carr described Kramer as a “giant who always cared about Michigan,” to the The Ann Arbor News. “Ron was a positive guy and he loved Michigan – that’s for sure.”
I came to know more about Ron Kramer as a result of Michigan’s Legends jersey program, one of former athletic director Dave Brandon’s ill-fated gimmicks. Kramer’s No. 87 came out of retirement, along with numbers attached to names with which I had more familiarity prior, like Bennie Oosterbaan, Tom Harmon and Gerald Ford.
In that sense, I have to begrudgingly give the reviled Legends program credit. Michigan fans may have largely hated it, and scrapped it almost the moment after the Pizza Baron was ousted from his AD post. However, with the re-retirement of Ron Kramer’s jersey last November prior to the Ohio State game, I gained a new-found understanding of his contributions to Michigan.
He hauled in passes as a player — including a then-record three for touchdowns in a 1955 matchup with Missouri — and he doled out apples as an alum.
The Ron Kramer apple delivery story perhaps best captures what made him the essence of Michigan Man. From his obituary, Kramer reportedly brought apples to campus each Wednesday, ensuring some made it to the university president’s office, and others to Bo Schembechler.
On Thursdays, he’d provide apples to Michigan players after practice. As a 2001 Sports Illustrated brief explains, Kramer’s apple deliveries exposed a new generation of Wolverines to the Michigan legend.