UM vintage game film provides a coach's view of Wolverines history

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Greg Kinney has had, perhaps, the most detailed look at Michigan football history, studying and editing while preserving 55 years of game film for the university’s Bentley Historical Library.

Kinney, the library’s athletics archivist, and his team worked tirelessly the last two years to prepare hours of coach’s 16 mm film, some of which was extremely fragile, cleaning and splicing it, then having them digitized by Scene Savers in Covington, Ky.. After inspecting the digitized versions, they added the finishing touches with roster and play-by-play notes.

UM Football, movie cameramen and camera on top of press box, homecoming vs Illinois 1930.

There are 420 games, beginning with Michigan-Ohio State in 1930 through the Michigan-Minnesota game in 1986, now available for free online viewing. Each game has been condensed to 25 to 45 minutes of film that was not used for television broadcast. Another 125 games, delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be added. Michigan stopped using film to record games for the coach’s copy in 1989.

“Most of the coach’s film is black and white from a single camera, so you're not getting real dramatic on-field action or close-up shots, but it is interesting because you can kind of tell the cameraman’s technique improving over the years,” Kinney said, laughing. “At one point in one game, the viewfinder wasn't working or something, because some of the plays would be half out of frame. There was a play with Gene Derricotte in the late 40s, a long pass reception he ran down the sideline, and you see it from the waist down.

“These are the coach's films, and that's what the players would study in their film study sessions over the years, and so they would just use the single camera from the press box. It varied from stadium to stadium, what kind of angle they were getting on the field and weather conditions, of course, would have a big impact on the quality of the image sometimes. Some home games that got into a little dusk would get pretty dark footage at the end.”

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The Bentley acquired the films in 1992 after Kinney and three other archivists hauled them from a damp basement room in Weidenbach Hall. They were placed in storage and then were moved to the library about a decade ago. The library would digitize game films on a request basis, but four years ago it launched a large-scale digitizing project of film from a variety of different university departments.

“That's really where the demand is right now to get everything online,” Kinney said. “So football films were a logical one to do both for preservation reasons and for access. We wouldn’t run them through a projector, certainly not the old ones anymore because there's just too great a risk of damaging, so we decided to go ahead and do the project and be comprehensive about it.”

There are typically four reels of film, on from each quarter, and the library often had multiple copies of a game, so Kinney and his team would watch to find the best quality. There were several films that were unused and unscratched, and many others that were scratched.

They inspected the film and spliced them together to make one reel for each game. After the games were digitized, Kinney and his group, which included students, watched them in real time to make sure the images were clear and so they could review and make annotations for play by play. They would consult rosters and often cross check through game stories from the Michigan Daily student newspaper.

“People are not going to sit down and watch the full length of every game, but if they are looking for the touchdown, or they want to see Anthony Carter's plays, they can go right to them,” Kinney said.

One noticeable game missing is the upset of Ohio State in 1969, the beginning of The Ten Year War between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembecher, in his first season as Michigan coach.

“Our copy of that is just terribly scratched up, and we're hoping maybe another one will turn up somewhere,” Kinney said.

Kinney has enjoyed the process during which he found a few amusing halftime shows, which he included in some of the game films, and he also has a few favorite games.

“The 1968 Wisconsin game with Ron Johnson and his five touchdowns was just amazing, and there’s some of the ‘47 championship season,” he said. “And Jim Pace was one of the players I always liked, a running back from the late ‘50s who was All-American but never gets quite the credit I think he deserves anyway. He was just this really graceful, cool runner, so I really enjoyed watching some of those games.”

Because of the Big Ten Network and its broadcast rights, coach’s film from the more recent seasons can’t be included in the Bentley collection.

“I think it's gonna be fun for fans,” Kinney said. “I’ve had some emails from some of the more recent players, some from the ‘90s, and they said how great it was to be able to see the old guys, It's not just about themselves —  they really want to enjoy the older games as well.”

To access the digital film archive, visit:

Twitter: @chengelis