Monday, October 24, 2016

The Victors

I root for no other college team than Nebraska- that comes from growing up in the Cornhusker state where there WAS NO OTHER TEAM. But if I did have a runner-up, it would be the University of Michigan. My father was born in and grew up a Michigander as he was fond of saying. I like the football helmets, with the wing shaped design, introduced in 1938 and instantly identifiable. But my main reason would be that my grandfather, Harold Hawley, was a U of M grad, receiving his Master of Arts degree in 1922. I'm not quite sure how I came in possession of it- I guess my dad had it- but it's in remarkable shape for being ninety-six years old! GO BLUE!

There is another compelling reason I find some attraction for the school in Ann Arbor. Without a doubt, they have the best fight song of any university I know. No less an authority than John Philip Sousa proclaimed The Victors, "the greatest college fight song ever written." That's a pretty strong endorsement! When I came to WCS in 1998, I learned our fight song, which has no words, is The Victors so I hear it quite often at ball games. What people recognize is the chorus, which is what our band plays. President Gerald Ford, who played football for the Wolverines, would have The Victors played on occasion instead of the traditional Hail To The Chief. He also requested it be played at his funeral, a fitting send off to a decent man in the political arena.

How The Victors came to be is a fascinating story. Like most points in history, it came from a defining moment. In the fall of 1898, on Thanksgiving Day no less, the Wolverines defeated the University of Chicago is an exciting football contest in the Windy City. Riding home on the train, UM music student Louis Elbel felt the current fight song, There'll Be A Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight, was unworthy for such a momentous occasion. Elbel's exact words were were that the game should be "dignified by something more elevating for this was no ordinary victory." By the time he was back in Michigan, The Victors was finished. As mentioned before, the chorus is what we recognize, as printed below:
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan
the leaders and best
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!
Elbel would come back annually and lead the Michigan band at homecoming, until his death in 1959. The picture above is from autumn of 1958. What a fitting honor to the man who helped cement the school's national reputation.

I loved Elbel's quote about the importance of the triumph over the Chicago squad requiring a worthy response. I feel that way with my worship. Our minister, Dave Yasko, makes the point that in Isaiah 6, they are singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty in heaven and you get to Revelation 4:8, roughly eight hundered years in human time, and they are singing the same hymn, just the second verse! In comparison, my thoughts and meditations seem so unworthy of our God and Father. If only my praise could approach on the spiritual level what Elbel's lyrics did to elevate a mere game of athleticism and skill, I feel I would be making progress. Yet he was praising men while I/we should be praising the maker of mankind. Here's a conmforting thought for me. While Elbel extols the conquering heroes of the gridiron, Paul exults that we are, "more than conquerors" through Christ Jesus. All those forgotten football stars who were the impetus of Elbel's piece are long deceased. We will join them someday but with the assurance that we can't be separated from the love of God in Christ. And on that day, we will surely ourselves be the victors. And what a song we'll sing.

Applicable quote of the day:
“Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.”
 E.Y. Harburg

To hear the short version of The Victors, click or copy/paste below:

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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