This past November, Joe Porreca, Jerry Brown and George Mans, two former Trenton mayors and one former mayor pro-tem, were inducted into the Trenton Educational Foundation Hall of Fame. All three rose to prominence within our community.
Jerry Brown served as a police officer and reached the rank of police chief before he was elected mayor. Joe Porreca and George Mans served in the Michigan Legislature after being in Trenton government. The three inductees spoke of their experiences of public life in Trenton and beyond, and they acknowledged the great honor bestowed upon them.
When they were finished speaking, retired educator Jack Doyle turned to me and said, “These three have one thing in common — integrity.”
I agreed with Doyle and thought about the difficult decisions they would have to make throughout their careers. I was particularly interested to hear George Mans talk about the difficult decision in voting to close Strohm school while he was on the school board during the 1980s. Mans made this unpopular but necessary decision even though his neighbors and friends were overwhelmingly against it.
Although I had many opportunities to talk about George’s life in politics or his family’s legacy as the oldest family run business in Trenton, I decided instead to talk with George about his life in football.
First, I decided to corral George’s twin sons Jeff and Greg and asked them, “Did you know your dad signed with the St. Louis Cardinals NFL team in 1962?” Both were unaware of this and said they didn’t know what their dad did until after they graduated from college, which sounded like the 1950s sitcom Ozzie and Harriet, where no one could figure out what Ozzie did for a living.
Unlike Ozzie, George held many important occupations. I went directly to the big guy and asked him about signing with the NFL and he answered, “I went to my old line coach at U of M for advice, Jocko Nelson, who told me, ‘George you’re too slow for offense, and too small for defense.’”
George took the advice and chose another path in life. I continued by asking George about his memories of playing football for Trenton High School.
“Neil Van Riper was our coach and we practiced by the old Monsanto plant and we were not allowed to drink water during practice, this was Neil’s way — so when game day came it would be like a walk in the park.”
Mans was selected all-state football at THS before moving on to the University of Michigan and playing for Bump Eliot. Listed at 6-feet 4-inches and 212 pounds, George played in all of his games at U of M and was captain his senior year.
The first college football game I ever watched on TV was the Michigan/Michigan State game in the fall of 1961.Though MSU dominated 28-0, it was a thrill to see Mans interviewed on the field with the graphic appearing on the TV screen: George Mans, captain, Michigan.
George remembers it well, to put it mildly, “We got our derrieres beat!”
Mans completed his college football career, being selected to play in the North South Shrine Game. There were few bowl games back then, so playing in one was a rare honor. With his college playing career behind him, George had some coaching stints before returning to Michigan as an assistant football coach under Bump Elliott in 1966. From the sidelines George witnessed collegiate football history and the dubious actions of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes.
What turned out to be Bump Elliott’s last game as head coach at Michigan — with Ohio State leading 50-14 — was when Hayes decided to go for two points in the dying seconds of the game, an overt gesture at running up the score. After the game Hayes was asked, “Why go for two when it was virtually impossible for Michigan to win?” Woody replied, “Because I couldn’t go for three!”
Woody Hayes was such a beloved figure in Ann Arbor. The next year Michigan rebuilt their team, beginning with a new head coach named Bo Shembeckler, but also retaining George Mans, one of only two assistant coaches from the year before.
Along with George coaching on this Michigan team were former Trenton standouts Eric Federico and Lance Scheffler, as players in Michigan’s backfield. This was 1969, Bo Shembeckler’s inaugural season, and he capped it off by inflicting revenge on Woody Hayes and Ohio State, ending the Buckeyes 22 game winning streak with a 26-12 win over OSU.
George Mans remained with the Michigan coaching staff through 1973, before being hired as head coach of the Hurons of Eastern Michigan. After two years with EMU and according to newspaper reports, George was unsatisfied with the direction of the school administration’s football program, and moved on to public life.
Besides being mayor and state representative, Mans also has held positions of administration in Flat Rock and Southgate. Those who know George Mans best know him as a humble, unassuming man who is admired for the way he has treated people both publicly and privately.
Those qualities were recognized long ago by his coaches and teammates when he was made captain of the University of Michigan football team.
Tony Mazzella welcomes readers to friend him on Facebook, where he frequently shares recollections about some of the interesting people and businesses in Trenton’s past.