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Off Beat Empire: Lost Traditions

Come here to share tales of the “good old days” and shake your fist at America’s youth

Purdue University Boilermakers
Inspires fear in the hearts of leprechauns, everywhere
Photo by Purdue/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

In the world of collegiate marching band, much ado was made this year over Purdue not being able to bring their allegedly four Pinocchios “World’s Largest Drum” into Notre Dame stadium because some entrance wasn’t wide enough or something (I’ve heard far lamer excuses for being stood up in the past, although too wide to make it through the entrance might be a good reason to not swipe right on Tinder - not that I’m one to talk). As I was taking in Northwestern’s Marching Band performance on Saturday, I started thinking about the various bands and their traditions, and is there anything worse that somebody could take away that would destroy what makes your band what it is (other than maybe messing with your fight song)?

So far, the best list I could come up with is as follows:

  • Illinois: Well, the Chief already happened. The band continues to do their 3-in-1, but if some rogue director decided to change that up, I suspect that a lot of alums wouldn’t be happy.
  • Indiana: It’s got to be a toss-up between “Swing, Swing, Swing” and the RedSteppers.
  • Michigan: I don’t know if most Michigan fans would agree with me or not (or if they’re even aware of what happens post-game), but losing “Temptations” and “Hawaiian War Chant” from the post-game show would seem to be a big loss.
  • Northwestern: It would probably be the Spirit Leaders, but any removal of the Alma Mater would get the alums going. Now, a lot of bands do their Alma Mater, so I’m not sure that really works or not, but at Northwestern... “it just means more.”
  • Ohio State: Get rid of script Ohio and dotting the “i” and you will see the full extent of what rioting can do in the state of Ohio. “Hang on Sloopy” could be another candidate if script Ohio wasn’t the traditional juggernaut that it is.
  • Penn State: As a devoted non-twirler advocate, I have to ask... do you guys really love your Blue Sapphires that much?
  • Purdue: Still the drum.
  • Wisconsin: I want to say their high step for half-time, but it might be “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”. Jump Around is bigger than both combined, though.

Beyond that, I’m wondering how many little things have disappeared from game day that fans might have loved in time past?

As a NUMBAlum, even though it disappeared years ago, I’m kind of missing our high step “right” (or was it left... it’s been so long I don’t even remember) turns where we were taught not to turn left 90 degrees, but instead to do a 270 degree spin to the opposite direction. It only happened a few times in pre-game, but it was different, it added a bit of daring to the performance, and what the ‘Cats do today as part of the counter-march to “Push On” looks really lame with it missing. Talking about the new stadium that is supposedly coming, it also made me reflect on the old tunnel entrance run-on that we used to do before the stadium was modified in 1997. I’m not sure the audience cared all that much, but there’s something about getting hyped in a tunnel and running on (especially in the rare circumstance that Dyche Field was full) that just felt right... felt like B1G football. Beyond that, I guess we’re missing the marshmallows being thrown in the Sousaphones and maybe “Tarzan Boy” (probably the worst actual song that I’ve enjoyed the band arrangement of), but aside from a few different stand pieces over the years, it seems to be pretty much the same.

Anyway, I wanted to invite my fellow “Boomers” (I’m not really a Boomer) to tell me all the great things that their Band used to do in the day, that they’ve now given up to make more room for Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber (man... even those two acts are like over a decade old... I don’t even know what kids listen to today). Or, tell me the one thing that your Band has or does that if they stop doing it, you will write (and mail) a strongly-worded letter threatening to withhold all ($5) of your future charitable donations to the school.


How to best mess with another school’s Band tradition

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Bring a bigger drum to the game versus Purdue
    (59 votes)
  • 34%
    Kidnap OSU’s drum major and get them to spell "Michigan" instead (it’s better... it’s got two "i’s")
    (45 votes)
  • 5%
    Challenge the Blue Sapphires to a throw-down with a squad of jugglers
    (7 votes)
  • 15%
    Add lead weights to Wisconsin shoes so they can’t high step at halftime
    (20 votes)
131 votes total Vote Now


Normally I do a win, place, show concept for halftime, but this week I don’t think anybody really solidly distinguished themselves from anybody else. Still there was a pretty good quality to just about everyone’s show, so I’m going to assign two different categories today...

Pretty Darn Good

University of Michigan Marching Band: Sept. 25th, “Spectrum”

Ostensibly in honor of the 50th anniversary of Michigan’s Spectrum Center, an on-campus building dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ+ community, Michigan performed everything from “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross to the Golden Girls theme (someone might have to explain that tie-in to me). What I like most about the show is that sound and drill are impeccably clean... nothing sounds or looks out-of-place during the performance. I also like the fact that this is now Michigan’s fourth straight week of shows, and they didn’t take shortcuts in any of them. Every single one featured full drill without substantial park n’ bark, and they haven’t had a week off. That’s hard to do as an organization, and I tip my cap to the Wolverines for doing it. Alumni band joins from the stands for the final portion.

Michigan State Spartan Marching Band: Sept. 25th, “Coach Tucker’s Favorites”

Supposedly representing a list of coach Mel Tucker’s favorite tunes, we get everything from Bruno Mars “24K Magic” to Tupac’s “California Love”.

OK, side note here... I don’t believe for one second that Mel Tucker has half of these songs on his iPhone, or Spotify, or Pandora, or whatever the hell else you damn kids listen to nowadays (CD’s and cassette tapes forever!). This is what really happened... somebody went through the list of songs in the MSU library, basically came up with a hip hop / soul heavy list, and then asked Mel Tucker to spend 30 seconds recording a cheesy video so they could pretend they had a theme.

Every marching band member at one point has asked themselves and those around them, “What the hell does this song have to do with the rest?” I’m convinced the answer is, “We got it on sale from a publisher earlier this year, and had to find a reason to use it,” but I’ll admit that such things were beyond my pay grade and occurred months before the season started. Now, the good bands pretend that it was intentional and somehow tie together a theme. Other bands will just say “eff it” and announce the tunes as you progress through the show.

Back to State... sounds very good, looks very clean, and lots to like about this show.

The Ohio State University Marching Band: Sept. 25th, “Party Rock Country Extravaganza”

Music featured “Friends in Low Places”, “Life is a Highway”, and “I Like It, I Love It” amongst others. Drill featured the usual classic Ohio State stick figures and some good two person pinwheel movement at various times as well. I do feel like an idiot... I spent half this show wondering why the hell OSU kept putting horns on their stick figures (I kept thinking, “What does country have to do with Viking helmets?!? Did Ted Glover put them up to this?”) before I figured out that those were cowboy hats. The Band is joined toward the middle by Alumni, and we get a traditional 4-way script Ohio going toward the end.

Still Pretty Good

Indiana Marching Hundred: Sept. 18th, “Music from Hamilton”

I’m always happy when I can get a bit of video on the Marching Hundred. The Hoosiers played various selections from the musical “Hamilton” for their halftime performance, with the usual (and as always, excellent) performance from the RedSteppers.

The Mighty Sound of Maryland: Sept. 25th, “Band Day!”

Before bringing on the high schools, the Mighty Sound of Maryland featured a collection of hit tunes from 2020 and 2021.

University of Minnesota Marching Band: Sept. 25th, “The Roaring ‘20’s”

The Gophers featured classic jazz age tunes, and looked good while doing it. I really liked the rifles in the color guard. I know Minnesota has used them before, but they look sharp and I wish that more bands featured rifles in their shows.

Penn State Blue Band: Sept. 25th, “Flight Theme”

The Penn State Blue Band performed various songs that somehow involved flight, including Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away” and Kenny Loggins “Highway to the Danger Zone” from Top Gun. Nice full sound and pretty good drill (with some park n’ bark).

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

I saw Northwestern’s show live and it was pretty good and would have fit in the mold of many above, but for the life of me, I can’t recall what the theme was (and I was catching up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for two years). Wisconsin performed a repeat of their first week show at Soldier Field. Illinois, Indiana (for the 25th), Rutgers, and Nebraska were all on the road. Unfortunately, I still don’t have any video for Iowa, Nebraska, or Northwestern for the season. Purdue was at home, but I couldn’t find any video for this week. I presume their drum was back in action.


Back in our day, everything was better. Performances for the week were pretty solid. Mel Tucker is a lying liar and probably really listens to British punk music.