In Cleveland, Ohio, in the year 1966, Jim Betts was the quarterback at Benedictine High School. This handsome, precocious young man played safety on defense, and also lettered in basketball and baseball. At times, he experienced discrimination both from his neighborhood and from the whites at his parochial high school. To illustrate, in one football game, he was called “Uncle Tom” by the opposing middle guard during their competitive and ferociously fought football game. In this one particular game against East Technical High School, Jim dropped back five steps, and then released the ball on a screen pass. Then, he dropped back three more steps in order to get out of the way of the play. It didn’t matter because this middle guard brutally knocked the hell out of him. Jim got up, looked him straight in the eye and yelled, not one to mince words, “You son of a bitch.” The nearby referee immediately threw a penalty flag for the unsportsmanlike hit. In the huddle, Jim called for the same screen pass play and told the center too lightly brush that middle guard with his shoulder and then let him come through cleanly.
Again, Jim took the ball from center and dropped back five steps. He got in a good throwing position and then threw the ball with as much velocity as he could muster, directly at the hard charging middle guard. The ball was released with such great force that it somehow got lodged in that defenders face mask. That middle guard was knocked off his feet on to his ass and in pain. Quarterback Jim quickly went over and asked “How is that for Uncle Tom?” Jim quickly looked in the direction of the referee, who smiled, as no penalty was called. Jim Betts knows how to get even.
Jim was recruited by Bump Elliott, Jim Mandich and Don James. During that recruitment, Coach Elliott spent more than three hours talking with Jim’s mother while Jim spent that time, talking with tight end Mandich and position coach Don James. Jim’s reasons for attending Michigan was that he liked their winged helmets, strong academics, relative short proximity from Cleveland and these things distinguished them from all the other college teams. So, he accepted the scholarship and enrolled at the University Michigan.
When Coach Schembechler became head coach, Jim knew about the coach’s reputation. He also remembered during that first team meeting, when Schembechler stated “I’m going to treat you all the same; I’m going to treat you like dogs.” And, during the fall practice, Schembechler told him “You are the third best quarterback in the Big Ten behind Moorehead and Rex Kern.” Rex Kern was Ohio State’s quarterback. Betts just smiled.
At the end of that 1969 season, Jim talked with position coach Dick Hunter about switching positions [from quarterback to the defensive backfield] for the following season. Coach Hunter replied that the switch would be fine with him. Jim, immediately looked for Coach Schembechler to tell him of his plans. Jim, in no uncertain terms, directly told Bo “I want to play safety. I am not going to sit on the bench behind Moorhead, because he’s your quarterback.” Bo replied to Jim “You son of a bitch, I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to play both positions. You are going to play first string on defense, and second string quarterback.” That was typical Coach Schembechler. He had to get in the last word regardless of whether he was right or wrong.
On an earlier occasion, Coach Schembechler told his team “Men if you expect to play like a team, you have to look like a team. I want everyone to look the same. I do not want to see any mustaches, long sideburns, Afro’s or facial hair.” The athletic Jim visited, Bo in his office, the next day, and before practice and said, “I cannot shave my mustache as a black man. I can’t shave because it’s a black man’s heritage to have a mustache. Being black, this is part of me.” Bo responded, “Is this a joke?” Jim told him “I’ll go through walls for you, but you can’t ask us to deny who we are as people.” The coach then threw Jim out of his office, saying, “This is a bunch of happy horse shit.”
The story didn’t end, because every five years or so, Bo Schembechler asked Jim about his facial hair, heritage thing. He wanted to know whether or not Jim had been telling him the truth. Finally, after about 30 years or so, Jim finally came clean and admitted he was bull shitting the coach. As if a dam had burst, Bo said “I knew it” and mumbled a number of the unintelligible words. The coach finally knew he’d been had.
Jim knew and believed that he had a good relationship with Coach Schembechler and that Coach Schembechler liked him as well. Over the years, they had many conversations that covered a wide array of topics including religion and alcoholism. Bo’s second wife was an alcoholic and Jim’s father was an alcoholic. Jim knew that Bo not only related to him he also understood, the difficulties in living in an alcoholic environment. Their relationship was not just between student and teacher and limited to athletics. It was between two men who could share innermost and vulnerable feelings and knew there was an unshakable bond based on mutual trust and admiration. It’s safe to say, that both men learned from each and both evolved in the process. They are good examples of Michigan men.
Go Blue Go!