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An Unsung Rutgers Tradition Turns 50

The Tradition of a Football Game.. Between the Marching Band and Glee Club

Marching Band members tackling the Glee Club ball carrier at Soup Bowl 2012.

Tomorrow, while the Rutgers Football team faces the Hoosiers in Bloomington, a game between two Rutgers University organizations will be happening in High Point Solutions Stadium— a full contact flag football game between the Rutgers Marching Band and Rutgers Glee Club. This event is called Soup Bowl and this year is the 50th Anniversary. The Rutgers Band in their black jerseys emblazoned with “RUMB” faces off against the Glee Club with “RUGC” on red jerseys play every November for a trophy and year’s worth of bragging rights. The Glee Club has won the game for three consecutive years.

As an alumna of the Rutgers Marching Band, I remember attending Soup Bowl for all of my four years. It is a serious tradition focused game to those involved. Many generations of Marching Band and Glee Club alumni return for this event and things can get heated both on and off the field (there is even tailgating!). It was not always in the stadium and I remember it being played in Rutgers’ indoor practice facility (aka “the Bubble”) in my senior year, and various fields around Rutgers prior to that. This year, to have it in the stadium for the 50th anniversary in something special.

The Rutgers University Glee Club led by Dr. Patrick Gardner.
The Rutgers University Marching Band (and Leonte Carroo, eyyyy) led by inaugural Director Todd Nichols.

I was reached out to by Glee Club Captains Gabe Berrios and Max Ohring (also the Glee Club’s Offensive Line Coach) to bring this story to the broader public. Portions of the below information were gleaned directly from an article published by Ohring in the Glee Club’s newsletter. I’d like to thank Ohring for his thorough research.

So first, you might be asking what caused the two organizations to want to face off against each other in the first place? An incorrect source from 2010 suggests that the first game was played in 1971 due to growing tension between the Glee Club and Marching Band as a result of them being united under the direction of F. Austin “Soup” Walter. However, both of these claims, the source of tension, and the shared director are untrue.

To resolve this story, Ohring reached out to Glee Club alumnus, Peter Hawkins, 1973 graduate of Rutgers College, and he stated that the first Soup Bowl took place in 1967. A conversation with the Marching Band director of the time, Dr. Scott Whitener, confirmed this. So the date of origin and leadership of the organizations was resolved, but the bigger part of this story is why on earth would the Marching Band and Glee Club want to play a competitive game of football against each other? According to Dr. Whitener, when he had first arrived at Rutgers in 1966, the Glee Club and the Marching Band got along well. They shared the same rehearsal space, McKinney Hall. The Glee Club, under the direction of F. Austin “Soup” Walter, was already considered the most prominent musical ensemble at Rutgers. When Dr. Whitener arrived at Rutgers and assumed the role of Marching Band director in 1966, the band was very disorganized. Dr. Whitener referred to them as a “straw hat band.” Consequently, Dr. Whitener set out to quickly make the band organized and professional in which he was successful. In Whitener’s early years, the Marching Band toured California, and had performances at Town Hall and even the Ed Sullivan Show. Due to the band’s growing reputation as a serious and respected musical ensemble, a friendly spirit of competition and friction was fostered between the Glee Club and the Marching Band with Soup Bowl starting in the midst of this development.

A Glee Club member waves the Rutgers Glee Club flag at the 42nd Annual Soup Bowl

What could potentially be the direct contributor to start of Soup Bowl is an infamous incident where the incoming Glee Club council came into McKinney Hall, the shared rehearsal space, during the summer before the 1967-1968 school year to paint the Glee Club’s office on the top floor of McKinney Hall. Dr. Whitener, thinking this was a good idea, decided to call Rutgers administration to see if it was alright if his students painted the Marching Band’s office. The administration then reprimanded Dr. Whitener, stating that such a task is only to be performed by Rutgers maintenance, and by having students do it would be depriving people of work. The Glee Club and its leadership received no reprimand, however, and got off scot-free, which perturbed the Marching Band.

This “painting McKinney Hall incident” and the incredibly rapid improvement of the band among other factors caused the friction between organizations to reach its peak and resulted in the first Soup Bowl game which was played in 1967 in Buccleuch Park in New Brunswick, NJ. At the time, both ensembles had, as Dr. Whitener put it, “football player types,” meaning big men who looked as if they could take a hit. In fact, the Glee Club had actual Rutgers football players. According to Glee Club alumnus Peter Jensen, (Rutgers College 1971), the Glee Club’s quarterback at the first Soup Bowl was Steve Scharf, who in high school had played as the second string quarterback to famed Rutgers quarterback, Rich Policastro, while the two attended Highland Park High School.

David Politziner, 1969 Rutgers College Alumnus who was a member of the Glee Club has fond memories of the first two games. “The Glee Club won the inaugural game 4 touchdowns to 3. In the next year, I was the head of the Glee Club, known then as the Business Manager, and organized the game in the fall of 1968. As I recall, the Glee Club scored the first touchdown and the Band tied it up. The Glee Club scored the next touchdown and the Band again tied it up. The Glee Club then took a 3 touchdown to 2 lead and yet again, the Band scored to make the score 3 to 3. The Glee Club then scored to make it 4 to 3. We then stopped the Band from scoring. With about 2 minutes to go in the game, the Glee Club scored again to make the final score Glee Club 5, Band 3. It was a hard fought game with only a little blood flowing from one or two of the players. I would like to say there was a lot of dancing in the streets on College Avenue that evening, but all that could be heard after the game was an emotional rendition of ‘On the Banks.’” [Rutgers’ Alma Mater]

Another question that comes up is why this game is called “Soup Bowl.” According to Peter Jensen, before this name came to be, it was simply referred to as “the game.” “The game was developing at same the time the NFL was coining the term "Super Bowl," which, per Wikipedia, was first officially used by the NFL (after constant use in the press) for the Joe Namath/NY Jets Super Bowl in January 1969. I think it was a short linguistic jump from that name to calling our more important contest the ‘Soup Bowl.’” said Jensen.

Since 1967, Soup Bowl has evolved from a simple pickup football game to an organized, 8-on-8 full contact flag football game, complete with referees from Rutgers Recreation. We are sure that this tradition will continue to evolve as new generations of students join both the Marching band Glee Club and learn of the historic rivalry between the two fantastic musical organizations. As is sung in the traditional Rutgers song “Loyal Sons,” Play the game, boys, play together. Score once more, oh score once more!

I look forward to attending the game and will be cheering on the Marching Band, of course. Regardless of the outcome, at the end of the game both sides embrace arm in arm for the singing of the Rutgers University Alma Mater as always.