Michigan’s first attempt at a live mascot was carried off by no less a tradition-builder than Fielding Yost himself, longtime head football coach (1901-1923, 1925-1926) and athletic director (1921-1941), first at the Michigan Stadium Dedication Game against Ohio State (Oct. 22, 1927) and again when Michigan played Navy that season.
Yost was a visionary but he was also a competitor. He built Michigan Stadium so that, some day, it could be expanded to fit some 300,000 football fans. (Michigan Stadium is not even halfway there more than eight decades later.) And Yost’s competitive nature drove him to pursue a live mascot for the Wolverines football team.
The rival Wisconsin Badgers had wowed fans by using a live badger to rally support back in 1923. Almost immediately Yost set about one-upping the team from Madison by bringing in a live, caged wolverine. Two of them, actually, Bennie and Biff.
“Today, for the first time in the annals of Michigan gridiron history, a Maize and Blue team will take the field of battle with two live Wolverines as mascots on the sidelines,” the Michigan Daily declared the morning of Oct. 22, 1927, the day of the dedication game. The wolverines were a gift of two Detroit-based alums, Fred Lawton and Clark Hyatt, both of the Class of 1911.
“Up until today,” the article continued, “Michigan teams have had a mascot, and that mascot was a wolverine, a mounted one that has graced the trophy case in the administration building at Ferry Field for some time.”
The plan was for the wolverines — Bennie and Biff — to be walked around on leashes. And when Michigan faced Navy that November, the wolverines were going to meet Navy’s mascot, a live goat, at midfield. But Biff and Bennie proved too vicious for any of that.
The live wolverines were a disaster. When Biff was first placed into his cage a week before the game, he snapped a bar in two with his teeth. Said Yost of the wolverine experiment, which ended after that first season: “It was obvious that the Michigan mascots had designs on the Michigan men toting them, and those designs were by no means friendly.” After the season, Bennie was sent to the Detroit Zoo while Biff was placed in the now-defunct University of Michigan Zoo.
For the full article, see James David Dickson, “The wolverine that wasn’t”, Michigan Today, June 16, 2011.