The other day, the Admissions Office had our annual office retreat, wherein we deconstruct the entire year in painstaking detail and find ways to improve. The topics are, as you might expect, scintillating: how’s the online scheduling system going?; is everyone clear on who in the office handles the task of processing the deposits?; how hard would it be to update our directory of applicants daily rather than weekly?; and, most excitingly, can we devise a system a lá the library, or the supermarket checkout, that will enable us to know in whose office, at any given moment, we may find a particular application file? Good stuff for the committed office geek.
But somehow, in the middle of the mundane, the topic of Michigan football reared its not-infrequently-omnipresent head. The genesis of the discussion is now a little foggy for me, but it may have been when one member of the staff suggested that we affix stickers denoting another Big Ten school’s mascot (if you can call a creature with a head that consists of the large shiny brown seed of the fruit of various North American trees and shrubs a “mascot”) to the files of applicants who have made themselves particularly troublesome in some way over the course of the season. (Come on. Don’t feign shock. You had to know there would be a few people every year whose behavior excites some disapproving attention by the Admissions Office staff as a whole, right?)
Usually, an outbreak of this kind of fervent football feeling would be quietly ignored (both because some of us as a general rule maintain polite detachment from this kind of partisan indulgence and because some of us are from Ohio) but somehow, this time—I think it was right before lunch, and people may have been experiencing some sort of calorie-deprivation-induced delusional state—various people in the room broke into song. The song was “The Victors,” naturally.
Now, I’m not a Football Person, but “The Victors”? That’s a really good song. Even if you avowedly maintain bemused and ironic distance from football fandom, it must be acknowledged that “The Victors” is a model of its genre. I refer the interested reader to John U. Bacon’s exegesis on the topic in Three and Out to support my claim: After setting out the history at some length (the song was penned by Michigan music student Louis Elbel in 1898 following a particularly exciting win; shortly after its inception, no less an authority than John Philip Sousa declared it “the greatest college fight song ever written”), Bacon then waxes rhapsodic:
One overlooked aspect of “The Victors” separates it from all others. Most school songs urge their teams to make a great effort in the hopes of winning. “On, Wisconsin!” ask the Badgers to “fight on for her fame … We’ll win this game.” “The Buckeye Battle Cry” exhorts the “men of the Scarlet and Gray . . . We’ve got to win this game today.”
“The Victors,” in contrast, celebrates a contest already won.
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!
There is no wiggle room in those words. No hoping, no wishing—just a clear-as-day declaration that the Michigan Wolverines are “the leaders and best,” and everyone else will simply have to deal with it.
Of all the trappings of Michigan’s vaunted tradition, the first is something you cannot see or touch. It’s just a song. But more than the marching band, big house, or banner, “The Victors” established the most important element of Michigan’s identity—confidence—which served as the North Star for all that followed.
But it is not just John U. Bacon who is around the bend on this topic. Within a couple of days of the impromptu retreat sing-along, one staff member (who asks that we all excuse the “auto-correct madness” exhibited in this iPhone post) shared this tidbit from her Twitter feed:
Before you say, “Yeah, she’s crazy,” consider this:
During services for Mr. Ford, the 38th president, over the next few days, the simplicity he sought will be on display in Washington and, later, in Michigan, where he will be interred. His coffin is expected to be carried into the Capitol through the House of Representatives, where he served for 25 years, rather than up the sweeping front staircase. A band will play a somber version of the University of Michigan fight song, a Ford favorite from his undergraduate alma mater, and a song he preferred to “Hail to the Chief” while he was president.
So, you know, arguably the entire nation has been dragged into this carmenferoxiousness (which is my Bruce-Frier-inspired coinage for a term denoting excessive love of one’s fight song). (And lest someone say something cutting about “The Victors” and funerals, I’ll point out that Michigan Law alumni Diann Kim and John Frank are probably not the only married couple who saw fit to make the song the musical mainstay of their nuptials.)
I have wandered far afield. Bringing it back to the Admissions Office retreat, imagine my surprise when I discovered that in the midst of this wild widespread love for “The Victors,” a full one-third of the people in the Admissions Office asserted that they did not know the lyrics.1 True, some were relative newcomers, with less than a year of tenure under their belts, but some … some had been in the office more than a decade! And moreover—come on! There are only 37 words total—and only 14 of them are distinct! One word is repeated eight times! It is not as if I were expecting people to have memorized Elizabeth Gaspar Brown’s seminal work, Legal Education at Michigan 1859-1959 (the Michigan Law School version of Hogwarts, A History).
The depth of my dismay about the failings of the Admissions Office staff was as extreme as it was wholly unexpected. It led me to realize that at some point during the last 24 years in Ann Arbor, I unwittingly turned some corner. My frequent and loud claims of ironic football detachment probably ought to be muted, if not shelved, in the interest of not being revealed as a giant hypocrite. Suffice it to say, though, we have been practicing “The Victors” at every weekly staff meeting since the retreat.
Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions,
Financial Aid, and Career Planning
1Wait, I need to wander off again. During the past admissions season, a few candidates have written emails to me in which they employ the term “Big Blue” to refer to Michigan. Michigan is not Big Blue; Michigan is size-non-specific Blue, as in Go Blue. I always thought Big Blue was IBM, but Admissions assistant director and resident GW Law grad Joe Pollak has alerted me that the GW fight song—which, as Joe points out, could conceivably do double-duty as the fight song for Crayola’s corporate softball team—uses the phrase “Go Big Blue!” I’ll let GW and IBM and whomever else duke that one out.