Photo: Michigan State website
Jimmy Raye placed his first phone call upon learning he was named to Michigan State’s Hall of Fame to his old teammate and dear friend, Bob Apisa. Only a year earlier they played the other’s role on a phone call.
“We shared a good cry together -- two 70-year-old men,” said Raye, chuckling. “He was as happy for me as I was for him last year.”
Raye’s selection was announced by the school on Tuesday along with four other Spartans: Dale Anderson, wrestling; Savatheda (Fynes) Coke, women’s track and field; Rachel Miller, rowing; and Bill Wehrwein, men’s track and field.
They will be enshrined on campus during Celebrate 2018 that starts Thursday, Sept. 27 through Saturday’s football home game Sept. 29 against Central Michigan at Spartan Stadium. Raye learned of his selection in a surprise phone call from athletic director Bill Beekman.
“It was an exciting call,” Raye said. “It was one I did not expect to receive, but I’m glad I did. With all the time that had gone by you start to wonder if your credentials were good enough to get in. All those things go through your mind.”
Hall of Fame inductions at any level are special because they reconnect athletes with their youth -- same with the fans. But Raye’s enshrinement represents another reconnection -- to Michigan State’s pioneering history.
Duffy Daugherty’s Underground Railroad recruited 44 black players that suffered the indignity of the segregated south and transported them to opportunity in East Lansing.
Raye boarded in 1964 out of Fayetteville, N.C., a year after three future College Football Hall of Famers, George Webster of Anderson, S.C., Bubba Smith from Beaumont, Tx, and Gene Washington of La Porte, Tx., punched tickets. Clifton Roaf (Pine Bluff, Ar.) was the first passenger and Sherman Lewis (Louisville, Ky.) the first All-American as a halfback that was third in the 1963 Heisman Trophy voting.
Raye was the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title in 1966. The Spartans and Notre Dame were named co-national champions by the National Football Foundation. The teams met in quasi-national championship called the Game of the Century that ended in a controversial 10-10 tie and with 9-0-1 records.
The 1966 Associated Press and United Press International title voting went to Notre Dame despite the identical records and the tie on the field, but the Underground Railroad teams accomplished a longer legacy. They changed the face of football.
Daugherty’s influence, following the path of diversity set by President John Hannah, cracked open doors to opportunity in the South and pushed open wider doors in the rest of the nation.
Prior to Daugherty lining up 20 black players against Notre Dame’s one black athlete in 1966, even schools with an integrated history had a limited number of black players. Minnesota’s 1960 national title team had five and USC’s 1967 national champs only seven. But by 1972, USC’s next national title roster had 23.
“I’m very thankful for the courage, the conviction and the foresight of John Hannah and Duffy Daugherty,” Raye said. “I owe them a debt of gratitude for their vision of a better future for America. They gave men who couldn't go to school in their state a chance to go to Michigan State. Without them, this honor wouldn’t have been possible.”
He was known as a running quarterback, but his 10 touchdown passes in 1966 were the most by a Spartans signal-caller since All-American Tom Yewcic in 1952. He only finished second-team All-Big Ten, but that wisely wasn’t held against him similar to other hall of fames with rigid guidelines. The first-team choice was Purdue All-American Bob Griese, who was second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Florida’s Steve Spurrier. Griese is in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Raye's finest moment leading the Spartans was played in monsoon-like conditions in 1966 at Ohio State. His play and leadership turned out to be the difference in an 11-8 comeback, a victory that preserved the unbeaten season on the march to the Game of the Century. Otherwise the '66 team would have been forgotten from national annals.
He was plagued by injuries in 1967, but one of the Spartans’ three wins was over Michigan. He had a 2-0 record as a starter and 3-0 overall against the Wolverines.
As a coach, Raye carried Daugherty's Michigan State’s banner in a career spanning five decades. Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy considers Raye a mentor and mentioned him in his 2016 induction speech.
Daugherty hired Raye (1972) and Lewis (1969) at a time when college coaching staffs were virtually all white. When Raye joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1977, there were only seven other black assistant coaches in a 28-team league. He was one of the first black coordinators in the NFL in 1983 when Los Angeles Rams head coach John Robinson named him the OC.
“I’m proud of the longevity of my coaching career,” Raye said. “I’m also proud of my foundation (Jimmy Raye Foundation) and the work with the kids of Cumberland County (North Carolina).”
Raye’s selection is another example of Michigan State reconnecting with many stars from the 1960s golden era that had previously been overlooked. The 1960s was Michigan State’s strongest era as an all-around athletic program under athletic director Biggie Munn, an advocate of an all-around athletic program despite his football background.
Apisa, a two-time All-American fullback, was named in 2017; Don Behm, an All-American wrestler and Olympic silver medalist, 2016; Steve Juday, All-American quarterback, 2016; and Dave Thor, All-American gymnast, 2014; and Bill Wehrwein, All-American track and field, 2018.
Clinton Jones, a two-time All-American halfback, was named in 2012. Three years later he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame, joining teammates Webster, Smith and Washington.
Raye, along with the four College Football Hall of Famers, Apisa and Juday, means there are now seven members from the 1965 and 1966 national championship teams represented in the Michigan State Hall of Fame. The four who were no brainers as College Football Hall of Famers wasn't proper representation prior to the last three classes with Juday, Apisa and Raye.
As an example, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee gathers to vote on a candidate, one question members ask is, "Can you write the history of pro football without him?"
You can't write the history of Michigan State football without Jimmy Raye.
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.