It’s Game Day in America. There is nothing like it. The games do not start at kick-off, they begin at sunrise; with the faint aroma of barbeque in the air, dazed and hung-over students looking for their parked car from the night before and the distant echo of marching bands practicing their halftime performance.
At many schools, the marching band is just as important as the football team. The band supplies the soundtrack to the day’s festivities. It’s a distinctive American tradition started at the turn of the 20th century where a school’s ROTC band would play the National Anthem before the game. After a while the bands began performing Sousa marches during halftime to keep the crowed entertained. As schools began writing their own marches, aka ‘Fight Songs,’ bands became a staple of the American Football game. The marching band is as old as the football program… they go hand and hand with each other.
Here is a look at some of the more ‘Unique’ marching band traditions. Not to be confused with the ‘Greatest’ traditions, because that is always debatable.
Did I miss something? I'm willing to bet there are a large number of you who will disagree with my Top 10. I understand completely. Please feel free to leave a comment if you think something should be added.
This article started out as 'Top College Marching Band Pre-Games,' but a lot more time was needed to gauge various factors and review tape. That article will debut at the start of College Football Season.
What I did notice during the Pre-Game research were some interesting little stand-outs, so this article rates the random 'Stand-outs' in the marching band world.
My Criteria for basing this list is as follows:
- Watch as many youtube videos for each college's marching band (it was a long weekend)
- What Stands-out as 'different'? Save that and revisit
- With the Stand-outs, do other marching bands do it? If so, how do they rank
- Out of the compiled list of stand-outs, how do they compare to each other in 'Uniqueness'
- Publish the top 10 and hope not to get killed
There should never be an article written about college marching bands that doesn’t include the Pride of the Southland.
The University of Tennessee marching band is definitely one of the top-3 college marching bands in the nation. If you get a chance to see the Tennessee marching band, you are in for a treat. They are very good. But, what we are going for in this list is unique traditions; alluding to specific random stand-outs in the marching band world.
The University of California, Berkeley has a marching band that’s been around for as long as the football program. And if you are like me, when you hear the Cal fight song, you immediately think "Hey, that’s the song from Bugs Bunny cartoons."
The Cal band’s pre-game finishes with a drill where the band spells out the iconic script Cal, which serves as the school's logo. During this tradition, the tuba line takes off toward the end zone hopping, kicking, floating, galloping—however, you wish to describe it—in a unique whimsical fashion that is fun to watch.
Every school tries to create an exciting field entrance, because it puts an adrenaline rush into the fans’ system that ignites their enthusiasm for the game. The Iowa State University Cyclone Football “Varsity” Marching Band takes a unique approach to your standard running on the field and lining up in formation.
They rush the field in a dizzying array of cyclones that makes all the acid-dropping philosophy majors fall into a hallucinogenic rabbit hole.
The Big Ten is a competitive conference for marching bands. The schools are big, the teams are great, the games are epic and the marching bands are just as important to the schools as the football programs themselves.
Big Ten marching bands are always looking to outdo other conference marching bands. And what unique way to let the other school know you mean business than to make them think you’re crazy.
The Spartan Marching Band performs a set of choreographed outbursts during the drum cadence know as "The Series," which gives the impression of an entire marching band with Tourette's Syndrome. It’s very entertaining and a total stand-out amongst their other Big Ten marching rivals.
There are lots of fun ways to describe people from West Virginia, but The Pride of West Virginia marching band sure found a unique way to create classical art on the field.
If you had to take piano lessons as a kid then you probably had to attempt Aaron Copland’s "Simple Gifts." It is very easy to play and, in the classical music world, is considered very American, because it doesn't contain a bunch of "fluff".
Every school’s marching band marches to battle, through the campus on the way to the stadium, but only one band gets to do it while playing the “Notre Dame Victory March.”
That unique honor belongs to The Band of the Fighting Irish.
In the world of college marching bands, the field entrance is important. Schools are always going for bigger and grander ways to take the field; but not at Ohio State.
Emerging from a tiny hole in the stands at the gigantic Ohio Stadium, The Ohio State University Marching Band comes down a skinny ramp onto the field, like a set of perfectly choreographed toy soldiers. It is the simplest and most basic field entrance in all of college football.
Where other marching bands go for thunder, Ohio State goes for tradition, which makes their entrance uniquely distinguished. The ramp entrance has remained unchanged for decades.
The Michigan Marching Band forming the letter "M" and marching down field blasting "The Victors" is an iconic sight in the college football world. Every time the word "Hail" is sung, the entire enthusiastic crowd punches their fist into the air.
There is no more common tradition on college game day than a marching band that forms the schools initials and plays the school’s fight song as it marches down the field. But at the Big House, however, all one hundred thousand in attendance sing along. It's a type of unique group participation that many schools try to replicate, but can never duplicate.
Imagine a group of crazy hippies take control of your school’s marching band and refuse to give it up. Then imagine your school’s administration allowing those students to do whatever the hell they want. That is exactly what happened at Stanford.
The band renamed themselves the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB for short) and they have been wreaking havoc at football games ever since. Some performances were so insulting that the LSJUMB has been ejected from the Notre Dame and Oregon campuses, asked never to return again.
The favorite target of the LSJUMB’s halftime shows is their inter-conference rival, the University of Southern California. Every year the LSJUMB put together a crowd-rousing series of formations designed specifically at insulting the USC faithful (usually always containing a jab about O.J. Simpson).
The USC Spirit of Troy marching band put together unique and clever way of lampooning the Stanford marching band with a counter-march that slowly gets out of control. It has become a USC crowd favorite and a Spirit of Troy classic.
The Script Ohio is the most televised marching band routine in all of college football. No other marching band performs this type of unique drill that always keep viewers captivated.
I’m willing to bet that members of Buckeye Nation are probably choaking on their lunches right now seeing their beloved "Script Ohio" at No. 2 and not No. 1. Let me point out two things. First, the Ohio State University marching band is the only school on this list twice; and second, when you see what is No.1, I’m sure the Buckeye faithful will understand.
There is no marching band in America that can really compare themselves to Ohio State. The band is known across the country as The Best Damn Band in the Land for a reason: they are the best.
It’s an all-brass band that marches perfectly (no one is ever out of step) and they have influenced more college marching bands simply by their presence than any other college marching band in America.
In high school, during a halftime show, I saw a trombone player bump into the guy in front of him. The trombone player's front teeth got knocked out and his lip was cut in half. There was blood everywhere. Who knew the marching band could be so dangerous?
I would assume the best way to keep your marching band members safe would be to not create situations where they could get hurt. The Texas A&M Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, however, not only created a dangerous situation, but the put that situation on steroids; making for the most unique, and amazing, marching band drill in college football.