The Wolverine

November 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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68 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2021 BY JOHN BORTON I t's not often a prep quarterback comes to Michigan after getting shot in the throwing arm. Mark Elzinga did, and that slug marked only the beginning of his resilience. From a simmering mix of pride and disappointment at Michigan, to a shift- ing career path, through the "25-year plan" toward a degree, Elzinga perse- vered. He ultimately made peace with it all, finding fulfilment in having donned the winged helmet. "It was an honor to play football here," Elzinga offered. "Next year, it will be 50 years." An honor, no question. Easy? No, it's never easy, and Elzinga faced added chal- lenges throughout. Those began in his final year at Bay City Handy, when he opted to attend a district finals basketball game between Saginaw High and Bay City Central. Fol- lowing the battle on the court, a fight erupted outside. "I got involved in it, was someplace I shouldn't have been and got shot in my right arm, my throwing arm," Elzinga recalled. "My arm, over the years, has taken unbelievable abuse." This time, his arm experienced the bullet entering, exiting and eventually lodging in Elzinga's back. The shot heard 'round Bay City didn't deter Michigan or Elzinga's recruiter, Gary Moeller. They welcomed him to Ann Arbor, putting him on scholarship once he made his freshman grades. He wouldn't see the field his first two years as a Wolverine. Ineligible like freshmen were in 1972, he sat out that year and redshirted as a sophomore in 1973. A scout team leader, Elzinga quickly discovered Bo Schembechler's reserve quarterbacks weren't coddled. "We were blockers," Elzinga recalled with a laugh. "We had a scrimmage our sophomore year, and we were doing a third-and-eight scrimmage, where we'd be primarily passing. There was no one open, so I ran for it. "Dave Brown came up, and he was about ready to tackle me. He kind of fell at my legs and tried to wrestle me to the ground. For whatever reason, he was un- derneath me. I said, 'Dave, play's over!' The whistle had blown, and he was still trying to wrestle me to the ground. "That year, he was a captain of the team. I didn't have too much to say. Looking back on it, it was just funny." The end of the '73 season wasn't funny at all, older Michigan fans recall. That in- volved the 10-10 tie with Ohio State, and Big Ten athletics directors voting to send the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl. "Bo was hot," Elzinga assured. "It was sad for Denny [Franklin] and Dave Brown. They were both our captains. I felt sorry for them. What did they go, 30-2-1, and didn't go to a bowl game? It was terrible. "Every game against all those oppos- ing schools that voted against us were considered red-letter games. In '74, be- fore we went out for the first game, he knocked over the chalkboard. That was one of Bo's strong points, obviously — motivation." Franklin came down with a virus at the beginning of the 1974 season. That meant Elzinga, who hadn't seen the field in a game since high school, trotted out as Michigan's starting quarterback to open the campaign. Or levitated out, as it were. "After not playing for two years, I kind of floated down to the stadium floor, down the tunnel," he recalled. "That's one of those lifelong dreams." The Wolverines actually opened with a Big Ten game, facing Iowa. Elzinga guided them to a solid 24-7 victory, throwing one touchdown pass. "It went smooth," Elzinga said. "I didn't fumble, didn't throw an intercep- tion. I watched it just the other day. It was pretty cool." Franklin soon returned, and Elzinga moved back into the shadows of a substi- tute. He made the most of his opportuni- ties, though, extending one. "Each game, I played a little bit," he said. "We went out to Stanford, and we beat them, 27-16. The game was in hand, and I got in the last series or whatever. I called a timeout, and Bo was pissed. "The day was done. We had won, and there was less than a minute left. He said, 'You shouldn't have called a timeout.' … But I was excited about playing." The Wolverines experienced heart- break at year's end once again, losing 12- 10 in Columbus. Schembechler swore to his dying day that a last-second field goal attempt by Mike Lantry was good, but officials didn't concur. Elzinga isn't convinced, either. "I ran out on the field. It wasn't good," he said. "I don't think so. I was stand- ing right next to Bo. I ran out, five, eight yards, to watch it go. Maybe if the goal post would have been extended another 10 feet, it would have hit it and popped in. "A lot of Michigan people thought, 'Oh, yeah, it went through! We got screwed!' I ran out there, and I was pretty close. It could have gone either way." Elzinga didn't think the quarterback job could go either way in 1975. "I was heir apparent at that point," he Elzinga (No. 16) played for two Big Ten championship squads, throwing for 237 yards and three touchdowns as a backup quarterback, while rushing for 197 yards and three more scores. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETICS   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Mark Elzinga Absorbed Wounds, But Fought Through

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