The unsung heroes of the college sporting world are the members of your friendly local marching band, a collection of students too slow to play football and too smart to try. Every weekend in the sporting fall they suit up for your entertainment in musty wool uniforms, travel hundreds of miles in creaky buses to strange environs like East Lansing and Starkville, and then play the same five songs over and over again while enduring heat, cold, rain, snow, abuse and the punishing effects of their own self-inflicted hangovers.
Why do they do it? The $30 per diem? The glory of taking a battery in the face from a Georgia fan? The single credit hour being in marching band offers for the academic transcript at many universities? The opportunity to urinate next to a broadcasting legend who saw you come out of the women's bathroom? All of these in part, yes. But the simple truth is that being in marching band is just like football or any other sport: It's a silly business taken very seriously, i.e. the best kind of business there is.
Theirs is a rough and untold story -- until now. We asked readers to share their tales of marching band greatness and depravity, and they responded with an outpouring of histories lost on the highways and charter buses of our nation. From bowl games to bathrooms, kegs of beer smuggled in with the tuba section to multiple instances of the Clemson mascot being assaulted, these are their stories in their own words. This is the oral history of the college marching band.
THE BEST INTRO LINE WE GOT FROM A RESPONSE
Hi. I was a member of the Rice Marching Owl Band from 2003-2007. I had a rubber duck on my fedora. -- Adam, Rice.
THEY ARE COWBOYS, ON BRASS HORSE THEY RIDE: THE ROAD
2008 Fiesta Bowl versus Texas. We were playing a very powerful classical halftime show, with the closer being the 1812 Overture, instead of the traditional cannon for the final push our directors got clearance from the stadium crew to use fireworks. So on the final company front push during the ending fireworks with a loud report are being set off on each goal line. Well, less than 20 yards away from the one pyrotechnic station was the University of Texas mascot "Bevo". The live bull did not take too well to the fireworks and started bucking around wildly and eventually defecating all through his cage. Making it clear that the Ohio State University Marching Band will make your mascot shit itself... -- Scott, Ohio State.
My "favorite" road story comes from the University of Georgia, which I've had the misfortune of visiting twice. Neither time has convinced me that Dawg fans aren't a lower form of life than the rest of humanity. In 2008 I had a bottle thrown at me -- thankfully, it was only a plastic bottle, but this past year someone else had a glass bottle thrown at them. Back in 2006 a friend of mine had a lighter thrown at their face -- Carter, Georgia Tech.
Whenever we traveled to Death Valley or Neyland Stadium, we had to enact road protection rules. This meant that, as a lady, I had to be positioned on the inside of my line as we marched into the stadium. Only guys could be on the outside of the lines, because, like rabid hyenas pulling down an antelope, UT and LSU fans would attempt to snatch band members away into the crowd. They would also attempt to steal our mouthpieces as shiny souvenirs. -- Pam, Alabama.
Florida/Georgia 2003. We had to walk through the UGA tailgating area back to the band buses. Tired of being harassed and barked at, our director formed a marching block with the drumline in front and sousaphones lining the outer edge, protecting the wee woodwind players on the inside. Our band director was literally throwing drunk bulldog fans aside while the drummers rammed others. The entire marching band had to march OVER a few of the victims. -- Jordan, Florida.
Williams-Brice stadium in Columbia is one of the weirdest places in the SEC. I have a harrowing tale of the men's room under the visiting band seats. After halftime the Gamecocks gave us each a water and an apple in 2006. It was a Thursday night game, and everyone had to drink quickly to mimic a Saturday atmosphere, so what happened when I went to the restroom during the 15 minutes Auburn held the ball in the 3rd quarter ... and found a guy and his girlfriend behind the partition separating the urinals from the entrance and the regular stalls.
She had no qualms about making sure even though Auburn won, he would be the happiest Cock on earth. He high-fived guys who finished their business at the urinals and only after CSC Event staff showed up and took cell phone pictures did the guy and the girl leave the restroom in shame.. .and probably went to the Cockabooses to finish. -- Darren, Auburn.
First was my trip to South Carolina in 1992. The game was right after the almost team revolt against the head coach (Sparky Woods???, I know he later became our OC and sucked donkey balls). Steve Tanneyhill was the quarterback. Anyway, we are sitting in the stands probably 2 hours before the game. All of the sudden, over the PA system we hear this announcement:
"Don't forget Gamecock fans, next week is Cock Fest 92!"
I nearly peed myself laughing so hard. -- Andrew, South Carolina.
Another memorable moment was marching into Death Valley while being followed by a particularly inbred looking cajun gnawing on fried alligator yelling "TIGAH BAIT TIGAH BAIT TIGAH BAIT" -- Jordan, Florida.
2003. We roll into Baton Rouge with probably 45% of the regular State Troopers of Louisiana all the way from the Lousiana border to Baton Rouge. The one finger salutes begin promptly. When the buses turn the corner to park near Tiger Stadium, tailgating LSU fans begin throwing ziploc bags of urine at our bus windows. -- Darren, Auburn.
A friend of mine, JDH, was leaving the field after our halftime performance in 2003 in Sanford Stadium to the GEORGIA-labeled end-zone, which is directly in front of the Fans with Disabilities Section. At any rate, one proud UGA fan shout at JDH "Stop playing your gay songs. Look at the SCORE!" JDH replied, "Look at your legs." The guy was a dwarf who replied simply with silence and then a shout of "GO DAWGS!" -- Darren, Auburn
THE ONE WHERE THE BOISE STATE BAND DIRECTOR HAS A HEART ATTACK ON THE FIELD AND MISSES A FEW HOURS OF WORK.
In the closing moments of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and Oklahoma, as Ian Johnson sealed the Broncos' win with "Statue Left", the entirety of Bronco Nation in attendance was in a state of bedlam. The majority of young fans in the area near the Boise State University Blue Thunder Marching Band rushed to the front of the stands hoping for an opportunity to rush the field. In the madness the director of the BSUBTMB, David A. Wells (RIP), a 60-something former chain smoking wildman, was crushed against the barrier and suffered a heart attack.
There was confusion all around as the people trying to get the director to an ambulance struggled to clear a path through those celebrating the victory. Once he was out and en route to the hospital the band went about its business of packing up and exiting University of Phoenix Stadium with a potpourri of mixed emotions. We were all concerned for Dave's health, elated by the glorious triumph of our football team, and angry with Dave for not letting us enjoy the victory.
After our buses were packed we drove to the hospital where, after a short wait, Dave emerged to accompany us on our flight back to Boise. When we reached the band hall in Boise at approximately 4 a.m. we spent 2 hours checking in our equipment and uniforms, all the while Dave marched around barking orders as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
He would never admit to the heart attack, saying only that he was slightly stunned by the stampeding fans. Those close to him knew what really happened. He died 2 years later, but David A. Wells will always be an inspiration to me for being a tough SOB. -- David, Boise State.
FURTHER TALES OF THE GLORIOUS ROAD
2002 Bedlam Game. Game ends and everyone rushes the field and proceeds to tear down the goal posts. We had to stay in our seats for "our safety" and it was here that I witnessed the three best representations of OSU. 1 - The dude with his 4 or 5 year old on his shoulders with both of them flipping us off. 2 - The OSU student with a shirt that read: "You can't spell C_cks_cker without OU" without realizing that you couldn't spell it without OSU. 3 - The people who had one of the uprights tried to launch it into the band. -- Matt, Oklahoma
Fall 2001. My freshman year. The University of South Carolina @ Mississippi State was the Thursday night ESPN Game, and the first televised football game after 9/11. So there's this moment of silence before the game, and this being my first away trip out of the box I was really impressed that everyone in the stadium was actually silent. It really was, which is why you could hear one guy from the crowd yell with a fine Mississippi accent "You go to hell Bin Laden." -- Jason, South Carolina.
New Orleans 2007 - Witnessed Albert the Alligator (not in costume) get arrested for drunk and disorderly (quite a feat on Bourbon St). The cheer squad coach asked the tallest band member to fill in at the bball game because we hadn't bailed him out yet. -- Jordan, Florida
The 2007 Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame played LSU that year in what was the first Sugar Bowl to be played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The New Year's celebration on Bourbon Street was epic; at least half the band probably slept curled up next to the toilet afterwards, trying to keep down that last hand grenade.
But the highlight (lowlight?) of the trip happened when we visited a flood-ravaged Catholic school in the Lower Ninth Ward for a public rehearsal and photo op. The fine parent volunteers of the school were nice enough to prepare several hundred pounds of jambalaya for our post-rehearsal dinner, as well as procure several dozen cases of PBR for our refreshment. However, our image-conscious director became worried that someone might snap a photo of a band member with beer in hand, so none of us were allowed to have any at all. As the PBR was carted away, the attitude of the band quickly turned to this:
Sure, they didn't destroy the beer, and it probably found a good home in the end. But you don't know frustration until you see 400 college students denied several free beers apiece. Daggers. -- Greg, Notre Dame.
My bus always did the Gator chomp as we got close to road stadiums to count how many middle fingers we could get. While Tennessee fans made a valiant attempt, Miami fans far and away won the title.--David, Florida.
GO BACK TO CUBA
In 2007, Miami played FSU in Tally. Instead of being dropped off next to the stadium, our bus dropped us off into a parking lot a quarter mile away, with the path to Doak Campbell lying straight through one of the tailgating zones. Our promised police escort was nowhere to be found.
As we lined up and got ready, a band of rednecks addressed us with a bullhorn from the back of a pickup truck. " No speaky spanish" "We no serve rice and beans" "Go back to Cuba". We moved the sousas into a position to surround the dancers so as to avoid groping, and marched straight through. At least a half dozen Seminoles tried to break the ranks. Somehow, most of them ended up getting hit by large pieces of metal. Once we got to the stadium, the staff couldn't unlock the gate to let us in. As we waited en masse, from the upper levels of the stadium, full cups of coke rained down on us.
Kirby Freeman led Miami to a comeback victory. In our next game, against a horrid NC State team, he went 1-14. With 3 interceptions. -- Daniel, Miami.
Rice vs. Texas A&M, 1973. Rice had only changed to the scatter band format a few years prior, and the Aggies are of course not known for having a sense of humor. So, when the band performed a show that involved goose-stepping, parodying the A&M fight song, and making a joke about Reveille while in the form of a fire hydrant, the reaction was unpleasant. When Rice ended up winning the game, irate A&M fans barricaded the band inside the tunnel of the stadium until Rice food service trucks were called in to smuggle the band away from the angry Aggies. -- Adam, Baylor.
1996 Alabama at Tennessee which was my first road trip with the band and my first time to Neyland Stadium. My best friend, Steve, who was also in the band had gotten food poisoning that morning and was barfing in a garbage bag all the way there on the bus. Once we arrived to the stadium it was clear Steve was not going to make it into the stadium to march. However, his hatred for the Vols ran deep and he wouldn't be denied the opportunity to at least deface the stadium.
So we helped him off the bus to the closest structure connected to Neyland and he commenced to throwing up all over it with Vol fans watching in horror. He was in full uniform by the way. The rest of us started a big Rolllllll Tide Roll cheer as Steve continued to administer the Technicolor yawn to that God forsaken place.
Alabama lost a close game to the Vols 20-13. As I was leaving the stadium in a very depressed state, a group of Vol fans saw me and said "You guys did a great job" and one of the guys held out his hand to shake mine. As I went for the shake he pulled away and said "F-- YOU, GO VAAAWWWLS!"
I still feel like Steve got the last laugh though. -- Brad, Alabama
SECRET TRADITIONS AND OCCULT KNOWLEDGE.
At South Carolina there is a tradition, recently in jeopardy, to sing a song when the game is won or a victory is certain and only time is a factor. It is a game entirely of double entendre where a chant is met by an act. Examples: "Let me see you show your nuts" = you raise your hands and scream, "let me see you jack it off" = open and close band jackets in rhythm, "let me see you roll a joint" = hold elbow and circle forearm in the air, etc. -- Andy, South Carolina.
One thing people don't know is that before running out of the tunnel for pregame, the entire Michigan Marching Band sings "Eye of the Tiger" at the top of our lungs. -- Joe, Michigan
Standing on the sidelines before halftime meant that we had prime viewing conditions for the backsides of lots and lots of incredibly toned men wearing white pants, which by the second quarter had become transparent due to sweat. -- Pam, Alabama.
People may not realize that the UAA gives cash per diem to band members on road trips. (At least when I was there.) And that as a work-study employee of the band office I was sent to retrieve said cash prior to a full band road trip. Which means I then walked across campus with approximately $10,000 in cash in a backpack. At the time that would've paid for a brand new car ... or a linebacker. -- Beth, Florida.
This might no longer be the case but at certain booster events, especially the Beat Texas Party, where we would play you might get a few twenty-dollar handshakes.--Matthew, Oklahoma.
Marching Band people are foul-mouthed and inventive when it comes to just about anything. For example, the University of Nebraska alternate lyrics to "Boomer Sooner":
Barry Switzer likes his ass torn / by a raging Texas Longhorn
Every Sunday to his leisure / beats his grandma to a seizure.
Roamin' 'cross the prairies / all the mothers come from dairies
And the fathers rape the cattle / and the offspring join the Band.
Rape little piggies / Rape little chickies / Rape little puppies / S--- off ducks
Eat my butt out with a fork / F----in' assholes - Y'ALL SUCK!
-- Anonymous Nebraska guy.
The band is the best way to smuggle ANYTHING into a football stadium. Our bari-sax player routinely carried between a 6- and 12-pack of beer in the bell of his horn. Our tuba/bass drum cases could (and did) hide a keg quite easily. The other secret is that band people will steal anything not nailed down. Once at women's ACC tournament in Charlotte we stole a 15 foot tall inflatable something-or-other from in front of a liquor store even though we had no use for it and no good place to stash it on the bus. -- Todd, Georgia Tech.
Every marching band has a dealer. At noon games in the Florida sun in wool uniforms, sometimes the dealer doesn't make it through the halftime show and needs to be resuscitated by paramedics. -- Daniel, Miami.
SAVAGE VIOLENCE! (AND PEOPLE ATTACKING THE CLEMSON TIGER)
This one isn't mine, it's just a legend that has been passed down the Georgia Tech band for more than a decade. Tech at Clemson, sometime in mid-90s. 8-ball the Clemson Tiger and our mascot Buzz got into a mascot fight. Then Clemson's other mascot got into it and the two tigers started ganging up on Buzz. This was too much for one of the RATs, who charged out of the band section, onto the field, and tackled one of the tigers, before climbing back into the stadium seats. Somehow, his RAT cap managed to stay on ... right until he climbed back into the seats, causing him to jump back onto the field before returning to the band. And when security inevitably came .... the directors disavowed any knowledge of him or his location. They ALWAYS protect the band .... even when we're the ones doing something stupid. -- Carter, Georgia Tech.
The best story I can come up with is from the 1996 game between Ga Tech and Climpsun (@ Climpsun). The tiger mascot was antagonizing the band so one of my fraternity brothers offhandedly mentioned to a freshman tuba player that he should go kick that tiger's ass. It would seem that said freshman was both more amped up and more inebriated that was immediately apparent because he did exactly as had been suggested.
He ran down the bleachers, jumped the wall and tackled the tiger. He followed this up by pummeling the tiger MMA-style until a props person pulled him off and spirited him away before either the Climpsun cheerleaders or the police could find him. He got away with it completely even though 50 thousand people saw it happen. The fact that he was the only black tuba player and extremely easy to find just makes it funnier. -- Todd, Georgia Tech.
When I was in the band we were on probation so we didn't get to be on television and my last year was the only bowl game we went to (All American Bowl in Birmingham...WOO HOO!). However, as consolation the band did get selected to play at halftime of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game when they were playing the Chicago Bears. We went down to the field before halftime and stood on the Chicago sideline where I made it a point to stand right behind Walter Payton and Neal Anderson as they were sitting on the bench. After the halftime show we were leaving the field through the tunnel that the Bears were using to re-enter the field and MIKE DITKA was standing right there shaking hands with the band members and telling them "good job". So I shook hands with Ditka ...I SHOOK HANDS WITH DITKA. And when I did I noticed he was wearing suspenders...with teddy bears on them. -- Beth, Florida
Beth also took these amazing pictures of famous person Emmitt Smith and former Florida coach/current Penn State offensive co-coordinator Galen Hall at the Swamp, because remember no one besides the refs gets closer to the game than marching band members. Look at all that marvelous artificial turf!
This is technically a basketball band story, but during halftime of the 2009 Big Ten Tournament opening round game (Michigan v. Iowa) I gleefully skipped into the bathroom, excited about a halftime lead. It was only when I had gotten all the way into the bathroom that I realized it was in fact the women's bathroom. I hurriedly turned around hoping no one had noticed, and none had, but one person: Brent Musberger. He was standing at the entrance, chuckling in a way only Brent Musberger can. He said, "Well that could have been quite embarrassing (chuckle chuckle chuckle)" I smiled, greeted Brent, then proceeded to pee next to him while talking about Morton's Steakhouse. -- Brian, Michigan
MUSICIANSHIP IS A KEY HALLMARK OF THE COMMITTED COLLEGE MARCHING BAND MEMBER
I once got a beater bass trombone from a local high school that didn't want it any more. In terrible shape, I had it repaired to playable (although ugly-looking) shape and marched with it for a few years. I used to freak out the freshman by scraping the bell on the asphalt before parades. At warmups for the Gator Bowl game against Michigan State (Vince Dooley's last game), we ended with the Krypton Fanfare (which was still new to the group at the time, having been introduced only two years prior), which begins with a huge Bb blast.
We played the beginning note, then, as the fanfare progressed, I noticed I was having some difficulty staying on pitch. When the piece ended, I discovered that the initial blast had blown off my tuningslide; I'd been playing the whole piece without it. God, I miss that horn. -- Michael, Georgia
We thank all those who responded and shared their stories, and hope they never have to wear wool in subtropical heat again.