Now for a cheer they are here, triumphant!
we their praises sing
Hail! to the victors valiant
We cheer them again
Hail! to the victors valiant
Since 1898, Michigan athletes have been cheered on by the strains of The Victors, a march that John Philip Sousa called one of the best he'd ever heard.
The song was written by Louis Elbel, in commemoration of one of the Wolverines' greatest football victories, at a time when freshmen were lured off campus for snipe hunts and suffered impromptu haircuts by upperclassmen. The student body was more football crazy than ever.
The Michigan Daily followed every move of the football team, reporting the details of each day's practice. The fever grew as the game against the University of Chicago approached. The U-M headed into the game, held on the last day of the season, with a 9-0 record. Adding to the excitement was the fact that Michigan lost to Chicago in the two previous seasons.
The Michigan Central Railroad equipped two special trains to take 600 students and fans to Chicago's Marshall Field for the big game on a bitter cold Nov. 24. Arrangements had been made so that the results of the game would be phoned back to Ann Arbor.
The game was strenuous and rough, and while there were minor injuries, no player from either team had to be replaced. The winning Michigan touchdown was scored by Charles Widman on a spectacular 65-yard run that became a legendary Michigan moment. The final score was Michigan 12, Chicago 11.
"We were crazed with joy," recalled Louis Elbel, a music student. "We paraded in the dark. We yelled and followed our U-M Band, singing to the tune of "Hot Time in the Old Town." It struck me quite suddenly that such an epic should be dignified by something more elevating, for this was not ordinary victory.
"My spirits were so uplifted that I was clear off the earth, and that is when "The Victors" was inspired. I put in a lot of "hails" and I knew the fellows would get them in with the proper emphasis. Through them, the title suggested itself, and I dedicated it to the Michigan team of 1898."
After the game, Elbel walked to his sister's house in Englewood, Ill., about a mile-and-a-half from Marshall Field. "When I got to my sister's house," he recalled, "somehow I had the presence of mind to write down the notes of that song. And, when I got to South Bend the next day, I not only tried out the song on my piano, but finished the entire refrain. Then the idea of a big march came to me, and I completed the whole work on the train that took me back to Ann Arbor for Monday's classes."
When the Daily resumed publication on Monday, the headline on page one began with the words "Champions of the West." Louis Elbel's victory song, inspired by one of the greatest games in football history, would ring out around the world forevermore.