The most enduring image from Iowa State’s latest upset of a top-10 team happened at halftime, while the Cyclones and West Virginia were in their locker rooms. It was at that indelible moment ISU’s marching band took the field WITH A PACK OF DINOSAURS.
Like any good trick play, Iowa State’s dinosaur routine was inspired by the past and required months of careful planning. It then went wildly viral.
SB Nation spoke with ISU band director Christian Carichner about how the best marching band moment in years came together.
Iowa State hatched the dinosaur plan after watching something Michigan’s band did with dinosaurs in 2017.
Last year, the Wolverine marching band did a tribute to John Williams, the composer who scored Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Home Alone, and Harry Potter movies, among many others. The Wolverines’ routine involved dinosaurs hanging out on the side of the field, like wide receivers flexed out beyond the numbers just to draw a defense’s attention:
“A lot of times in college marching bands, some of the greatest ideas happen at the last minute,” Carichner says. “Fortunately, because we saw this last year, we had a little bit of time to plan for it, and we decided to feature them pretty prominently.
“I think one of the iconic scenes from that movie, Jurassic Park, is the big gate when they first drive into the park. And so we put the dinosaurs right in the middle of that gate.”
Band leaders started putting together their routine in June, when they ordered 60 inflatable dinosaur costumes on Amazon.
You, too, can own this dinosaur costume. The Rubie’s Adult Jurassic World Inflatable Dinosaur Costume costs about $50 per ensemble. ISU purchased 60 of them for an estimated cost of $3,000, using a budgetary surplus from last year.
“Frankly, it costs more money just to feed the marching band than it does to outfit them in dinosaur costumes,” Carichner says.
The costume purchaser has the option to buy a version of the outfit that will also make its own dinosaur noises. The band was frugal in this regard.
“We did not get the sound,” Carichner says. “We just got the regular T-Rex.”
Iowa State has an unusual band setup.
The Cyclones have a regular, 345-person varsity marching band, and they have another 65-person band, called State Storm, that does some other sports and usually hangs out in the stands while the varsity band is on the field at Jack Trice Stadium. Most of the State Storm band participated, though a few couldn’t.
“Some of our kids were too tall to fit inside the dinosaur costumes,” Carichner says.
The costume is about 8-feet tall, but no one taller than 6’3 or 6’4 can wear it. Still, involving the second ISU band was a good way to get more players game experience.
“I’m always looking for more opportunities to get more of our kids that work so hard out in front of the crowd, because that’s what they ultimately signed up for. They wanna perform for 65,000 people in Jack Trice Stadium, and this was a great opportunity to get the entire band program out there,” Carichner says.
A key part of college football is executing in tough conditions. Recent weather in Ames almost threw the entire plan into chaos.
Just as Nick Saban’s never satisfied with an Alabama performance, the band actually thinks it could’ve done a better job playing the song and coordinating the drill. But the conditions on campus leading up to the game made it hard to plan for everything.
It’s been cold and rainy lately. That’s been a problem for the marching band, which hasn’t been able to hold many 90-minute practices in true game-day conditions.
“We’ve learned a lot of the drill last week, but with the amount of rain, we haven’t rehearsed a lot of the drill, so we kind of have to cram into our music building and learn the music that way,” the director says. “And then when the field is dry enough, we run outside and try to learn some drill. We practice every day for about an hour and a half, but honestly, we probably put less than half an hour into making the dinosaurs happen on the field.”
Disaster almost struck during the performance. The dinosaur costumes seal tightly. They need to, because a small fan inside of them keeps them inflated. In the cold air and while doing rigorous physical activity, the small windows for sight fogged up, partially blinding dozens of on-field dinosaurs. Some third-party dinosaurs had to step in to help.
“So the kids couldn’t really see,” Carichner says. “If you watch the video, there’s two guys; we call them the ‘dinosaur wranglers,’ wearing different dinosaur costumes, kind of poking around and making sure that they were all in the right spot.”
So much of the drill comes down to technique and maneuverability.
“Obviously, they have small arms,” Carichner says of the costumes. “So they’re limited by what they’re able to physically do, so we spent a lot of time in the costume trying to figure out what gives us the biggest bang for our buck in terms of the movement. So, being able to do the 360 and not get too disoriented on the field.”
Ultimately, everyone in a dinosaur costume has to really commit to the bit.
“When you put an 8-foot-tall costume on, that motion needs to be exaggerated,” he says. “They really had to go for it.”
In the end, mixing a top-10 upset with DINOSAURS IN THE MARCHING BAND made for one of the coolest Iowa State nights ever.
There wasn’t anything particular about this game that prompted the band to bring out the play of the century. It just worked out that it was a night game, that Iowa State was wearing some all-black uniforms, and that the Clones played brilliantly. All of that dovetailed with DINOSAUR BAND to make for a truly epic scene.
“I think it’s an iconic piece of music, so everyone knows it. I think everybody can be a critic, too. We gave it our best effort, and we certainly would’ve liked to have done it better, but I still think that it was a great opportunity for our fans in the stands,” Carichner says.
“And I certainly think it garnered so much attention because of how awesome Cyclone football is right now and the job Coach Campbell and his players and staff are doing. That’s certainly why we’re lucky to get this kind of attention.”