Through the Trifocals

Illinois has a big football game coming up this Saturday with Purdue, and we are an underdog. Illinisports believes we need a pep talk from a master orator to inspire us on to victory. He has solicited for this purpose the expertise of "Mr. Illini" Ray Eliot to share one of his uplifting speeches in this column.

Ray Eliot, who had an 83-73-1 record as the Illini's head football coach from 1942 through 1959, was known nationally for his inspirational and rousing speeches. It was estimated that Eliot's oratory during pregame and halftime meetings helped the Illini to an average of at least one upset victory each season he coached, and it was easy to see why.

He was dynamic and dramatic, and he bubbled over with enthusiasm and energy. He also had an excellent sense of timing. He could play on your heart-strings, manipulating your emotions until you were filled with intense feelings. After hearing a Ray Eliot speech, football players were ready to tear down the locker room door to get at their opponents. Eliot was affectionately called "Mr. Illini" for his undying love and loyalty to the University of Illinois, and that love resounded from all his speeches.

That is exactly what our present Illini team needs right now, with the undefeated and scary Purdue Boilermakers ready to visit Memorial Stadium this weekend. Purdue has a Heisman Trophy candidate in senior quarterback Kyle Orton, receivers in abundance, and a retooled defense that appears as strong as last year even without several NFL draft choices. If there was ever a crossroads where Illinois needed something special to pull the improbable upset, to regain confidence and pride, this is the week.

If only we could bring Ray Eliot back to talk to our young men. If only we could get Coach Eliot to remind them what it means to be Fighting Illini. Eliot could make the impossible possible, so perhaps he could do the same for us now. You doubt my veracity? While the written word is a poor substitute for the real thing, let's allow Coach Eliot to remind us what he has to offer, in his own words.

Illinisports: Coach Eliot, which do you think is more important in a football player, the physical or mental aspect?

Coach Eliot: "The appreciation of the mental is a terribly big subject. I believe at Illinois, that we do a better job of coaching off the football field than we do on the football field. Because I am going to teach and try to straighten out every man's mind on the squad...MIND. Don't you realize, sir, that insofar as the physical is concerned, that outside the physical action that could be described as sitting on a hot stove and rising quickly without any thought, that everything that you make the body do, every THING you make the body do, has gotta come through the mind, has gotta come through direction? Hell, man, you've gotta start with the mind.

"If that left end doesn't work for me, I can't go trading him off to someone, I can't buy him like the pros. You see these fine physical specimens, fine speed, fine body, fine this, but he doesn't have IT. What do you mean by IT? It is Mental, it is you, it is YOU. Some of you are tall, some short, some are fat, some are skinny, it doesn't matter whether you have 10 fingers or nine, it doesn't mean a thing. What is YOU is inside of you and what you believe. THAT is you. If you haven't got the courage of your convictions, then what have you got?

"That's why I love football because we have got to face it head on...HEAD ON. Everything we've gotta do is by collision."

IS: Can you clarify further what you mean by the word "mental"?

RE: "I divide mental into three categories. One, courage. The courage to throw your bodies around on the field of play. And in football we've gotta have contact courage, the courage to hit. And we've gotta HIT. And you academicians will tell me I can't do anything about courage...the HELL I can't.

"Someone tried to do something about it in the most round about way in the world by putting facemasks on the helmets. Took the element of adventure out of it. Football wasn't meant to be played that' a MAN'S sport. It's the only damned game the girls don't play. It's a great thing, and from it has got to come manhood. Something in your soul has gotta come out of this thing. COURAGE!

"The second thing is game intelligence. Smartness. Taking care of that body in good shape. Knowing it is a motor that can be run down. DO something with it. THINK out everything. Just damned good horse sense that doesn't have to come from a book. Intelligence, smartness. How many plays would you like to have over last year? How many times in the game of life would you like to blot out something? Smartness.

"But the third thing, sir, is the most important thing of all. The MOST important thing of all. And for want of a better name, I call it the proper state of mind. The PROPER STATE OF MIND. Define? I can't define it possibly. I'll give you my's something that comes into your souls that says 'I CAN, I WILL, I MUST.' And regardless of odds, regardless of odds, REGARDLESS OF ODDS, I'll get the job done. Tempered only, if you will, by the phrase, 'in a sportsmanlike way.' Because we know there's nothing to savor to the victory that is ill-gotten. We can only enjoy that which we have won in a sportsmanlike way. Sportsmanship defined is easy: doing unto others what you would have them do unto you. The will to win."

IS: Can you tell us how we can develop the will to win?

RE: "I got off the plane to Tokyo, 36 hours across the water, 36 damned hours, what a great guy I am. 'You're terrific.' I was patting myself on the back. 'You've got guts.' 'You're terrific.' That is, until I realized that people were doing this flight every day. And I remembered not so long ago another guy travelled across the Atlantic in a crate. And all the things I thought were great, I just became a humble person again.

"Football is the greatest leveler we ever had in the world. Any time that you think you know it all, any time you think you're tough, anytime you think you are the only thing in the world, boy, you're ready for a big fall. Because the only place you can go is down. Football is a great leveler. A great leveler.

"But this will to win, this dynamic something, this confidence, this spirit, this stuff that is inside of you, how do you develop it? When I think about great teams, I think back to 1944. Anyone that could breathe could play at our place. As long as the pulse was going, we were in business. Hell, the war was on, we had no Navy, we had no Marine Corps, anyone that was in the Army couldn't play. So, boy, I'll tell you what we did. And I'll tell you what our squad was that year. We handed out 27 letters in 1944, and 21 of the 27 letters went to 17 year old boys. Two of the remaining 6 letters went to 16 year old boys. That team led the United States of America in yards gained."

IS: That is an amazing statistic. Tell us more about that team.

RE: "In my office that summer, in came a young boy named Eddie Bray. 139 pounds, skin and bones, came in and said, 'I want to play.' I took one look at him and said, 'We've gone to the bottom of the barrel.' But if I had to name my all-time best backfield, Mr. Bray would be my left halfback. 'Cause in four years in the Big 10, he owns an average yards per try of 8.1. Fast, no, he never made the track team. He had no speed, but all the heart, guts, willingness, insides...WHAT a man, WHAT A MAN!

"Oh, you you might say we played a soft schedule. We played seven Big 10 schools, we played Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Great Lakes. I'll bring you to Great Lakes in just a moment. I think Paul Brown, then the coach of Great Lakes, stopped every monster over 270 pounds in the service and put a suit on him. I never saw so many damned behemoths in my life.

"All-Pro tackles, All-Pro ends. The backfield was made up of Avery of Minnesota at one halfback, Sanse(sp?) of Southern Cal at the other halfback, and Mello(sp?), the All-American from Notre Dame, at fullback. I forget their quarterback's name right now. Graham? Maybe it was. Anyway, they had a hell of a team. They couldn't play a 6-man line. The damn field wasn't wide enough, they had to play a 5-man line the whole damned ball game.

"I brought the kids out onto the field. I walked out in those days hand in hand, boy, hand in hand with these twenty-seven guys. Well, I'm a long way from home with these guys, see? We loosened up in the endzone, that was all the room we needed. We went inside, we had a cup of tea. I said, how many of you guys want to play this game? The whole 27 stood up. BOY! Seventeen year old backfield!

"At the end of the first half, we led 19-6. We couldn't hold up. 26-26 was the final score, and with that score and 19 seconds left, this big Mr. Mello, BIG Mr. Mello, came through the middle of that line and started goalward. And the only thing between him and a touchdown was that kid Bray, that safety.

"When I saw the two bodies coming close together, I put my hands over my eyes because I probably wondered what I was gonna say to Mrs. Bray the next Monday, that was about the size of it. But that little old kid put his bony old shoulders on the oncoming piston-like legs of that great All-American. BANG! Picked him up and sent him back the way he was coming from and laid on him 'til the clock ran out.

"Now mind ya, I would like you to investigate for a moment a situation you see in football all the time. For here, coming down the field now is a 220 pound All-American. Tough. Big. Strong. Fast. And here, the only thing standing in his way was a kid back there, 17 years of age, 139 pounds. Now what's to bring that guy down, bones and muscles? His biceps were no bigger than my thumb. What do you think brought him down? A HEART as big as this building! A never-say-die spirit. A confidence, a poise, a WILL TO WIN.

"A guy that says 'can't' is licked. He had no 'can't' in his soul. He put it in there and took care of it. Oh, he just as well could have dove along the old greens for it, made everyone believe he made a great try at it, you know. Like we do in life, duck it. Not that kid. That's football. COLLISION."

IS: Can you share another example with us?

RE: "It's just like Alex Agase. He went four years to Evanston high school. Never made a letter. Out for football four years, couldn't make a letter. He always wore number 59 at Illinois because he came into the University weighing 159 pounds. He was a three-time All-American guard...three time All-American guard. He graduated weighing 191 pounds. But you can say what made him great. Fast? Why hell, man, in windsprints he was seventh out of seven guards every night. Heavy? 191. Strong? In our school of physical education, he holds the dubious distinction of being able to chin himself three times. But what made him great, sir...a heart, a belief, a confidence, a poise, a willingness, a never-say-die spirit. That's what made him great.

"He was in the service, he was a Marine, a lieutenant. He went off in the sands of Iwo Jima. He got it down there. All of a sudden, I got a letter back from him one day, it went something like this: 'Dear Ray, I never thought I would ever be carried off with you in my life. But I got it down here. 19 of us went out, and 2 of us returned.' And when I found out the sordid details of this later I found that he was in a mess. But down further in the letter were these words: 'Dear Ray, don't ever think that we'll ever give up. All I'm waiting around for is that moment to get back to those Japanese. Nothing will ever beat us. NOTHING will ever beat us because nothing will ever beat the spirit of the United States Marine Corps.'"

IS: How do you define "spirit"?

RE: "Spirit, if you don't have it, you're a dead one. You're a dead one, and the game means nothing. Bing Crosby said one time, 'Sing, with your mouth? No, no, no. You sing with your heart.' Did you ever hear him sing 'White Christmas'? Did you ever hear him sing 'Silent Night'? The great paintings of the world, done by bones and muscles? NO, from the HEART of a man. From the MAN.

"Like that Olympic champion. That man, that great swimmer, born with one leg. Only had one leg. And they told him, 'You will never make good, you couldn't make good, you can't do it, sir.' And yet he became the Olympic 440 champion. He did that minus a leg.

"The blind golfers shooting in the low 90's. Can you see them out there now, without sight? Shooting well. You see whichever those men are made of. What do you think they are made of? Bones and muscles? Yes, but behind every bone and every muscle in their body is a HEART, is a driving force, sir, greater than anything you can possibly lay your hands on.

"Just like Captain Spike Moran had it coming to him when he was going through what was supposed to be untroubled waters in his American light cruiser. When all of a sudden, a lieutenant came to his side and said, 'Captain, there are six Jap battlecraft off the port bow.' And without even turning around he said, 'Pick out the biggest one and fire.' And when the dust settled over that part of the ocean, there were six Jap battlecraft on the bottom of the sea and one American light cruiser on top.

"Six months after this took place, into my office walked one of my boys. One of my football players, not my son, who had been in that battle. You know, after awhile of talking and trying to get this out of him, he said, with tears coming from his eyes, 'At one time in that battle I had to have an instrument to keep my gun going, and a bloodied hand came up and gave it to me, Ray. And then it fell to the deck lifeless. Dead.' And through that veil of tears he said to me, 'Do you know what gave me that, Ray?' And I said, 'No, Joe, what?' 'It was the spirit of the United States Navy.'

"And there he was, halfway through the war we were, you see, and we were getting beaten pretty badly. And he stood back away from my desk, and he put his hands on his hips and he put his legs out wide. And he put his chin up in the air and said, 'Sir, if you think we're licked,you're crazy. Hell, we'll BUTCHER them. WE'LL WIN!'

"How in the hell you gonna win if you don't believe it? And how can you win without spirit, confidence and poise? What I like about football? Have you ever gone out on a football field to lose? Why no, you haven't. Even if this high school in town was going to play the Chicago Bears tomorrow, they wouldn't go out on the football field to lose. They'd play to win.

"If you lose, there's one thing you've got to have, sir. If you lose, you've got to have a lot of poise also. Because I don't want any part of a poor loser. But you've gotta have it within yourself, sir, and you've gotta walk off with your chin high. Win without boasting, and lose without excuses. You've GOTTA have it. It takes more damned poise when things go rough! It brings more out of you when things go rough than ever when they go good. It brings EVERYTHING out of you, sir. Everthing in the world."

IS: I understand you have a story to tell about the 1939 Michigan Wolverine football team.

RE: "That was one of the greatest football teams I've ever seen in my life. That football team in 1939, what a football team! Five All-Americans on it. Foody (sp?) the left end, Engle the center, Westphal at fullback, Evashevski at blocking back, and Tom Harmon at left halfback. The year before, they had swept the whole nation. Undefeated National Champions.

"And they are right on their way right now. Right on the way, in 1939. In the first four games they played in 1939, they beat Michigan State by a big score. They beat Iowa, the toast of our league at that time. Iowa's only game lost, then, by a big score. (And I would like to pay tribute, if I may, to one of America's finest sportsmen. One of America's finest men, who died in the last war when he didn't have to die. A member of that great Iowa team, captain Nile Kinnick.) And then they went on and they swept Chicago by 85 points. They went to Yale, and they beat Yale by a big score.

"What did we do in our first four games? Because we had to play them the next Saturday. The first game we tied Bradley, 0-0. You know where Bradley is, that's up there in the state of Illinois, a little school. And we tied them. We had no All-Americans, we had nothing. The next game, we lost to Southern Cal. The next game, we lost to Wisconsin. The next game, we lost to Indiana. We haven't scored a point yet, and we're playing the juggernaut of America on the next Saturday.

"We had one football player, one leader. His name was Mel Brewer. And what a crushing blow to him, and to us, when that Monday, the week before we were gonna play Michigan, he was called home for the death of his mother. He had just lost God's most precious gift to man, his mom. We went out practicing during the week, it was terrible.

"We went out to the Country Club the night before the ballgame (we took our kids there in those days, where we slept them and fed them). And, if I could only bring you that moment, for just a moment there, in the quietness of that big room, with the wicker chairs all around, the boys lounging around. No lights in the room at all, just a light in the fireplace here, casting its flickering rays across the face of the boys. They were all listening to Coach Zuppke. And the coach was just pointing out little things about the game tomorrow.

"It was around 8 o'clock. In the corner of the room was a door, and in that door came Mr. Brewer, Captain Brewer, the captain of our team. He had just come back. He sat down and Coach Zuppke saw him and walked over to him and offered him beautiful roses. Zup returned to the platform, but he never reached there because Brewer stood up. And in a voice that was trembling and tearful, he said, 'Fellas and coaches, my sister and my daddy join me in sending many thanks to you for your beautiful flowers and telegrams.' And then, in a voice that became soft, and with a tear coming from the corner of his eyes, he said to that group, 'If you think I travelled 300 miles for nothing, fellas, you're crazy. If you feel like I do right now, we'll go out and beat the HELL out of Michigan.'

"That was the end of the meeting. But I wish you could have been there to just feel the electricity. Oh, God! That air was just filled with it. And there was a tear in that audience. There was sort of a separate jolt that had never been there before. There was sort of a glint in the eye that hadn't been there before.

"And whereas it's awfully hard for us to get the boys to bed at 10 o'clock, that night every kid was in his bunk at five minutes after 9. And nobody asked them to be there. NOBODY asked them to be there. Now, I know because I'm the guy who goes and checks those things. I walk up a long line of cots, no pillow fights, no joking, no fun, no nothing. Just kids staring at the ceiling while laying on their bunks. And saying to me as I walked by, 'Good night, coach.'

"And so, can't we say right now, that the same team that tied Bradley, beat the finest team in America, 16-7? The HELL we can't. It's the same orange and blue spangles, it's the same eyes and nose and teeth and hands, yes, the same physical bodies. But not the same men, sir, because manhood comes from WITHIN YOU, sir. As you believe. What kind of men are you? What do you believe in? What are your convictions?"

IS: And what do you say to coaches to help them find the manhood within their players?

RE: "I charge you, sir, with the responsibility of coaching. Not drawing, coaching. Getting deep into the heart of every boy. And getting out of him the manhood that is there...that IS THERE. Not say he hasn't got 'it' and turn him aside. You are coaches, sir.

"I coached 27 years. I LOVE it. It's one of the greatest privileges of my life to have ever been associated with guys like you who are entrusted with the manhood of tomorrow, sir. You really believe it, and not like I read the papers around that say football is not any good. Damn them, I'd like to get ahold of them once. I never seem to be around when they're talking that way.

"And don't you ever give up, sir, in this game. Don't you EVER give up. And don't you let any alumni group or anybody charge you with anything but the right to get this job done to young America like it should be done. And you might think I'm an idealest. Hell I am! I played this game, too. I've coached it, too. I've been licked, too. And I've won, too."

IS: Coach Eliot, do you have any final thoughts that can help us prior to the big game?

RE: "I'd like to leave you with a little poem. 'If you think you can, you can. If you think you dare not, you don't. If you think you'd like to win, and think you can't, It's almost a sense that you won't. For out in this world, a guy that wins is a guy with a proper state of mind. For many a race is lost before even a step is run, And many a coward falls before his work's begun. Think BIG, and your deeds will grow. Think small and you'll fall behind. Think that you CAN and you WILL. It's all a state of mind. If you think you're outclassed, you are. You've gotta think idealized, you've gotta be sure of yourself, before you're gonna win a prize. Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man, But sooner or later the fellow wins Is the fella who THINKS he can.'

"And if you haven't got that philosophy, sir, you should go to some other place, and into some other profession. God bless you, and so long."

The preceding quotes from Coach Ray Eliot were adapted from a recording of the 6th annual football coaching clinic at Florida State University in 1959. But his remarks are still valuable and timely today. Perhaps someone from the U of I Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has a copy of one of Coach Eliot's wonderful speeches that could be played for our team prior to our game with Purdue. I believe they could not help but feel inspired by it.

And if such a recording was never kept for posterity, the DIA can contact me at I will be happy to share what I have. It can't hurt, and maybe it can help a great deal.

One way or the other, I hope and pray the thoughts and energy, if not the actual spirit, of Ray Eliot still resides within the hallowed halls of Memorial Stadium to inspire present and future members of the Fighting Illini and their fans. There can be no better example of what it means to be an Illini than "Mr. Illini" Ray Eliot.

Go Illini!

Go Illini!!!
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