In the wake of one of the wackiest seasons in the history of college football came a matchup of two of the greats in the National Championship. Great marching bands, that is.
The 2007 NCAA football season embodied the spirit of the underdog. Top 10-ranked teams lost to unranked opponents left and right. The curse of being BCS No. two left countless teams wishing for what could have been. But out of it all emerged two top opponents and perennial powerhouses—the Ohio State University (OSU) Buckeyes and the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers.
The Buckeyes returned to the national championship this year after a disappointing loss to Florida last year, and the Tigers weren’t far removed—they won the national championship game in 2003, splitting the title with USC. Last year they beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
This year’s National Championship game brought a great showdown of two dominant teams, but perhaps the better matchup came between the two universities’ marching bands. Both have won the coveted Sudler Trophy in past years (OSU in 1984, LSU in 2002). Both bands are more than a century old. And both can brag about their close ties to two top-tier football programs. But on Jan. 7, 2008, the two bands came together and played together alongside hundreds of high school musicians for a Sugar Bowl halftime tradition.
The Best Damn Band in the Land
When the Ohio State University Marching Band arrived in New Orleans on Saturday, Jan. 5, members had already attended the first two days of class for the winter quarter. In order to minimize the class time missed, the band practiced at night Wednesday through Friday at Ohio State’s indoor practice facility and left for New Orleans in the early morning on Saturday. After taking the rest of Saturday off to check out the French Quarter and do some sightseeing, band members got down to business on Sunday for their final practice before game day.
“We have an interesting tradition at Ohio State where a lot of our alumni come to watch our last practice,” says Dr. Jon R. Woods, director of marching and athletic bands. “We wear our rehearsal clothes— not our uniforms—but matching grey sweats for practice.
It’s our open-to-the-public practice, and at the end of practice, we invite all the alumni onto the field, and we play through all the school songs with them, concluding with our alma mater.”
Several thousand alumni and supporters showed up to watch the rehearsal before the band headed over to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for a Buckeye football pep rally. The band then had the rest of the night off before game day, but it’s been no picnic getting back into playing shape for the Buckeye Marching Band.
“It’s a real challenge for college bands because there’s a long break—they’re off almost three weeks,” Woods says. “It takes three good days of practice, a good nine hours of practice in both marching and playing to get the bands back into shape.”
After five days of practice, the band departed from the hotel at 9 a.m. on Jan. 7 to begin the grueling game-day festivities. Throughout the day, the Buckeyes sent a small pep band to several events—the Fan Jam, where the Buckeyes faced off against a contingent of the LSU band, and two separate pregame parties—but the rest of the band remained focused on the game and the hour-and-a-half practice that each band is allotted in the Superdome before game time.
“I see this as an opportunity to show a whole new crowd of people that don’t usually get to see us perform,” says Jason Branch, a senior trumpet player in the OSU Marching Band. “Since it’s the championship game and not just a BCS bowl game, the excitement and intensity swell up between both teams. And fans, teams and band members alike seem to have more enthusiasm in supporting their cause.”
The nation watched as the OSU Marching Band spelled out Script Ohio as the sousaphones ran across the field to dot the “i” for its traditional pregame show—this time performed during halftime because of pregame time constraints. For bowl games and away games, the band spells Script Ohio facing both directions.
Golden Band from Tigerland
For the LSU Tiger Marching Band, traveling to the Superdome from Baton Rouge is like taking a trip into LSU’s own backyard. Only 80 miles from campus, the stadium is home to the New Orleans Saints as well as the annual Sugar Bowl—and this year, the BCS National Championship. The Golden Band from Tigerland, as the LSU band is often known, took a trip to the Superdome in its own home state for the second year in a row—this time with a national championship on the line.
“It’s my hometown,” says the band’s assistant director Roy King. “I have a little special place for the appearance in the Superdome. I think it’s a great thing for our state and for our fan base. Of course, there’s the large number of LSU fans that are in New Orleans.”
Although King is far from the only member of the band from New Orleans, the LSU Tiger Marching Band has a surprisingly geographically diverse membership. The band travels well, though. As a unit, the band sent at least a small pep band to each of the football team’s away games and the full band attended games against Ole Miss and Tulane University.
As for individual members that flew home for the holidays this December, LSU had them covered. “We’re treated very well by our athletic department,” King says. “If a band student happens to be in California, visiting their uncle for the holidays, the athletic department will fly them to the game and then back [home]. They pay the expenses. And for students that don’t have to fly, they’ll pay for the mileage.”
Not surprisingly, with that kind of support, the LSU Tiger Marching Band had a very high percentage of its 325 members return for the National Championship game—and the fans and team appreciate it.
”Everyone is extremely excited at the opportunity to be playing in the national championship,” said trumpet section leader Robert Schinetzky a few weeks before the game.
“I was a freshman when we were in the national championship in 2003, so I think it’s great to begin and end my college career being able to be a part of a national championship season.”