A PHOTO HISTORY OF THE MUD BOWL 1934 to 1997 ~ MICHIGAN'S GREATEST FRATERNITY ATHLETIC RIVALRY
During the fall of 1934, Phi Delta Theta (PDT) active member E. Reed Low '37 challenged the "house across the street" (Sigma Alpha Epsilon -- SAE) to a friendly game of "touch" football on the morning of Homecoming in a little used valley in their side yard along South University. Low is considered the founder of the Mud Bowl.
The men of PDT and SAE fought a close match which SAE narrowly won 8 - 6. Given the intense rivalry between the two fraternities which were located only a couple hundred feet apart, it was decided that the Mud Bowl would be an annual event.
The Mud Bowl became a revered Homecoming tradition as PDT and SAE fiercely battled each year for nothing more than pride. In the early years, the game essentially was a rough intramural football match played on a field that was wetter and shorter than regulation.
As the annual contest matured, it was decided that the challenge and entertainment value of the game could be enhanced by tilling the ground and flooding the field. Eventually, the Ann Arbor Fire Department contributed to making the mayhem on the field even more muddy by pouring approximately 10,000 gallons of water into the valley shortly before the game.
By kickoff of games played in the 1970s through the 1990s, it was not uncommon for the mud to be more than one foot deep with water covering the west end of the "field."
The PDT-SAE rivalry series in the Mud Bowled ended in 1997 after the 64th game between the two fraternities was played. The records about these 64 games are a combination of fact and myth, but no one disputes that this was the greatest fraternity athletic rivalry in the State of Michigan if not the entire nation.
The Mud Bowl grew into such a spectacle that crowds numbering in the thousands showed up each year to witness the game. The game attracted coverage by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, ABC Sports as well as campus, Ann Arbor and Detroit media. The Mud Bowl became so popular that national brewing companies -- at first Stroh's, and then Miller -- sponsored the event.
Of course, some people have speculated that the presence of sororities playing football, or speedball in some years, during the half-time may have garnered most of the great public interest in the event. Nonetheless the athleticism and intensity of the PDT-SAE matchups proved to be very entertaining for the fans.
While the exact win-loss tally is subject to dispute, it is believed that PDT rightly boasts a few more victories in the series than SAE.
Given that SAE hand picked the referees for each Mud Bowl, a PDT victory typically required overcoming the opposing players plus the men in stripes. For this reason, PDT's hard fought "losses" remain as much a source of pride as its many victories.
If you have pictures or memories of the Mud Bowl to share with the Alumni Association's Heritage Project, please contact us at [email protected]