Michigan legend, WWII vet Chappuis dies at 89

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Bob Chappuis

Michigan halfback Bob Chappuis, left, gets wrapped up during the 1948 Rose Bowl, which the Wolverines won 49-0 over USC to cap an undefeated season. Chappuis died Thursday at age 89. (Associated Press file photo)

Not the typical sports career: Football star begins college at Michigan, takes time off after his sophomore season to join the war effort, gets shot down over Europe and hidden from Nazis who were working next door, then returns to school after the war and plays two more seasons, making the cover of Time magazine.

Bob Chappuis’ life in the 1940s “was a virtual movie script,” as Mark Snyder put it in the Detroit Free Press. Chappuis, a College Football Hall of Fame member who led the Wolverines to an unbeaten 1947 season and a win in the 1948 Rose Bowl, died Thursday at age 89 of complications from a fall. The Free Press and The New York Times have more about the Michigan standout who went from a B-25 gunner and radio operator in 1945 to the second-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy vote (behind Notre Dame’s Johnny Lujack) two years later.

Chappuis’ B-25 was shot down over Italy on Feb. 13, 1945, according to his Hall of Fame bio. He and two fellow crew members were hidden by an Italian family in a 10-by-10-foot upstairs room, according to the Times obituary — a room with a view.

“We had a drill field right out of our window,” Chappuis said in an interview with The Legacies Project that was posted to YouTube in 2010 (see it in full below). “I woke up one morning and the Germans were screaming and carrying on out on that drill field and I said, ‘My gosh, they found us.'”

Chappuis stayed safe until Allied troops liberated the Italian town. He returned to the gridiron for two seasons at Michigan and two more in the All-America Football Conference — the last with the Chicago Hornets, a team that disbanded after the 1949 season when the AAFC merged with the NFL. He worked in labor relations in Indiana before returning to Ann Arbor with wife Ann in 2003, according to the Times obituary. He is survived by Ann, four children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild, according to the Times article.

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