The Times West Virginian

May 10, 2008

COLUMN: No. 1 jersey an issue at Michigan

By Bob Hertzel

MORGANTOWN — For a sports writer in this neck of the woods, Rich Rodriguez has become the gift that keeps on giving.

This is the slow time of the year around here, finals week, graduation, a time when a sports columnist has to wrack his brain — or what’s left of it after dealing with the likes of Pacman Jones and Chris Henry — to come up with a story idea.

Not this year.

Rich Rodriguez has seen to that.

It’s like they say about the weather. Don’t like it? Wait a minute; it will change.

Don’t have anything to write about? Wait a minute; Rodriguez will come up with something.

You may recall that when Rodriguez coached at West Virginia, very little from the past was left untouched. He needed new uniforms, a smoking helmet, a new offense, a new defense, a new introduction into the stadium.

If they huddled in the past, he didn’t huddle. He had a new offense, a new defense.

He controlled everything, except the line of scrimmage against Pitt.

Now he’s at Michigan and nothing’s changed with him, although you expect everything to change with Michigan.

It has begun already as he has already begun messing with tradition and, in the process, teed off not only one of the school’s all-time great players, but one who is the anti-Pac-Man.

Rich Rodriguez has given the revered No. 1 jersey to a defensive back, after almost three decades of it belonging to a wide receiver.

Braylon Edwards, now with the Cleveland Browns and a man who has established a $500,000 scholarship fund for what he thought would be the receivers who carried on the No. 1 tradition, is upset.

There aren’t many athletes around like Braylon Edwards. He followed in his father’s footsteps at Michigan and, when given the big money that comes with being a No. 1 — there’s that number again — draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, he put it to good use.

No raining dollar bills at a strip club. Instead, he started this $500,000 scholarship at his school and a year later initiated a $1 million scholarship fund for 100 Cleveland school kids to attend college.

The No. 1 uniform meant a lot to Edwards. It has belonged exclusively to a wide receiver since 1979, dating back to Chris Carter. It wasn’t something that was given out arbitrarily, as Edwards learned. He had to work for it, his first two years not being allowed to wear No. 1 by coach Lloyd Carr.

Following a strong sophomore season in which he caught 67 passes for 1,035 yards and 10 touchdowns, Carr awarded him the jersey, but hinted he’d better keep playing well to keep it.

“You might see him wear No. 1 one day and No. 80 the next,” Carr said.

The jersey had huge meaning to Edwards.

“I have been following Michigan football for a long time and noticed that all the great receivers wore No. 1 like Anthony Carter, David Terrell and Derrick Alexander, and I just wanted to be part of that tradition,” he said then.

“Coach Carr told me in my freshman year that they wanted me to prove myself first. Coach Carr came to me after last season and said that I had proved myself and if I still wanted to wear No. 1 I could.”

And so, when he could, he set up the scholarship fund, thinking he’d have a say in who wore the jersey but certainly thinking it would be earned by a wide receiver.

That is why he was so shaken when Rodriguez issued it to a freshman defensive back.

Now it’s true that Edwards didn’t specify that it go to a wide receiver when he set up the scholarship fund, thinking, perhaps, that was understood.

The scholarship’s Web page lists only this as the requirements:

“The Scholarship Endowment for the University of Michigan’s No. 1 football jersey was announced in April 2006. The charitable gift provides support to a student/athlete wearing the No. 1 football jersey. The scholarship endowment will recognize future athletes who demonstrate character and commitment both on and off the field. Athletes wearing the No. 1 jersey are selected by U-M's coaching staff.”

But he also noted that he and Carr set up three requirements for the jersey’s use, telling The Detroit Free Press:

“There are three criteria to receive it: first, no freshmen; second, the GPA; third, off-the-field conduct.”

And so it was that Edwards voiced his opinion during an online chat session on ESPN.com and then an interview with Mike Tirico this week.

“I am already mad that Rich Rod gave the No. 1 jersey to someone other than wide receiver, which is breaking tradition,” Edwards wrote in his chat, promising to call Rodriguez to discuss the matter.

One suspects Rodriguez, who has done enough to ruffle the feathers at Michigan and some other place that he called home, will change his thinking on this, unless …

Unless he has a new helmet and fight song in mind for Michigan, too.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.