The Hardest Job in the State

(You can listen to the audio version here by clicking “Play.”)

I’ve always said the two toughest jobs in this state are not governor, mayor of Detroit, or CEO of General Motors, but goalie for the Red Wings and quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines, because you can never do enough.

But now I think I’ll switch the order: When fans boo the Red Wings goalie, he’s still a millionaire.

To become Michigan’s quarterback, you first have to be a high school all-stater – and beat out a bunch of other all-staters to earn the starting position. You have to master a playbook as thick as a phone directory, and then you face your toughest foe: Not the Spartans or the Buckeyes, but the 110,000 fans who fill the Big House.

The vast majority of Michigan fans cheer for the Wolverines, win or lose. But, as I’ve said, many Michigan fans aren’t happy unless they’re not happy. And when they’re not happy, they usually focus their discontent on the quarterback.

Just about every Michigan quarterback in my lifetime has faced a tough home crowd at some point in their career – no matter how good. All-Americans, Heisman Trophy finalists, future NFL stars – it doesn’t seem to matter. Rick Leach, Elvis Grbac, John Navarre, even Jim Harbaugh and Tom Brady. If you’ve got the ball, you’re going to hear about it, sooner or later.

Bo Schembechler told his players he didn’t give a damn about the opinions of anyone outside the building. In the team’s first meeting every year, he told them, “If one of you starts getting booed or hounded by the press or the alums or your classmates, keep in mind there is only ONE person you have to please, and it’s ME. Got it? No one else!”

And that brings us to Michigan’s current quarterback, Wilton Speight. Last year he beat out the heir apparent, and led his team to within one play of a Division title, and a shot at a Big Ten title, national title.

This year the Wolverines have won their first three games by an average of 18 points. If you think that would make Michigan fans happy, you don’t know many Michigan fans. Speight’s stats are down just a bit, but he’s repeatedly missed open receivers, and scored only three touchdowns.

Throw in some questionable play-calling behind him, and some shaky blocking in front of him, and some fans feel they have plenty to boo about. Of course, when you pay hundreds of dollars to watch your team play, you might feel that way, too. But there’s something about adults booing college kids who play for a scholarship that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Besides, Speight’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, is one of the most competitive people on the planet. If Harbaugh thought another quarterback gave him a better chance to win, he’d play him.

And if any fans think they know more about coaching quarterbacks than Harbaugh does, it’s worth remembering that of the 110,000 people in the Big House, only one of them played quarterback in the NFL for 14 years – and it’s not the guy who’s booing.



A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism

On bookshelves nationwide November 7, 2017


The most destructive moment of World War I occurred far from the Western Front, in Canada, where an explosion blew a city apart but propelled two nations together. John Bacon, a superbly talented historian and story teller, has rescued from obscurity an astonishing episode of horror and heroism.


-George F. Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning Syndicated Columnist


The Great Halifax Explosion is absorbing from first page to last. With deep research and evocative writing, John U. Bacon has brought back to life this devastating wartime event and illuminated its lasting meaning.

-David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of Once in a Great City


Fans of Ken Burns, Daniel James’ The Boys In The Boat, and John McPhee’s Hiroshima will find in John Bacon’s meticulous reporting a story that literally rocked the world. What Bacon does so humanely, so expertly, and so compellingly is bring this story back from obscurity, into vivid life. Bacon sets the clock in motion, it’s literally ticking as we wait. That is the thrill of this book; to learn to care about these people under Bacon’s expert artistry, and to see this calamitous event rippling through life today. This a story with an enormous heart; this is an author with astounding range as a journalist and page-turning storyteller.

-Doug Stanton, New York Times Bestselling author of The Odyssey of Echo Company


When I first encountered the Halifax Explosion, I knew immediately it was a tick-tock of a story just waiting to become a book. John U. Bacon is clearly the perfect writer for the job, able to keep you awake reading ho­­­urs after your spouse has turned out the lights. In this suspenseful tale of heartbreak and heroism, Bacon deftly recreates a world at war and sheds new light on one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.

-Beth Macy, New York Times Bestselling author of Factory Man and Truevine


John U. Bacon’s The Great Halifax Explosion is the seminal account of one of the bloodiest man-made disasters in world history, which killed some 2,000 people.  This is a riveting, well-written and researched World War I book.  Highly recommended!

Douglas Brinkley, New York Times Bestselling author of Cronkite



A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
Author: John U. Bacon

A history of the destruction of a Canadian city by an explosion as powerful as a nuclear weapon. In 1917, the thriving seaport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was leveled by a munitions explosion of unprecedented force when two ships collided in the city’s harbor. One carried 2,925 tons of high explosives; 494 steel drums of combustible airplane fuel; 250 tons of TNT, and 2,366 tons of the unstable, poisonous chemical picric acid, even more powerful than TNT. The ship was bound for France via Halifax as part of a convoy, the better to avoid German U-boats, until miscalculations ended in a devastating “awkward, dangerous dance.” Synthesizing locally published sources, a family archive, and World War I histories, Bacon (Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football, 2015, etc.) documents the terrifying incident in vivid detail: events leading up to the ships’ arrival; a capsule history of Halifax and a reprise of the start of World War I; the nail-biting collision; and its gruesome, horrific aftermath. Fires blazed, fueled not only by the explosives, but by overturned stoves and furnaces in homes; shock waves blasted out windows, spewing glass; railroad tracks were thrown up, factories crushed, wooden houses reduced to kindling. A tsunami, created by the air waves, quickly followed. Many who survived the conflagration were caught in the undertow and drowned. The explosion, Bacon writes, “destroyed 6,000 buildings, rendering 25,000 people—almost half the population of Halifax—homeless in one-ear-splitting whoosh” and killed 1,600 instantly. Corpses, many dismembered or burned beyond recognition, were scattered everywhere. Survivors at first assumed that the city had been attacked by Germans; years later, trials revealed the culpability of the ships’ captains. When word spread—by telegram—to other Canadian cities and to Nova Scotia’s American neighbors, help was immediate and generous. Boston, especially well-prepared because of the war, sent doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and many millions of dollars in aid. Since 1976, Boston’s annual Christmas tree has been a gift of thanks from Halifax. An absorbing history of disaster and survival.




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3 comments Leave a comment  

  • Glenn E. "Shemy" Schembechler III September 22, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Thank you Dr. Bacon! I will refrain from offering my opinion on our current QB situation even though I may have something to offer to help our fan base understand. With that said, it is a key motivational factor that helps Mr. Speight focus on the job at hand is that he has only one person to please in Coach Harbaugh. It is hard enough to employ a pro style system having three different coordinators over his career with a new learning curve with each. As we delve into the meat of our schedule with an upsurging team in Purdue, let’s wait and see how Wilton plays when the real chips are on the line! Go Blue, Those Who Stay Will Be Champions!

  • johnubacon September 22, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Thanks, Shem. Readers, worth noting this is Bo’s son, who spent many years scouting for the Redskins and Chiefs.

  • Shemy September 24, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Thanks JUB, Not to mention getting my teeth cut with Bo, Mo, Lloyd and the legendary Alex Agase at Michigan!


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