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Off Beat Empire: That Moment of Knowing

When you finally have to confront the truth that your team is shit and you still have two months left

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - Oregon v Wisconsin
I don’t think you’re going to the Rose Bowl this year, Badgers...
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As many of you are aware, I am a Northwestern fan, alum, and attending season ticket holder. Every year, I get excited for the season. Just about every year, the ‘Cats blow at least one of their first three games, usually in some kind of “didn’t see that coming” fashion. Now, in Northwestern world (do not try this at Michigan, Penn State, or tOSU), that doesn’t necessarily matter, because we’ve seen the ‘Cats look bad early before and then do crazy things like beat the rest of the mediocre West division and still end up in Indianapolis. All is good, Fitz will fix it, etc., etc.

Well, sometimes all is not good, you see your Defense apparently still caught in the pregame line for Runzas during the first half, and you come to the inescapable conclusion that your team is fresh, grade-A doggy doo-doo.

As a fan, that feeling is frustrating. As a member of the Marching Band... it’s so much worse. Fans can stay home from the game, just record the game and decide if you want to watch it later... whatever most normal sane people (does not apply to me - I’ll be there in person) do to stop the mind-numbing pain of being awful. Marching Band members still have months of practice to look forward to, in front of what is probably going to be an increasingly empty or opponent-occupied crowd, and in the midst of worse-and-worse weather as the season progresses. There is no relief for the misery. In fact, you might even enjoy the privilege of seeing your team get blown out in front of a raucous road stadium that your Director thought might be a fun place to visit that year.

I’m personally a little bit lucky. I joined the ‘Cats in 1993 where they started 2-1 with that only loss being to Notre Dame and the win being to a ranked Boston College team that would end up beating the #1 Irish later that year. Sure, the ‘Cats lost the next two games on the road, but I don’t think we fully realized that “this wasn’t the year” until the ‘Cats lost a late October game to Indiana. That feeling was cemented on a snowy trip to East Lansing that I think we boarded the buses for at 3:00 AM or something. The football game ended with players swinging folding chairs at each other in the stands WWF style (screw the World Wildlife Foundation, it’s WWF forever!), and another close “L” to add to the record. After that, we still had two November home games to endure, it was getting cold, and I realized that I did not own a proper winter coat and could not afford one (that year had 17 sub-zero days during winter... I only had my free “Fall” marching band jacket to wear). The ‘Cats ended up losing every conference game to finish 2-9.

That, however, was the extent of my suffering. In 1994 the ‘Cats were 3-3-1 heading into the final stretch, and we thought a Bowl was potentially in the offing. The ‘Cats lost the next four games, but the first two were at home (although that MSU game was a downpour) and the road game to Iowa had at least nice weather (before it started raining small liquor bottles by the student section and Dennis Lundy threw the game with a goal-line fumble). When the Hopium finally ran out, we weren’t stuck going to practice or any more games, so there was no soul-searching moment where you had to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” In 1995 the ‘Cats went to the Rose Bowl and in 1996 they repeated as B1G Champs, cementing my Junior and Senior years as probably the best possible years ever to have been a member of NUMB.

This brings us to today. There are Northwestern students who just formally started classes last week, and are now facing the strong prospect of practicing the remainder of the year to perform for tarps and little else during progressively worse weather. Most Illini probably already knew their cause was hopeless before the season started, and if not, might have figured it out after the UTSA game. If they haven’t figured out their situation, yet, I would suggest locking them in a room with Thumpasaurus until he talks some sense into them.

I’m sure that a lot of Purdue, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska Marching Band members are still thinking they have a shot at a Bowl, but three of those four will probably get their souls crushed shortly, and even if Indiana and Wisconsin make it to a Bowl game, it probably isn’t going to be the kind that they were anticipating at the beginning of the season. All that, and winter is coming (the season is long and full of terrors).

Of course, not everything in Band revolves around the football team. The reason why Bands endure despite rough seasons is the fun, camaraderie, musicianship, and just joy with what you are doing. Sometimes it can even be a point of pride to continue to show up and do your best even when the Football team isn’t quite holding up its side of the bargain. Some of my favorite moments from Band were when we were at our most miserable. Even at that Michigan State game I mentioned above, it was fantastic fun to be singing “Kumbaya” in the stands as one of our DB’s went full Randy Macho Man Savage on his Spartan counterpart.

Still, the hope of some big games and a paid vacation for the holidays can make a big difference in the attitude of an organization, and this is when it starts getting tough to be a Marching Band member at some of the schools. If you have the same disease that I do and can’t quit your team despite obvious ineptitude, do your poor Marching Band a favor and show up for their performances, cheer a bit louder, and let them know that they’re appreciated even if everyone is disappointed.


You are a member of NUMB or the Marching Illini this year with two months left...

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Is it too late to drop the class?
    (13 votes)
  • 6%
    I’m fleeing to Canada
    (10 votes)
  • 17%
    Feign an injury
    (25 votes)
  • 66%
    Eh, so what... I can catch up on my reading while in the stands
    (96 votes)
144 votes total Vote Now


This week has video on seven bands in action. The overall quality was pretty good for everyone, and it was a bit tough establishing which shows I liked best (with much of it coming down to music selection), but these were my favorites...

Win: Rutgers Scarlet Knights Marching Band, Oct. 2nd “Flying”

The Scarlet Knights took the field featuring music with a flying theme, like “Danger Zone” from Top Gun and “Fly Like an Eagle”. I don’t think anyone this week really overwhelmed with fantastic drill (although most of it was decent) and I’m not sure that even the Scarlet Knights would call this their most challenging show, but there’s something about the sound that in comparison to some of the other shows I think just stood above. Specifically, the music stayed true to the original hits... “Danger Zone” actually felt like a driving, Kenny Loggins tune (set to band) and “Fly Like an Eagle” had that spacey, smooth-flowing Steve Miller from the late ‘70’s feel to it.

Although I don’t think there was a ton extraordinary about the show, it all just seemed to fit together and sounded and looked right while keeping to a theme.

Place: Iowa Hawkeyes Marching Band, Sept. 25th “Eighties”

A very rare, but professionally edited video of Iowa was posted on YouTube for their game against Colorado State. What can I say, I’m a sucker for youthful nostalgia, and 80’s tunes are always fun. “Africa” is actually a pretty good tune to turn into a Band arrangement, and I loved the nod to the video with animation for Herky in “Take on Me”. The 80’s leotard, leggings, and headbands for the twirlers was actually a pretty funny touch.

That said, I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more of Van Halen’s “Jump”. That could be a really good tune to sustain a full arrangement for. Also, apparently The Weekends “Blinding Lights” is this year’s publisher clearance sale that a lot of folks are working into shows - I know it’s got an old-school ‘80’s feel to it, but I’m not sure why it made it into this theme. Regardless, I’m happy to finally have some video on Iowa for this year.

Show: Penn State Blue Band, Oct. 2nd “Bryce Jordan Center?”

The Blue Band paid homage to their basketball arena’s 25th anniversary with a collection of tunes that I honestly can’t quite understand how they are tied together (Penn State has had some weird collections of music this year... they might want to just pick a theme and stick with it), which included “My Girl”, “Walk this Way”, “Blinding Lights” (this year’s publisher special), and “Wagon Wheel”. However, I thought that overall the music sounded pretty darn good and the drill was just enough to keep momentum through much of the show. I will confess that I was very excited to hear that somebody had arranged Aerosmith... there is a lot in that catalogue that you can use to make one incredible show. This version... eh... it was interesting in that it re-imagined “Walk this Way” in almost a swing, big band context that I think sounded good for what they were trying to accomplish. Still, I wish they could have captured more of the driving rock sound that made the tune such a success, although I’ll admit that is very hard to do (and the Illini are one of the few who successfully pulled off something like that with their Led Zeppelin show a few years ago).

Anyway, I’m still happy to hear Aerosmith tunes finding their way to the halftime show. I also liked “Wagon Wheel” toward the end, but again, this sounded like a big band, jazzed up version instead of the Old Crow Medicine Show twang.

Honorable Mention: Purdue All-American Marching Band, Oct. “Drum’s 100th Birthday”

Man, Purdue is really going all-in to celebrate their (alleged) World’s Largest Drum this year with songs ranging from the classic “Happy Birthday” to “Bang Bang”. Drill was really confined to some stick-man representations, but it was kind of cute and I just continue to love the way the AAMB sounds.

Aside from the drum being celebrated, I think they have some good percussion throughout the show and Purdue has always been great with clear brass and big hits, especially in the trumpet parts. There’s a great moment where they bring out 52 members of the drum crew over the years, including a member from 70 years ago who takes a few whacks right before the Band finishes with the finale from the “1812 Overture”.

Other Still Pretty Good Shows

The Mighty Sound Maryland, Oct. 1st, “Dancing Tunes”

I actually think that I would have placed this show somewhere above if I had the benefit of a better recording (in terms of sound), but unfortunately, this seems to be the best video available for now. Maryland features dance-related tunes like “Footloose” and “Flashdance”. I think the drill and color guard look good, I just wish that I could hear the music a bit better.

Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band, Oct. 2nd “Homecoming”

Starting with a bit of K-Pop (“Dynamite”) and progressing though a few more tunes with their alumni Band (“Old Days”, “Proud Mary”, not sure on the first alumni tune), the Spartans both remind everyone that they are 5-0 for the year and pay homage to a former 23-Year Director of Bands, Kenneth G. Bloomquist, who passed away this August. Our sympathies to the Spartans.

Wisconsin Marching Band, Oct. 2nd “James Bond”

Fun version of various tunes from the James Bond films over the years, ranging from the theme to “Live and Let Die”. Typical Wisconsin high step is featured throughout.

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

OSU, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa (Oct. 1st), Minnesota, and Indiana were on the road. I’m not sure why Illinois didn’t post anything... they’re usually pretty good about it. Still nothing on the season for Nebraska (or Northwestern, for that matter).


Some folks have learned, or will soon learn that it’s a long season in front of them with little payoff (at least in terms of football success). Be kind to your downtrodden band, if they find themselves in that position.