CADILLAC – A bad season the year before when expectations were high.
A new coach appointed just weeks before the start of training camp.
Needless to say, hopes for the 1971 Cadillac High School football team weren’t that high.
Yet what happened from mid-August to mid-November is something very special for the seniors on this team, as well as the juniors and sophomores who were part of the graduating squad in 1973. and 1974.
The Vikings went 7-1-1 in the fall of 1971 under freshman (and only year) head coach Tom Jobson. That was five years before the Michigan High School Athletic Association launched a state playoff system, so the biggest win came in Week 9 against previously undefeated Manistee Catholic.
Players, coaches and others from that 1971 Cadillac team will gather at the Big Boy on Saturday morning at Cadillac to celebrate each other and the 50 years that have passed.
They had something planned for last year but the COVID-19 pandemic intervened and it was pushed back a year.
Walt Falan originated the idea, and he and Bryan Elenbaas – who were both seniors in 1971 – brought it to life.
“We all have a lot of stories from this year and we all want to hear each other’s stories,” Elenbaas said. “It’s a great group of guys…it’s a little ‘band of brothers’
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
And now for the history lesson.
Cadillac had a 2-6-1 season in 1970 under Doug Nelson, who ended up coaching that season alone. The Vikings had a talented squad but struggled to take breaks and lost several tight games, Elenbaas said.
When the summer of 1971 arrived, there wasn’t much confidence around the program and as training camp got closer and closer, there was still no coach.
Jobson stepped in after coming to North Flint Southwestern just weeks before training began at Camp Torenta.
“We had player-only training without coaches and Jobson showed up,” Elenbaas recalled. “He immediately made a strong impression.
“Even so, the attitude was not good and to say there weren’t high expectations is an understatement,” Elenbaas said. “We had no idea and we had no confidence either.”
Jobson simplified the offense and defense used by Cadillac, switching to a 4-4 on 5-3 defensive front and an I formation offensively.
The Vikings went to camp with 41 players and left with 26.
“It’s okay because those guys weren’t dedicated,” Elenbaas recalled. “It was all about the team with Coach Jobson. You have to be on the team.
Cadillac opened the season on September 17, 1971 with an 8-0 win over Petoskey, then followed that up with a 20-12 win over Clio, a 36-6 win over Reed City and a 28-0 shutout over Manistee.
A 4-0 start had turned heads, including Dick Foltz who covered the team for the Cadillac Evening News.
Foltz had picked Clio to beat Cadillac in Week 2 and the players used that as part of their motivation.
“We were in the locker room (after that game) having fun and who comes in but Dick,” laughed Elenbaas. “Oh, he took a lot of gas and it was funny.
“That’s when we knew something good was happening here.”
It was week 5 when Cadillac ruled a bit.
The Vikings had a Saturday afternoon date in Big Rapids at Ferris State’s Top Taggart Field and it didn’t go over well for the visitors. The Cardinals won 36-12, handing the Vikings their first loss of the season.
“We were fourth in the (Detroit) Free Press and Big Rapids sixth,” Elenbaas said. “We got our asses kicked.
“It was 75 degrees and we had no water. Guys were dying. We had to use a scouting report from the previous year and they changed everything about us. It was not good.
Cadillac managed to bounce back with a 6-0 win over Chippewa Hills the following week in which starting quarterback Jon Reitmeyer was ill.
The Vikings followed that up with a 24-21 win over Fremont before playing Ludington 8-8 in Week 8 on November 5.
“They were always our enemies over the years and we had sick players,” Elenbaas recalled. “A few of our incumbents have disappeared because of this.
“Ludington dominated the first half and crossed our 10-yard line three times but we stopped them. We dominated the second half and if there had been one more minute on the clock, we would have beaten them.
This set up the Week 9 game against Manistee Catholic, which ended a perfect 8-0.
The Sabres, a Class C program at the time, had outscored their opponents 169-52 heading into the contest and were confident they were going to handle Cadillac.
“They still remember that game there,” Elenbaas said. “I’ve met three guys on this team over the years and they all remember that game.
“They would have been state champions if they had beaten us. It was an 8-0 class C team and if they had beaten a class B team 6-1-1 they would have been ranked #1 (in state polls).
Manistee Catholic had won the Class C title in 1969 and believed it would happen again in 1971.
“They were a good team but they were smaller than us and they didn’t like playing against our bigger players,” Elenbaas said. “We got up 20-8 on them and that was it.
“It was a good game. It was a great way to end a season that none of us expected to be so good.
A handful of players, including Tom Gilbert, Reitmeyer, and Norm Smith, continued to play college ball with some success. Gilbert was part of the Northern Michigan team that won the NCAA Division II national championship a few years later, while Smith, a sophomore in 1971, went on to do the same at center from Michigan.
Ironically, Jobson only coached for a year as well and quit after the 1971 season. Milo (Dave) Brines took over in 1972 and coached until 1984, racking up over 70 wins along the way. including three unbeaten seasons along the way in 1973, 1979 and 1980.
Editor’s note: The meeting will take place Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Big Boy, 1310 S. Mitchell Street, Cadillac.