The Victors

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For the 1963 film of the same title, see The Victors (film).
Sheet Music Cover

"The Victors" is the fight song of the University of Michigan (UM). It was composed by UM student Louis Elbel in 1898 following the last-minute victory over the University of Chicago that clinched a football league championship.[1] John Philip Sousa is said to have called The Victors, "the greatest college fight song ever written".[2] First performed in public in 1899, "The Victors" was not immediately popular, and did not become Michigan's official fight song until many years later. The song "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" was perceived as the school's fight song.[3]

An abbreviated version of the fight song, based on the final refrain, is played after the football team either scores or makes a decisive defense play, such as an interception. Its full lyrics span several verses that run of more than two minute duration. The melody of the fight song is very similar to the trio section from "The Spirit of Liberty March", published seven months earlier by Tin Pan Alley composer George "Rosey" Rosenberg.[4] This song is often referred incorrectly to as "Hail to the Victors".

The phrase "champions of the West" is often misunderstood; it is a reference to Michigan's membership in the Western Conference, later renamed the Big Ten. After Michigan temporarily withdrew from the Western Conference in 1907, a new Michigan fight song "Varsity" was written in 1911 because the line "champions of the West" was no longer relevant.[5] Both songs were highly popular, and with Michigan's reentry to the Western Conference in 1917, followed by an undefeated football season in 1918,[6] the lyrics to The Victors became apt once again.

The University's Flint branch campus selected "The Victors" as their sports nickname in an unofficial student vote.[7][8][9]

Uses and performances[edit]

Louis Elbel conducting the Michigan Marching Band in "The Victors," 1958

Various versions of the song are used at UM functions, including three versions the marching band often plays at football games, a calypso version named "The Calyptors", a Dixieland version titled the "Hoover Street Rag", named after the band's home, Revelli Hall on E. Hoover Ave., and "El Victors Caliente", a Latin arrangement by previous director Scott Boerma. The chorus of the song ("Hail! to the victors valiant," etc.) is played at all University of Michigan sports competitions, as well as many UM band events, first year student orientation and welcoming events, and graduation commencement ceremonies. Many attendees will stand when it is played sing along and clap in rhythm until the chorus when attendees include at each repetition of the word "Hail!" a thrusting in the air of fists. The fist raising has become well accepted as an indication of school spirit. Attendees at sport events have started to yell the phrase "Go Blue!" at the conclusion of the chorus. Attendees at hockey games, have commonly insert "Let's Go Blue!" between the two stanzas of the chorus after "leaders and best" and then is to conclude with "Go Blue!" When hockey games started play at Yost Ice Arena attendees have begun adopting the abbreviated football game version but continue to include "Let's Go Blue!" and conclude with "Go Blue!".

The popularity of UM athletics and "The Victors" have prompted the song being used by the University of Michigan in its advertising. Commercials for the University of Michigan Health System's "The Michigan Difference" campaign have featured the words to the chorus of "The Victors" over pictures of children in hospital beds, amputees and post-surgical patients living active lives, and doctors performing surgery. The musical accompaniment to these commercials is a light chamber orchestra/pop rendition of the fight song.[10]

UM alumnus Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States, often had the Naval band play the fight song prior to state events instead of "Hail to the Chief".[11] He also selected the song to be played during his December 2006 funeral procession at the U.S. Capitol.[12] The Michigan Marching Band played this tune for him one final time, for his last ride from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith played the song at the end of a concert on Columbus, Ohio during their I'm With You World Tour.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shaker, Clay (September 21, 1998). ""The Victors!" turns 100 years old". The Michigan Daily. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  2. ^ Michael Hondorp, Fabrikant Alexis (January 1, 2005). University of Michigan College Prowler Off the Record. College Prowler, Inc. p. 118. ISBN 1-59658-163-8. 
  3. ^ The Michiganesian Yearbook 1999 p.186
  4. ^ Leslie, Dale, "Whose Victors? Did Louis Elbel copy part of another march?" Ann Arbor News (August 31, 2008)
  5. ^ Michigan Marching Band History - The Eugene Fischer Years 1906-1914
  6. ^ Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan Athletics History 1918 Football Team
  7. ^ Mostafavi, Beata (2008-09-22). "Sports talk at University of Michigan–Flint sparks more mascot consideration". Flint Journal. Flint, Michigan: Booth Newspapers. Archived from the original on May 17, 2009. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  8. ^ Morland, Mike (May 28, 2008). "U-M-Flint closer to selecting mascot". University Record Online. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Shoup, Allison (April 25, 2008). "'Victors' not yet a sure thing". The Michigan Times. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "The Michigan Difference". University of Michigan Health System. Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  11. ^ Rozell, Mark J. (October 15, 1992). The Press and the Ford Presidency. University of Michigan Press. p. 38. ISBN 0-472-10350-4. .
  12. ^ Anne E. Kornblut, "Ford Arranged His Funeral to Reflect Himself and Drew in a Former Adversary," New York Times, December 29, 2006.
  13. ^

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