Bowl Bound

2008 proved to be an outstanding year for college football, and the 2009 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) brought together tremendous talent and school spirit. But no college football game is complete without the sights and sounds of the marching bands that bring the game to life. At these four games (Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and the National Championship), each team was greatly supported by its band. And these bands made no hesitation to make their presence known.

Photo Courtesy of University of Alabama Million Dollar Band

Orange Bowl

Every January more than 150,000 athletes, fans and tourists flock to Southern Florida to participate in the Orange Bowl Festival. This year’s 75th FedEx Orange Bowl game brought together Virginia Tech and the University of Cincinnati.

The Virginia Tech Marching Virginians

The Virginia Tech Marching Virginians took a repeat trip to Florida for its second consecutive Orange Bowl. “There was a great deal of support across the campus, both financially and logistically to move the Marching Virginians to Florida,” says Will Petersen, assistant director of the Marching Virginians. “The Virginia Tech Department of Athletics has been a great supporter of the Marching Virginians and has consistently worked with us to make sure the band’s bowl experience was a quality one.”

As soon as the Virginia Tech Marching Virginians reached Miami, the group had a wide array of events to participate in prior to the game on Jan. 1, 2009. Members of the Marching Virginians split into small pep bands to perform for the AvMed Orange Bowl Coaches Luncheon, the Virginia Tech President’s Reception and the Virginia Tech Hokie Club Reception.

On game day the entire band performed at the Budweiser Orange Bowl Tailgate Party, getting the crowd ready for the game. “We were very excited to be returning to the Orange Bowl,” Petersen says. In addition to its Orange Bowl appearance last year, the band has also made BCS appearances at the Sugar Bowl in 2005 and the National Championship game in New Orleans in 2000.

As part of its pre-game show this year, the band performed “Carry Me Back,” “VPI Victory March” (VPI stands for Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the school’s former name) and “Tech Triumph.”

“Every bowl is different, and while there are always responsibilities that need to be fulfilled, our students enjoy the opportunity to build school spirit and support the Hokies through their performance,” Petersen says.

The University of Cincinnati Bearcat Band

The University of Cincinnati Bearcat Band had much to celebrate as it prepared to support its team and build school spirit in Miami. “This was our first BCS Bowl game in our school’s history; I felt especially honored to be a part of the marching band program which represents our school, football team and UC spirit!,” says Corey Knapke, baritone section leader, “It was a very exciting time to be a Bearcat.”

During its time in Miami, the band played at several pep rallies including the Budweiser Orange Bowl Tailgate Party and the WaMu Orange Bowl Fan Fest. On game day the band performed its traditional Bearcat Band pre-game show which consists of the school’s three fight songs: “Red & Black,” “Cheer Cincinnati” and “Give a Cheer.”

“It was a chance to perform for a very large audience that may not have been familiar with our school, and we were excited to be playing a major bowl game,” explains Dr. Terren L. Frenz, director of the Bearcat Band.

For halftime, neither marching band performed a field show as the Orange Bowl has a tradition of presenting a professional celebrity performer for its festivities, and this year the show was headlined by the Doobie Brothers.

“I still realized the significance of this game and the great honor it was to be a part of such a major part of our school’s athletic history,” Knapke says. “Besides, what better way is there to spend New Year’s except at a bowl game with great friends and a great school.”


Sugar Bowl

Jan. 2, 2009, marked the 75th anniversary game of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, held in New Orleans. The Sugar Bowl is one of the oldest bowl games in the country. The match-up for the game pitted the University of Alabama against the University of Utah. But perhaps the more interesting “march-up” occurred between Alabama’s Million Dollar Band and the Marching Utes.

University of Alabama Million Dollar Band

The University of Alabama has long been a football powerhouse, winning 12 national championships in its 113- year history. However, recent years have not led the team to a BCS matchup, so this year’s Sugar Bowl berth proved particularly sweet.

“The older students were really excited that they weren’t going to Shreveport [for the Independence Bowl, a non-BCS game,] for the third year running; the Sugar Bowl was really awesome” says Debra Wills, one of the drum majors of the Million Dollar Band.

The University of Alabama Million Dollar Band, named for its fundraising prowess during its early history, has performed in every BCS game except the Rose Bowl. This year marks the 13th appearance of the University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. “Having the band together for one more time this season was very enjoyable,” says Ty Parker, another drum major.

While in New Orleans, the Million Dollar Band performed at many events sanctioned by the school’s alumni organizations and the Sugar Bowl itself. The band attended the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Fest on Dec. 31, 2008, and on Jan. 1, 2009, as well as at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Jam, just three hours prior to the game.

The Million Dollar Band presented an Americana type show for halftime. The show featured “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” as well as several other American classics. “Many students of the band were excited that the game was close enough, so that fans and family could go and watch a good game and see the Million Dollar Band,” says director Kenneth Ozzello.

University of Utah’s Marching Utes

The Marching Utes have performed all over the country and abroad— including President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Parade—but made its debut appearance at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans this year. “We were extremely excited to participate in such a great bowl game and to visit such a fantastic city,” says Brian Sproul, director of the band. “New Orleans has such a rich history in music, and it really was a special opportunity to visit.”

The group performed at a variety of spirit events and pep rallies throughout the week leading up to the game. These included the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Fest on both Dec. 31, 2008, and Jan. 1, 2009, as well as the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Jam, just three hours before the game started.

The Pride of Utah incorporated its signature move of the “Block U” formation, which they do at every pre-game performance in Rice-Eccles Stadium. A portion of the band’s “Tribute to Buddy Rich” show was performed at halftime. “It was a wonderful opportunity for the students to experience college football and all of the pageantry that goes with it,” states Sproul.


Fiesta Bowl

The Fiesta Bowl started in 1971 and over the past 38 years has fought for its right to be considered one of the premier college bowl games. This year’s Fiesta Bowl match-up brought together the University of Texas and Ohio State University. The two football teams may have fought for the Fiesta Bowl title, but their bands worked together to build the crowds’ presence and enthusiasm.

University of Texas Longhorn Band

The Texas Longhorn Band has a long and rich history. The band has performed at five Presidential Inauguration Parades and at countless state events, including governor inauguration parades.

“I feel great about going to the Fiesta Bowl; the bands are treated very well at the BCS games,” explained Robert Carnochan, director of the Texas Longhorn Band, prior to the event.

While in Arizona for the game, the band attended many events sponsored by the Fiesta Bowl including the Fiesta Bowl Band Bash on Jan. 3, 2009. At this event the Longhorn Band and the Ohio State University band shared the stage.

Each band took turns performing one of five songs as well as their field shows and alma mater. “I was very excited to share the stage with Ohio State; both groups share a mutual respect,” says Carnochan.

On game day the Texas Longhorn Band performed at “College Football’s Biggest Party” before heading into the stadium to perform its pre-game show.

“We’ve rehearsed so much that we knew exactly what we were supposed to do almost by rote,” says Jeanette Wiemers, mellophone section leader. For pre-game, the band performed its signature “Wall-to-Wall Band” and “Shotgun Texas.”

During the game, members of the band made the stands ring with the deafening sound of the cowbells that they have made so infamous, striking the bells to symbolize the pride and spirit of Texas. For halftime, the band performed music by Led Zeppelin, including “Stairway to Heaven.”

Ohio State University Marching Band

Members of the Ohio State University (OSU) band met up back on campus on Dec. 31, 2008, and started preparing for its trip to Arizona with fullday rehearsals. When the band arrived in Arizona, it immediately began preparation for the parade that would take place the following day.

On Jan. 3, OSU and the Texas Longhorn Band took to the streets as they marched in the Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade. “It was a great parade,” says Dr. Jon Woods, the OSU director. The band had its final dress rehearsal on Jan. 4, just before the game. Just like its “skull sessions” back in Columbus, this rehearsal was open to the public, and all alumni who made the trip were invited onto the field to join the band.

The alumni were then given the opportunity to borrow an instrument from the current members of the band and play alongside them.

For the pre-game performance, the band entered the field playing a fanfare based on the “Buckeye Battle Cry.” The band also split in half and played “Hang On Sloopy” before forming the famous double “Script Ohio” and leaving the field.

For halftime, the band played a classical show that featured the “William Tell Overture,” “Can Can” and “1812 Overture.” “I allowed the students to vote on the halftime show they would have liked to perform; I figured the game was a treat for them,” Woods says.

Despite the football team’s loss to Texas, the band had a great trip overall. “The Fiesta Bowl is a great bowl game, and I was deeply pleased to have gone back this year,” Woods says.

So, how did the band follow up its BCS bowl game appearance? By being a part of President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Parade, also in January.


National Championship

The first BCS National Championship game was held in January of 1999 and has since become the fifth and final game of the BCS Bowl series. This year’s game was held on Jan. 8, 2009, in Miami with the University of Oklahoma and the University of Florida competing. Both teams were ready to fight for the championship title but not without the unconditional support of their marching bands.

University of Oklahoma Pride of Oklahoma

For the Pride of Oklahoma (Oklahoma University’s marching band), it had been four years since performing at a championship game. However, this group is no stranger to bowl games, having played at every BCS game as well as at the Cotton Bowl.

The Pride performed at several events and pep rallies while in Miami prior to the game. On Jan. 7, 2009, the band took part in the Southwest Airlines National Championship Fan Fest presented by the City of Miami.

The following day, game day, Budweiser hosted its National Championship Tailgate Party where the Pride of Oklahoma appeared prior to taking the field for its pre-game show performance.

The Pride’s pre-game show has remained nearly unchanged since it was originally written 38 years ago. The show invokes much crowd participation as they are expected to clap and sing along; and that they did.

“We are always excited to be in this type of arena, but this was a whole other level of excitement,” says Brian Britt, director of the Pride of Oklahoma.

The Pride took the stage again at halftime to perform highlights of its 2008 shows including “Pinball Wizard,” “Iron Man” and “You Really Got Me Now.”

“We were very excited to be given the opportunity to march at both pre-game and halftime,” Britt says.

University of Florida Gator Band

The University of Florida won the National Championship in 2007 in Glendale, Ariz. This year the Gators may not have traveled quite that far but with the home crowd on its side, it brought the excitement of Gator Nation everywhere and earned another title.

“We were very excited to represent the State of Florida and the University of Florida in another National Championship event,” says John Watkins, director of the Florida Gator Band.

While in Miami the Gator Band performed at many pep rallies and other events linked to the Fedex BCS National Championship including the Budweiser National Championship Tailgate Party. For its allotted five-minute pre-game performance, the Gator Band performed a full routine to get the fans out of their seats and pumped up.

The pre-game consisted of several songs including “Gator Chomp,” “Orange & Blue,” “We Are the Boys March,” and “Gimme a ‘G.’”

The Gator’s halftime show included “Rock this Town” and “Big Noise From Winnetka,” also featuring members of the band and drumline as they swing danced with the Gatorette twirlers.

“The feeling of camaraderie and pride in our school is never higher than during the hunt for a national title, and it was an invigorating experience attending,” says first-year drum major Scott Runda.

About author

Robert Gagnon

Robert D. Gagnon is a student at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, Calif., working toward a bachelor’s degree in music education. He was the editor-in-chief of “The Legacy” yearbook at Orange (Calif.) High School. Robert has performed on a multitude of instruments including trumpet, clarinet and timpani with organizations such as the Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps and the Riverside Community College.

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