Ford played center, linebacker, and long snapper for the school's football team and helped the Wolverines to two undefeated seasons and national titles in 1932 and 1933. In his senior year of 1934, the team suffered a steep decline and won only one game, but Ford was still the team's star player. In one of those games, Michigan held heavily favored Minnesota—the eventual national champion—to a scoreless tie in the first half. After the game, assistant coach Bennie Oosterbaan said, "When I walked into the dressing room at halftime, I had tears in my eyes I was so proud of them. Ford and [Cedric] Sweet played their hearts out. They were everywhere on defense. " Ford later recalled, "During 25 years in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, I often thought of the experiences before, during, and after that game in 1934. Remembering them has helped me many times to face a tough situation, take action, and make every effort possible despite adverse odds. " His teammates later voted Ford their most valuable player, with one assistant coach noting, "They felt Jerry was one guy who would stay and fight in a losing cause. "