The first games of the 2018 college football season kick off 129 days from today. To commemorate, The Open Man begins the countdown with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport.
A motion picture’s score plays as prominently into the presentation as acting and cinematography, yet scores do not typically drive conversation among casual moviegoers. Change a film’s score or remove it altogether, and the entire experience changes in a profound way.
College football is the same in its dynamic with marching bands. It’s understood among fans and the sport’s influencers that marching bands factor indelibly into the ecosystem. Bands’ ubiquity lend to taking their presences for granted.
Take the marching bands out of the stadium, and the soundtrack of autumn changes dramatically. The alternative is the NFL atmosphere, with some trendy, Top 40 pop pumped through stadium loudspeakers.
Plenty of good pop music exists, and the Los Angeles-based hip hop that booms through Memorial Coliseum on football Saturdays before the marching band’s arrival is excellent. But there’s a corporate soullessness to blasting radio hits even when the tunes are good.
Given college football’s track record with pop music acts, I wouldn’t anticipate much in the way of good music. If ESPN bumpers during game broadcasts are any indication, you could expect a lot of DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN WIN THIS FIGHT TONIGHT?!
…or worse, Bro Country *shudders*
College marching bands work modern hits into their repertoires — USC’s plays D.J. Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” on every touchdown — but the general, brass-and-percussion style of these bands has a timelessness to it that is essential to college football’s mystique.
In a 2017 interview, longtime NFL assistant and current Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego described the pageantry created by the marching bands as a “front-porch view” presenting the entire university to the outside world.
His assessment gave me new perspective and a greater appreciation for the bands. Evaluating their place from this point-of-view, one can see how each marching band differs. They all have their own traditions, presentation and uniforms, like a football team sports its own gears and operates with unique playbooks.
But the fundamental characteristics of marching bands reflect the universities as a whole.
Consider the aforementioned USC Trojan Marching Band. With their gold Trojan helmets gleaming under the Southern California sun and flashy presentation, it has the same Hollywood aesthetic often associated with USC football.
Few marching bands can claim to appear in beloved, hit movies, after all.
Many of the marching bands in the Big Ten are celebrated for their elaborate formations and high-stepping drum majors. At Ohio State, the dotting of the I is as iconic as the Buckeye helmet sticker on a glittery, silver helmet.
Even the Leland J. Stanford University Marching Band, renowned for its misbehavior and banishment from a variety of locations, somehow functions as a brilliant avatar for the school. An ode to Finals Week at Arizona State during the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game featured the LJSUMB (intentionally) haphazardly spelling out “NETFLIX” while Sun Devils fans booed lustily.
Stanford band went from “CENA” to “CHAMP.” Seriously pic.twitter.com/0852CfvIAr
— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) December 6, 2015
Also known for celebrating John Cena, Mad Max: Fury Road and almost starting an interstate war with Iowa the 2016 Rose Bowl Game, the LJSUMB’s wonderful weirdness just works for Stanford.
And then there’s the SWAC; oh, the SWAC. The SEC likes to thump its chest as the on-field pinnacle of college football, but the SEC’s geographic counterparts set a gold standard for marching bands.
HBCU marching bands occupy such rarefied air, Beyonce homages them.