September 22, 1945 — Ann Arbor, Michigan
The challenge to open the 1945 season could not have been much greater.
Indiana knew it had something special going into the season, but an immediate tall task stood in their way. The Michigan Wolverines — on the road.
The Hoosiers traveled to Ann Arbor knowing they could slay Michigan. They did it a year earlier by a convincing 20-0 margin. That was only the third win by IU over Michigan since 1900, and the first Wolverine Big Ten loss since 1942.
Perhaps Bo McMillin’s Hoosiers caught Michigan off guard in 1944? Maybe. But this time the Wolverines would be ready.
Or so they thought.
IU had a new trick up their sleeve in 1945, in the form of an 18 year-old phenom from Gary, Ind.
The legendary George Taliaferro’s introduction to college football was at the mammoth Michigan Stadium against the mighty Wolverines.
And Taliaferro passed his first test with flying colors. All he did was rush for 96 yards, complete three passes and handle IU’s punting duties in the Hoosiers 13-7 win.
The Detroit Morning Tribune called Taliaferro “185 pounds of dynamite. His brilliant running, pass catching and pass throwing played a vitally important role.”
While Taliaferro earned the headlines, two other prominent Hoosiers found the end zone.
Future Major League Baseball All-Star Ted Kluszewski caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Raimondi in the first quarter. In the second quarter, future Detroit Lion Mel Groomes caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from Raimondi to give IU a 13-0 advantage.
Michigan rallied in the second half.
A third quarter touchdown pulled the Wolverines to within 13-7, and Michigan had the ball inside the IU 10-yard line in the final minutes.
But the Hoosiers made a final stand, pulling off improbable back-to-back wins in Ann Arbor.
The fallout from IU’s season opening win was huge.
The game ultimately decided the Big Ten title. Indiana finished 5-0-1 in league play, while Michigan wound up with a 5-1-0 mark.
For Taliaferro, the consequences were far more serious.
He was drafted into the Army after his breakout 1945 season. According to Taliaferro, influential Michigan coach and athletic director Fritz Crisler played a role in seeing to it that he was drafted. Apparently Crisler had seen enough of IU’s young superstar on that fall 1945 afternoon in Ann Arbor.
Taliaferro became the first African-American to lead the Big Ten in rushing with 719 yards that year.
Indiana finished the 1945 campaign with its only undefeated season at 9-0-1, and claimed its only outright Big Ten crown in the process.
(Main photo: Front – Raimondi, Back (left to right) – Groomes, NFL Hall of Famer Pete Pihos, Taliaferro. Credit – IU Archives)
The Daily Hoosier acknowledges the great book “Glory of Old IU” for the Detroit Morning Tribune quote above.
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