Ten College Marching Bands You Need to See Before You Die

Derek HartCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2009

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Members of the Stanford band perform during the Stanford Cardinal and the Washington Huskies game at Stanford Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Being a former member of a college marching band, I've been wanting to write this article for a long time.

Having seen so many bands over the years either in person, on TV, or on YouTube, I believe I am more than qualified to list the musical groups that are so essential to the college football experience.

So here is my list of ten marching bands at the collegiate level—not in any particular order—that are considered to be top-notch not only musically, but as far as the total entertainment package, which after all is what college marching bands should be about.

Let's start with the marching band of my alma mater, which I had the privilege of playing in during my college years.


"The Solid Gold Sound", considered in music circles to be among the best marching bands in the country and an elite band on the West Coast (I know I sound biased here, but still...).

They were the first marching band among the West Coast schools to win the Sudler Trophy, presented yearly by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation to the best college band.

The big highlight of their program is their famous "Downfall of Troy" show. Done every four years, these marching Bruins reenact the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War, right down to the Trojan Horse raid, which is the climax of the show.

I'll allow one guess as to the school that this show portrays and makes fun of.


Also known as "TBDBITL"—The Best Damn Band In The Land.

This musical group of Buckeyes from Columbus is on this list for one reason: The dotting of the "I" by one of their senior tubas while doing their "Script Ohio" formation. It is considered a huge honor to be that dot, so much so that celebrities such as Bob Hope and Buckeye coaching legend Woody Hayes have stood on top of that "I" in Ohio, which has given Buckeye fans chills for decades.


That "Eyes of Texas" fanfare that those Longhorns from the Lone Star State's flagship school plays before games gives me chills; if such is the case for me, imagine what it does to the burnt orange faithful in Austin.

And that "Big Bertha" bass drum, billed as the world's largest—though Purdue, who has a huge drum of their own, would dispute that—is really cool, too. Makes me want to give that "Hook 'Em Horns" sign every time I see it.


This marching band from Seattle has always been one of my personal favorites in the Pac-10 Conference, although I reckon they're probably not too well-known outside of the Pacific Northwest.

I particularly like their "Bow Down To Washington" fight song and those chords that those Huskies play after every first down and score.

And incidentally, I loved the way Washington's football team beat USC earlier this season.


True, "On Wisconsin" is seen as one of America's most famous fight songs, but three words sum up why these musical Badgers from Madison are on this list, a ritual that they perform after every game that has become a sacred tradition at that institution: The Fifth Quarter.

Enough said.


One of three historically black colleges on this list; I couldn't possibly write an article about great college marching bands without giving some attention to these marching units that need to be seen to be believed.

"The Human Jukebox" from Baton Rouge, La. is so renowned, it was ranked as the number one collegiate marching band in the nation by USA Today at one time.

When I first saw them on TV a few years ago, they did this move, forming the halftime score on the field, that was absolutely mind-boggling.

From that point on, I never saw marching bands the same way again.


This rival of Southern's from northern Louisiana needs to be mentioned, as well.

The "Tiger Marching Band" has one historical distinction that no other band has: They played at the very first Super Bowl in 1967. If that's not a part of sports history, nothing is.

And their battle with Southern's band at the Bayou Classic, held in New Orleans every year and perhaps the most intense rivalry among the black colleges, is unbelievable—it is considered more important than the football game itself.


These Marching Rattlers hold the distinction of being the second-largest marching band in the world, with 420 members; only their Tallahassee neighbors at Florida State have more. Not bad for a school with only 11,849 students.

And they also have the honor of being the only HBCU-Historically Black College and University-to have won the Sudler Trophy.

Like Grambling and Southern, this band needs to be seen. When I saw them on ESPN's College Gameday, their musicianship and visuals were among the most entertaining I had seen; it was as if they stepped off the set of the movie "Drumline."


When I was in college, I had read about this MOB—the Marching Owl Band, that scatters in their shows while wearing fedoras, does funny commentary, and lets instruments like guitars and violins on the field.

I wanted to check them out myself, so I went on YouTube to give them a listen.

I was not disappointed; their show was extremely funny, particularly this crack that their announcer made during the performance: "(Texas A & M) Aggies will no longer resource Reville's (their dog mascot) training to Michael Vick."

Though I'm sure animal rights groups took issue, that crack brought down the house.

And I also liked the baby that I saw one of the band members carrying on its back.

This is a band that I saved for last, because I'm their biggest fan...


"The One, The Only, The Incomparable, Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band." 

This group from one of the country's premier schools is the ultimate scatter band.

Irreverent, humorous, and just plain fun, this is the band that—with all due respect and apologies to my alma mater and friends at UCLA—I would want to be in if I was 18 and could be a college student all over again.

They play my favorite fight song, "All Right Now"—a tune from a rock band called Free that was a hit in 1970 that just flat-out rocks. They also have my favorite mascot—a student dressed as an evergreen tree that dances around and does silly things on their field during their shows.

Yes, that red-blazered, fishing-capped band has been involved in a bit of controversy. They have gotten in trouble with Oregon for making fun of their spotted owl issue, with BYU for mocking plural marriage, and Notre Dame suspended them from appearing in South Bend for their portrayal of Irish Catholics.

Though they have been known to go a bit too far, one word describes this band in my book: FUN.

Which I've always felt is what college marching bands should be all about.

I am sure people are wondering why bands like Florida, LSU, Michigan, and USC are not on this list.

In my view, marching bands in the South, particularly in the SEC, are cookie-cutter because of their rigidity; they seem like a grown-up version of high school bands, where you can't even smile or make a joke lest you suffer the director's wrath.

Michigan? Don't get me wrong, I like that school very much, more than I do Ohio State, and I think "The Victors" is an outstanding fight song, but it comes down to this...Ohio State has that dotting the "I" thing. The Wolverines don't.

And that USC Trojan Marching Band, the "Spirit of Troy", that is well-known and loved by so many people?

This will come as a shock to some, but that band is hated by virtually every other college, college band, and fan base in the country. It's a band that is built on arrogance—a Trojan band manager even said as much in a newspaper interview—and has been sued more than once for hazing and banned from airlines for misbehavior.

I know that students, fans and alumni may disagree with me on this list, but that's O.K. I'll welcome any debates that come from this.

After all, that's what articles like this are all about. And I wouldn't have it any other way.


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