Nightly News | May 06, 2011
>>> finally tonight, a man of the house, of all our modern era presidents, gerald ford of michigan never ran for the job. he never much wanted the job, but richard nixon needed a vice president after his first vp resigned, facing criminal charges, then nixon resigned and gerald r. ford became our president. all he wanted to be was speaker of the house , where he served for a quarter century. and now visitors to the capitol building can see evidence of how beloved he was in the house and in his home state. tom brokaw haze the report tonight. rt it's often said gerald ford was the right man at the right time for a wounded nation reeling from watergate.
>> our long national nightmare is over.
>> reporter: being the right man at the right time started early for gerald ford . in 1934 , he was a starting center for the university of michigan football team and close friends with the only black player of the team, a gifted athlete named willis ward .
>> back then, you were subject to being ostracized if you became too involved with blacks. tlatd was a test to jerry despite that. he was a man even though he was only 17 years old.
>> in 1974 , the visiting georgia tech team refused to take the team if michigan started ward. steven ford , the president's youngest son , said his father was outraged that michigan would bench his friend.
>> he wrote his father in grand rapids , said he would make a stand and not play in the game.
>> but willis ward persuaded him to play in the game, anyway.
>> he said, you're captain of the team. i'll sit out. i appreciate what you're doing. convinced him to go back in the team, and that's the only game they won that year.
>> the stand he took that day would inform his support decades later for civil rights , but even that legacy wasn't enough to get around the rule that each state is allowed only two statues for the capital. to honor ford, zakaria chandler, secretary of the interior under ulysses s. grant would have to be removed. he was an abolitionist and deserved his spot, an awkward situation until willis ward 's grandson, buzz thomas , weighed in.
>> it was time to stood up, like he stood up for my grandfather. it was time to stand up for him.
>> reporter: tuesday's unfail unveiling, an occasion for ford friends and family to remember.
>> it's full circle generation generationabgeneration generational generationally. ey retired dad ffs jersey.y we were standing on the field, soaking in the people in the stands, and dad has tears in his eyes. as we left the field, a man pulled me aside and he looked at me, and he says, you know, son, do you know what character is? character is what you do when nobody is watching. and nobody was watching your father's life as a young 20-year-old kid at the university of michigan back in 1934 . willing to make a stand for his good friend, willis ward .
>> our thanks to tom brokaw and zakaria chandler fans should know his statue is back home at the michigan state