A great friend of USC Salk basketball. Never met a classier gentleman. Well deserved Mr. Raye!!!!!
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Jimmy Raye came to Michigan State from Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1964 to play football for head coach Duffy Daugherty. When he left MSU in 1968, he left as far more than just a football player. He was a pioneer, trailblazer and barrier-breaker, becoming the first African-American quarterback from the South to win a National Championship, leading the 1966 Spartans to the national title. Now, Raye can add “Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame member” to his ever-growing collection of roles.
Raye didn’t know what to say when MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman called him to inform him about being a member of the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I was speechless. I was momentarily stunned,” Raye said laughing. “It took me awhile to gather my thoughts. I think I said thank you — I hope I did! It was an exciting euphoria, and I was glad that he made the call.”
Raye played on the freshman team in 1964 and was the backup quarterback in 1965 behind starter Steve Juday. As a sophomore, Raye helped the Spartans to not just the Big Ten Conference Championship, but the National Championship as well, playing in the Rose Bowl. In fact, Raye led the `65 Spartans in rushing yards per carry at 8.8 ypc, finishing the season with 192 yards and one TD.
After Juday graduated, Daugherty turned the reins of the vaunted Spartan offense over to Raye in 1966. The junior signal-caller went on to throw for 1,110 yards with 10 TDs, logging a 140.0 passing efficiency rating, which was a school record at the time and still stands as No. 10 on MSU’s single-season list. Raye also toted a fierce rushing attack, leading all the Big Ten quarterbacks with 436 yards on 122 carries, adding five rushing scores and earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. With Raye at the helm, the MSU offense amassed 3,549 yards of total offense (354.9 ypg) on the way to a repeat Big Ten and National Championship.
While Raye’s MSU career was filled with memorable moments on the field, his favorite memory from his time as a Spartan was as off the field, driving to the Kellogg Center, the team’s hotel before home games, with Bubba Smith, the Friday night before the Notre Dame game, aka the “Game of the Century.”
“Bubba Smith and I were on our way to Kellogg Center the night before the game as we normally checked in, and we took the long way around. He was driving his new ’66 Riviera, and we were cruising up Grand River Avenue and he was waving to everybody outside on the sidewalks that were recognizing us,” Raye said.
Throughout that 1966 season, Raye wasn’t just recognized as being an MSU football player, but the Spartans’ starting quarterback, and was aware of the importance and significance of being an African-American starting quarterback at a Division I school in the 1960s.
“I was aware of it because it was brought up to my attention every day,” Raye said. “When I played quarterback at Michigan State, I was the only starting black quarterback in the Division I schools in the United States, and I had been told constantly that I would never play quarterback because that was a position that was considered off basis for a black athlete. So I was aware of it, but it was more about playing than being black. It was certainly brought to my attention on a lot of occasions, starting from being a freshman at Michigan State and during the Championship seasons of ’65 and ’66.”
While it didn’t fully hit Raye that he was a pioneer or a trailblazer at the time, he continues to see the importance of that role now in the present and in the future.
“I didn’t think of it then, but if you look at college football – the landscape of college football – today, it’s very rare to see a Division I school that doesn’t have a black quarterback, particularly the good ones,” Raye said proudly. “I hope that I served some impetus in helping other youngsters pursue their goals and that the quarterback position wasn’t off limits to them, providing they possess the qualities and the skills to play the position. I hope that my playing, particularly as it pertained to integrating Southern schools and maybe, hopefully giving a young man of color the chance to play the position.”
Raye’s role was brought to the forefront and highlighted in a nationally published book by sportswriter Tom Shanahan “Raye of Light.”
“Well initially, I was a little reluctant to do it, but I’m glad I did,” Raye said. “As it turns out, I did because it brought to light what a great man Duffy Daugherty was, and John Hannah (MSU President), who was, before I got to Michigan State, was the Chairman of the United States Civil Rights Commission under President Dwight Eisenhower. He and Duffy had a lot to do with giving young men from the Jim Crow South an opportunity to play in the integrated Big Ten Conference and get an education. I think the book highlights that and lets people know that Duffy Daugherty doesn’t get enough credit for what he did in the time of civil unrest and a lot of turmoil in this country as it related to equality and equal opportunity, in education and in sports.”
Along with his football career, Michigan State instilled several values in Raye that he still utilizes today.
“I learned about having a good work ethic. That you’ll face obstacles in your life, but through perseverance and hard work and stick-to-itiveness, this gives you a chance to realize your goals and dreams,” Raye said. “That was the case with me because I was just a little black kid out of Fayetteville, North Carolina. What was unique about me getting recruited was I played quarterback at a time when blacks weren’t allowed to play quarterback, and even though I went through some excruciatingly difficult times, I survived to play, but not only to play, but be the first black quarterback from the South to make it to the National Championship. That was a very long time ago, and I’m very proud of that fact. I think the lessons that I learned from Duffy and Biggie (Munn) and the whole environment surrounding Michigan State, that denial of opportunity is something that doesn’t have to exist and given the opportunity, I was able to excel.”
And excel Raye did and Raye has. After his well-decorated successful Spartan career ended following a senior season in which he led the team in passing (580 yards) and ranked third on the team in rushing (247 yards), Raye was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1968 NFL Draft. He played two seasons in the NFL before joining the coaching ranks, starting back at his alma mater, Michigan State, as an assistant coach from 1971-75 under his own head coach from his playing days, Daugherty, and then Denny Stolz. After one season at Wyoming, Raye returned to the NFL an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers in 1975, beginning a tenure in professional football that still continues today. After 37 years as an assistant coach, Raye is now a Senior Consultant in Football Operations in the role of Career Development and Diversity for the National Football League.
“I coached for 37 years in professional football, but I enjoy the job that I have now because it’s really not as taxing as the coaching and it allows me to keep my hand in it in terms of minority development, career development for young black coaches and it gives me a chance to stay around the game,” Raye said.
Looking back on his time as a Spartan student-athlete, Raye wants people to look back on him not as a football player, but in reference to that of the leader of a marching band.
“I hope when people look back and remember me, it’s like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his `Drum Major Instinct’ sermon, that when people say that I was a drum major for change, that they say I was also a drum major that changed people’s minds and made the world a better place because of it,” Raye said.
Raye has indeed made the world a better place, being a key figure in the integration of football not just at Michigan State, but across the landscape of college football throughout the country.
Football remains strong and prevalent in his family, as his son, Jimmy Raye III, is Senior Personnel Executive for the Detroit Lions, entering his 24th season in the NFL. Raye’s daughter, Robin Michelle Alston, lives in Houston, and he has two grandchildren, granddaughter Avery Alston, who is 12, and grandson Derrick Alston, who is a sophomore forward on the Boise State men’s basketball team, and Raye is excited about watching and following his athletic career.
The Spartan great is deeply honored to be inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, an accomplishment that Raye humbly recognizes wasn’t on his own and is grateful to all the people that helped him.
“There’s a number of people I’d like to thank,” Raye again proudly said. “My parents obviously, my mom and dad, for having the trust and the belief that I could go that far away from home and leave the segregated South in search of an education and an opportunity. Duffy Daugherty for giving me that opportunity. And all of my teammates that rode that bus, or that train, out of the Jim Crow South in search of equal opportunity or better opportunity for an advancement in education and athletics: Bubba Smith from Beaumont, Texas; Sherman Lewis from Louisville, Kentucky; Earl Lattimer from Dallas, Texas; Gene Washington from La Porte, Texas; Jimmy Summers from Orangeburg, South Carolina; Eric Marshall from Oxford, Mississippi; Ernie Pasteur from Beaufort, North Carolina; Charlie “Mad Dog” Thornhill from Roanoke, Virginia; Jimmy Garrett from Columbia, South Carolina. And so many others that were able to persevere and succeed out of the Jim Crow South and hopefully the things that we did and accomplished, that they had a change in the way some people think and that we made the world a better place.”
Raye has had many roles and titles along the way to making the world a better place, and from now on, will proudly do so as a Michigan State Athletics Hall of Famer.