The 2010 football season created a varied roster of teams for the 2011 Bowl Championship Series. From first-timers to seasoned veterans, each band worked hard to support its team at these major bowl games. Read about their programs, traditions, seasons, bowl trips and halftime shows.
Photo courtesy of the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band
There was no time for a siesta at the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game played in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10, 2011, between top-ranked Auburn University—winning 22 to 19—and the University of Oregon. While both schools have consistently traveled for bowl games, neither had played for the national championship in the past.
All eyes were on the Auburn (Ala.) Tigers this year as the team completed an undefeated season led by controversial Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cameron Newton. For the band, the season was marked by the support and closeness of the “Auburn Family.” Drum major James Earl Corley cites the Rookie Auburn Tigers, or “R.A.T.” program, as one reason for the band’s success. Freshmen are paired with older members, called R.A.T. Moms and Dads, to help them adjust.
The band also enjoys a close relationship with the football team. “The athletic department … wanted the band to start playing ‘Lean on Me’ because the team had a tradition of singing it in the locker room,” Corley says. “At two of the games, the team came over to the band and got involved and got up on the ladder. We support the team no matter what the scoreboard says, and it’s a great feeling when they reciprocate.”
The BCS National Championship brings new attention to Auburn and the band. “So many eyes are on Auburn University right now because of the success of the team and the environment here,” says band director Dr. Corey Spurlin. “Not only do we have the 86,000 in the stadium but also those on television. We’ve seized the opportunity to promote our university and share what is great about it and the state of Alabama. The band really shines when they have an opportunity.”
The band performed an animation-themed halftime show featuring “Looney Tunes,” “The Jetsons,” “The Flintstones,” “Family Guy” and “Shrek.” “It’s an experience that’s really hard to put into words,” Corley says. “I never would have imagined that I’d be drum major or going to the National Championship while leading this band. It’s the experience of a lifetime, and I’m not going to take anything for granted.”
Since director Dr. Eric Wiltshire came to the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., five years ago, every year the football team and the band have gone “one bowl better.” After last year’s Rose Bowl win, he joked they’d be going to the National Championship. Turns out that was no joke.
“When we won the Civil War [Oregon’s final game against rival Oregon State University] and realized we were going to the National Championship, there were people who burst into tears; they were so happy,” says drum major Chris Burkhardt. “We’re in a territory that the school and the band have never been before.”
Oregon is definitely a more modern band. Because of the university’s partnership with Nike, the band wears a track suit/warm-up uniform with a baseball cap.
“It’s a Nike-designed uniform that the students absolutely love, but it’s not your traditional military-designed uniform.” Wiltshire says.
Since its Rose Bowl performance in 2010, the band has experienced considerable growth, with 100 freshmen in a band of 220 total.
For its National Championship halftime show, the band played music from the movie “Avatar.”
The band has a unique relationship with the football team. When coach Chip Kelly introduced a new motto, “Win the Day,” the band incorporated it into its pregame show.
“Chip Kelly’s football teams are incredibly focused, so we don’t interact with them in any real direct way,” Wiltshire says. “We don’t play a lot on offense, and we just stay out of their way because they zoom by real fast. The defense enjoys having our sound behind them. If we can distract the opposing offense, that’s part of our job, so we play a lot while on defense.”
Burkhardt describes the relationship as brotherly. “It’s kind of like we’re the little brother looking up to the football team—we’re watching them all the time, wanting to be like them and do well,” Burkhardt says. “Our goal is to play loud enough to earn them a point per game or by getting the other team to call a timeout or something. We feel like we’re a part of them.”
The Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 4, 2011, resulted in sweet victory for Ohio State, with a score of 31 to 26 against the University of Arkansas. Both bands appreciated the opportunity to perform for their teams, for the large crowds and for each other.
The Ohio State Buckeyes football team from Columbus, Ohio, is no stranger to bowl games, having competed in a BCS bowl—including two national championship games—every year since 2006. But that success hasn’t spoiled the marching band, known as “The Best Damn Band in the Land,” which cherishes every opportunity.
“There are very few years that we don’t go to a bowl game, and no matter where we go, the band will always be there,” says assistant squad leader Justin Crawford.
Football coach Jim Tressel has such a close relationship with the band that when he heard the band wasn’t going to any away games this season, he began making phone calls until they were allowed to travel with the team to Minnesota.
For the band’s seniors, this Sugar Bowl trip was a return to New Orleans, where they went in 2008 for the BCS National Championship Game.
“It’s one of the great bowl games and a good payoff for the students at the end of the season,” says director Dr. Jon R. Woods. “Over the years the trips have gotten shorter because of the economy, but we try to make sure they have free time, so they can enjoy themselves. The camaraderie between the students is important, and we make sure they have a good time as well as work hard.”
At the Sugar Bowl, bands had more time during pregame than at halftime, so Ohio State performed its traditional pregame show, with a double “Script Ohio,” during halftime. During pregame, they performed what would normally be a halftime show, “A Tribute to Stan Kenton.”
“Performing for a crowd where the majority of people haven’t seen us before is a really cool thing,” Crawford says. “I feel like I am the most blessed person in the world to have this experience. Being a first-generation college student and being able to see all things for the first time has been an absolute privilege and an incredible journey.”
The University of Arkansas Razorback Marching Band from Fayetteville, Ark., is big—figuratively and literally. At 353 members (a 10% increase from the previous year), the band makes up 2% of the total student body.
“There’s a strong tradition of bands due to Eldon Janzen, previous director, and now the strength of the football team and SEC,” says Dr. Chris Knighten, director. “Almost all of our students in the band are on some type of scholarship from the band department.”
Knighten believes the band’s success is also due to the fact that the university is the state’s only top division football school, it has strong recruitment from Oklahoma and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the band gets to travel more than most.
A portion of the band goes to every away game, and the entire band travels to two games at its secondary home stadium in Little Rock—three hours away—as well as any bowl game.
The marching band also enjoys a very friendly relationship with the football team. “We have an event called the Razorback Band Spectacular, and this year six football players joined us for the performance,” Knighten says. “Some of them had been in high school band or drum line. They came out to play and all got into that together.”
Unlike most bands whose members return to their school and then fl y or bus to their bowl games, the Razorbacks travelled in two bus caravans— one starting in Arkansas and one in East Texas—that picked up students in different cities on the way to New Orleans.
At the Sugar Bowl, the band performed a halftime show featuring the music of Led Zeppelin as well as a shortened version of its traditional pregame show.
“We’re just really excited to be included in a bowl like this,” Knighten says. “It’s such a unique matchup to have Ohio State and Arkansas with two great band traditions. To see both of those in the same game is exciting from the band perspective.”
With a new sponsor this year and a unique match-up, the Discover Orange Bowl, held in Miami on Jan. 3, 2011, seemed destined for extra press coverage. However, news reports from mainstream media across the country incorrectly reported that Stanford had been banned from performing halftime. To the contrary, both schools performed for pregame and neither for halftime. Instead, the Orange Bowl traditionally invites a big-name rock group—this year, the Goo Goo Dolls. Stanford won the game, 40 to 12.
Known for its vast high-energy repertoire, uniforms of blazers and decorated bucket hats, and non-traditional instrumentation, the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band from Palo Alto, Calif., has a notorious reputation.
“Most people would characterize the tradition of the Stanford Band as irreverence,” says Ben Lasley, manager of the Stanford Band. “Wherever we go we’re all about rocking out and having a lot of energy.”
But perhaps the band’s most famous characteristic is the on-field antics and halftime shows consisting of sharp social commentary, jabs at its rivals or just plain silliness—ranging anywhere from allegories about immigration policy to haikus about velociraptors.
“Although trying to stay within the boundaries of good taste, we’re happy to take on any topic with our field shows,” Lasley says. “We try not to offend; it’s more social commentary than trying to insult anyone. We enjoy doing silly things—we’re out there to entertain.”
Orange Bowl bands only perform before the game due to an annual halftime production number—this year featuring the Goo Goo Dolls. Many news publications incorrectly assumed that Stanford had been banned from the show. For pregame, Stanford lampooned sports news from the city of Miami during the past year.
Prior to 2009, Stanford football had not experienced a winning season or a bowl game since 2001. “The turnaround of the Stanford football program has been huge for that longer-term band identity,” Lasley says. “It means a lot to our older members for them to participate in this experience. Our freshmen and sophomores are probably a little spoiled, but it’s alright because they’ll stick around and contribute.”
According to Lasley, the band coped through the tougher years by coining the phrase, “The band always wins.” “Even if we lose, we make sure we are rocking out and having as much fun as possible and bringing that joy to everyone and anyone that we can,” he says.
The Latin “Ut Prosim,” “That I May Serve,” is Virginia Tech’s official motto—embodied especially by The Marching Virginians, “The Spirit of Tech,” from Blacksburg, Va. “It’s something that you hear a lot at Virginia Tech, but this group takes it to heart,” says Tony Marinello, assistant director. “The word, ‘Service,’ is very special to these students.”
That commitment extends beyond its service to the Hokies football team and fan base. The band participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, and this year it raised more than $32,500 for Marching for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Each year the band also puts on its “Hokies for the Hungry” program to collect canned goods for the needy. After a rocky start to the season with two losses, the Hokies went undefeated on the way to the Orange Bowl. “This year started off pretty low; obviously motivation in general was tough,” says Katie Sonntag, band public relations officer. “It was a surprise to be able to make it to where we are today.”
At the Orange Bowl, The Marching Virginians performed its traditional pregame show, including the “VPI Victory March” and the school’s fight song, “Tech Triumph.” Neither Virginia Tech nor Stanford took part at halftime due to the Orange Bowl’s tradition of inviting a bigname production.
For the seniors, a final bowl game will always be bittersweet. “As a senior this fi nal bowl trip really means a lot,” Sonntag says. “I know it’s my last time marching my pregame show; it’s the last time rooting for the Hokies as an undergrad. I know that we’ve put forth a lot of effort this season, and it’s a bittersweet thing, but I’m really enjoying it.”
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, held on Jan. 1., 2011, in Glendale, Ariz., proved to be an interesting match-up between first-timer University of Connecticut and BCS bowl veteran The University of Oklahoma. While Oklahoma won 48 to 20, both bands were proud to support their teams.
The University of Connecticut Marching Band from Storrs, Conn., finally got its turn in the spotlight on New Year’s Day at the Fiesta Bowl, its first BCS appearance. Known more for its basketball programs, UConn entered football’s top division just 10 years ago.
“We’ve been kind of under the surface or a well-kept secret,” says band director Dr. David Mills. “Now with football taking a center stage and getting some national exposure, our band is being seen by more people outside of the Northeastern area.”
For the Fiesta Bowl halftime show, the band performed “Celtic Beats,” featuring the music of the Dropkick Murphys. The show is a portion of its longer field show, “Feel the Beat.”
Each year the band learns a long show for exhibitions and post-game performances and adapts excerpts of it with additional tunes for each halftime.
“We like having something where we can build the level of our activity up to the level of competitive high school bands and drum and bugle corps,” Mills says.
The recent success of the Huskies football program has made it much easier for “The Pride of Connecticut” to pump up the crowds. “Although the band is still doing the same things, the energy in the stadium is now flowing through the band rather than just coming out of the band,” Mills says.
The students also have an even more positive outlook on their marching band experiences. “We had a good band that we were always proud of,” Mills says. “But it’s amazing what all this energy has done to add to the students’ positive feelings toward the band and toward football and what they’re trying to do—work toward excellence and conveying that all the time.”
Band historian and senior Andrea Berberick agrees. “We’ve been fortunate to go to bowl games but never one of this standard,” she says. “This will be leaving the band on a high note.”
On the flip side of the Fiesta Bowl is the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band—an old-fashioned, traditional Big 12 band and bowl game veteran—from Norman, Okla.
“We’re most known for our rich tradition since 1904 and pretty much based on the same values that were set way back then: human nature, polite kindness, respect, sportsmanship— things that are unfortunately kind of rare today,” says Dr. Debra Traficante, assistant director of bands. “We’ve been to almost every major bowl except for the Rose Bowl.”
The Pride enjoys a historically strong relationship with the fans and the football team. “We have a thing here where we hold up one finger and everyone thinks we’re saying, ‘We’re number one,’ but we’re saying, ‘There’s only one Oklahoma,’” Traficante says. “No matter what activity you’re in, we’re all one big group of people, and we’re all in it together.”
Drum major Matt Sumner agrees. “The team plays the game, and the band has halftime, and if we win or lose, we know we’re all still Sooner born, Sooner bred. We go hand in hand.”
At the Fiesta Bowl, the band performed a shortened version of its traditional pregame show and a movie-themed halftime show featuring selections from “King Kong, “The Incredibles” and “The Mummy Returns.”
“The best part of performing is seeing people smile, seeing them enjoy themselves and having an enjoyable experience,” Sumner says.
A portion of the Pride travels to every game. For the bowl trip, the band offered a side trip to the Sedona mountains.
Sumner encourages everyone to make the most of their college band experience. “It’s a very incredible experience that you won’t be able to get at any other point in your life, and you only have a short window to do it,” he says. “Keep with it and never give up.”
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, where she is currently a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.