Wildcats in the Outback

Going to a bowl game is the culmination of a season of hard work for both the football team and band. it’s also the memory of a lifetime.

Photo by Tom McGrath

I didn’t know what it would be like, being drum major for a Big Ten marching band. Would it be exciting? I was certain the answer to that would be yes. Northwestern football, with the team nicknamed the “Cardiac ’Cats” due to last-second wins or losses, always is by definition.

Would it mean extra work? I had never been drum major before but had always imagined that it involved many hours of preparation outside of rehearsal time.

Would it be worth it? As it came to a close at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2010, the answer was an unequivocal yes.

Hail to Thee

There is a sense of immense pride associated with being drum major of the Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB). The most incredible part of the experience is that I stand in front, leading a group of the most spirited and energetic kids on campus with a unifi ed purpose, playing our hearts out and leaving everything out on the fi eld (except our plumes).

As per tradition, the band performs Northwestern University’s “Alma Mater.” In the middle of the song, NUMB sings a cappella. Usually it is difficult to hear due to the level of crowd noise. However, at the Alamo Bowl in 2008, when the instruments came down, the only sound that could be heard was, “Hail to thee Northwestern,” sung in unison by 25,000 voices.

The spirit, energy and love that I feel for Northwestern was, at that moment, shared by every single person in that stadium. It was the most incredible sense of overwhelming pride I have ever felt.

Defining Moments

The bowl experience is defining. It is the culmination of the hours of practice a week, the time spent outside of rehearsals talking about nothing but football and music. It was a reward for the sheer amount of purple one wore and showed off every Friday and Saturday and the “Pride and Guts” our players demonstrated every game day against seemingly insurmountable adversity; it was an entire season leading up to one event.

While the game itself is the main focus, it was not the only thing contributing to the epic nature of the Outback Bowl, held in Tampa, Fla. Every event provides unique challenges for a drum major, and a bowl game is no different, whether it was driving straight from the airport to Busch Gardens for a small concert or performing on New Year’s Eve on the white sands of Clearwater Beach.

However, you can never plan for everything. There will always be something that surprises you. And those sometimes tiny and unexpected details are the things that you will remember when you tell your story.

At Beach Day, which was an all-day pep rally, our band director—Daniel J. Farris—announced that we should all take off our shoes because the sand was so nice. That, I can assure you, aided in NUMB giving one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of.

Pride and Guts

The greatest thing about Northwestern football is that nothing can be expected. As members of NUMB and especially as drum majors, we were at the forefront of this experience, leading any who would follow headfirst into the fray. During the tough times, the responsibility was ours to remind everyone that whatever time was left on the clock was always “a long time in the Big Ten” and that a comeback was just on the other side of the goal line.

Down 35-21 in the final quarter of the Outback Bowl, the ’Cats were seemingly finished. However, thanks to some incredible plays, we were tied at 35 when the clock hit zero.

We were never going to be handed any of our games—the Outback Bowl included—this season. There is always the need to prove oneself to the rest of the world. I have tried to apply this same mentality to everything I do.

This ideology does not always produce the desired result. The overtime loss in the 2010 Outback Bowl, while devastating, could not diminish the sense of pride we held in knowing that we did everything possible for ourselves, our team and our university.

These kinds of experiences are what give rise to the “I remember whens” and the “Back in my days” of our elders. I can safely say that I will have my own stories with which to regale my family when I leave Northwestern.

Take charge and experience everything possible. Take chances and roll with the punches. These are the experiences worth having, and these are the times that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

About the Author

David Saad, a senior at Northwestern University, is majoring in percussion performance. This is his second year serving as drum major in the Northwestern University “Wildcat” Marching Band, preceded by two years playing the snare drum. He has been playing percussion since 6th grade and is a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

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