’Cause the players tried to take the field; the marching band refused to yield. – Don McLean, “American Pie.”
The marching bands at last weekend’s UNC-N.C. A&T University football game didn’t really refuse to yield the Kenan Stadium field to the football teams, but some of the people at the game may have wished they had – and not just the A&T football players.
The first quarter featured a tribute to A&T’s football coach and UNC alum, player and coach Rod Broadway – which he deserved – and halftime entertainment consisted of performances by and collaboration between the two school’s bands, UNC’s Marching Tar Heels and A&T’s Marching Machine, its Cold Steel Drumline and its Golden Delight Dancers.
Oh Lord, yes.
After watching the bands perform, some of you were probably asking “Game? What game? Can’t we just sit here and groove on this for two more quarters?”
I asked UNC band director Jeffrey Fuchs how long the bands had practiced together to perform so precisely, and expected him to say they’d worked on their routines throughout the summer on a secret field in Funk & Wagnall’s back yard.
“From about 2:15 to 3” on the day of the game, he said.
A&T also sent about a dozen band members over Thursday night “for an hour” to show their Carolina counterparts some dance routines, he said.
Working with an HBCU, Fuchs said, “is something I’ve wanted to do for years, and when I saw A&T on the schedule, we started that conversation with them. We’ve collaborated with ECU, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, but I’ve always wanted to work with an HBC band.”
We saw why Saturday: I didn’t know Carolina could get that funky.
None of several calls to A&T’s band director and spokesman were returned, but the A&T student answering the phones in the band director’s office Monday said “the phone’s been jumping off the hook all day” with congratulatory calls from people who were blown away by the bands’ performance.
Any HBCU (Historically Black College and University) alum knows that the halftime show is often more highly anticipated than the game.
How can you tell?
Just watch how few people choose halftime to go the concession stand. Someone may go grab a Coke and a corndog with the ball at the two-foot line in the fourth quarter, but nobody leaves when the drum major starts strutting.
Being exposed to an HBCU halftime show for the first time can be a life-altering experience. Lewis Grizzard, an award-winning columnist at the Atlanta Constitution when I was an award-winning obit writer there, once wrote about attending a Morris-Brown College football game. The strange thing is that I don’t think he mentioned the football game.
Years later, Joe Namath was doing the TV color commentary for the Grambling University-Southern University Bayou Classic football tiff in 1991, the first year NBC had the good sense to put that game on TV. Namath similarly seemed to forget there was a game going on after halftime.
In Grizzard’s defense, the Morris-Brown marching band was so bad – that’s good, to you squares – that its members, in the precursor to the mic drop, would sometimes drop their instruments onto the ground mid-performance and inform the crowd and the opposing school’s band, “We don’t need no instruments to turn this motha’ out.”
They didn’t, either. Of course, Morris-Brown’s band has no instruments now. Hell, Morris-Brown has no university: it closed because, in part, the alumni who were digging its band didn’t support it. HBCUs, you see, in addition to having great bands, also usually have money woes.
A&T’s alumni, thank goodness, will never let that happen.
With apologies to Don McLean, here’s another verse to “American Pie.” Maestro, hit it:
We started singing why, why does the game have to start
There goes another Aggie player taken off on a cart
Even though they played the game with all of their heart
let us just sit here and watch the bands play
Let us just sit here and watch the bands play.
Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
as both schools’ bands played a groovy tune.
Carolina’s band was keeping step
and the Cold Steel Drumline provided pep ...
As the score climber higher in the night
the Aggie team kept up the fight
but we all wondered if they might
just quit and let the bands perform.