Overnight travel had totally dried up for the UDMB since 2003. Football schedules over the last 4 years did not lend themselves to any possibilities–Maine and UNH: just too far away; JMU: last minute switch to a night game and not enough time to make proper plans; UMASS: off the schedule until 2008. There just wasn’t anywhere to take the band….and then we beat UNI and SIU in the playoffs and there were 5 days to figure out how to get 300+ people to Chattanooga, TN!!!
Now planning trips is not rocket science, but when you’ve been sick for 4 weeks, worked your way through 2 different antibiotics, cough syrup with codeine, a variety of antihistamines and decongestants and NOTHING is helping to relieve your bronchitis and upper respiratory infection….well, planning a trip isn’t exactly the first thing on your list of things to do. But “ya gotta do what ya gotta do!”
With the help of the folks in Athletics, two charter flights were secured, the hotel was all reserved, buses to and from each airport were set and an itinerary was finally set. Meal money was in hand, and the two equipment trucks were being loaded when I made the hardest decision I have ever had to make: with this cold (or whatever it was) now residing in one of my ears there was no way I could fly with the band. Now I have, hands down, the most incredibly responsible and competent staff out there so there really was no need to worry….but you all know how I am and this was NOT how I did things. But the choices were clear: fly and rupture an eardrum, or put everything in the hands of Jim, Rah, Erin and everyone else while I drive and meet them in TN.
(There is no question that the right decision was made on all counts. Aside from the weather–intense fog–which try as I might I cannot control, the staff had a flawless morning of travel and arrival at the hotel. The band was simply outstanding with regard to everything asked of them!)
So off I went: coughing, feverish, meds in hand, iPod in dash, phone on 24/7. Thursday night was spent in Roanoke, VA (fever finally broke!) and I arrived in Chattanooga Friday at 12 noon, an hour before the first plane load of band members arrived! And they were PUMPED!!!
The tubas headed down to the pregame Pep Rally at 3:30 to entertain the fans by playing their “how many tunes to they have in their repetoire now” serenades, helping paint blue and gold faces on kids, and just all around good tuba fun! At 5:45 the band headed down the street to the Pavilion for an experience the 2003 band did not have: a 30-minute Pep Rally! Now for those of you who did not attend the game will do my best to paint the scene. With a police escort from members of the Chattanooga Swat Team (not kidding!) the mass of fans was literally parted like the Red Sea and the band moved slowly down the center of the Pavilion grounds. As the band moved forward the fans filled in behind and around all sides of the band. They were cheering and yelling and screaming and chanting “Go Blue Hens!” and the atmosphere was electric! (I have been part of many, many exciting events, but nothing compared to this! There simply are not any descriptive words to properly explain the intensity and excitement in the air!)
Pregame was on tap as a standstill. We started with the “D” Fanfare right into “Delaware Forever.” The cheerleaders did some cheers and stunts. President Harker and Governor Minner gave short and excitement filled speeches, and then President Harker passed everything back into the hands for drum major Pat McCloskey. A quick “Fight Song” (fight song short for all you band alums!) and now it was time to hold my breath and say a small prayer…….
…..the band had not performed or had a chance for a rehearsal of any sort since the Friday Thanksgiving weekend game against DSU. That means the band had not played together in OVER A MONTH! And Pat now had to start “Malaguena” in an environment with smoke machines, flashing lights and laser lights darting every which way to Sunday. (Anyone else just have the same heart attack I was having?) And some how, some way, this band was so focused and so aware of their responsibilities, “their job,” that it may have been the finest performance of the tune all fall!
But suddenly, just as they were about to finish the tune I realized we had far too much time left…so it was time to call an audible. …and I had no idea how I was going to pull this off because in order for anyone to hear you, you had to scream directly into their ear–that’s how loud the crowd was. I grabbed Josh’s shoulder and yelled “GET ON THE LADDER AND DO “THE WHO!” He looked at me like I was insane as he flew up the ladder and everyone in the band started screaming “MEASURE 5! MEASURE 5!” (The first 4 measures was a pit percussion intro and they were not at the pep rally–no roon!”) And just like that the band started in the right place and I looked around the crowd—for the first time all year fans were singing the lyrics! Another speech by a member of the 1979 championship team, a full playing of the “Fight Song” and it was all over.
Simply the most incredible experience I have ever had!
Then the game: the band played their heart out the whole first half. But now it was time for heart attack part two. Remember what I just said about the last time the band was together? It was halftime and we only had enough time to do “Malaguena.” They proved they remembered the music, but what about the drill??
…and one more time I was floored by this year’s band! I have no idea where they pulled that performance from but it was fantastic!
Game over (oh well), back to the hotel, next morning everyone checked out and headed to the airport, while I got in my car and headed north. Chattanooga is exactly 10.5 hours from Newark with 2 gas/food stops and the cruise control set at 76 mph. Everyone arrived home safe and sound, all the equipment got unloaded and we’ll deal with uniform return in the spring.
Very special thanks go to Ryan Arthurton, David Werner, Darrin Raetsch, and Chris Vitale for driving the two trucks both ways; Valerie Vassar, Claire Czekaj, Colbert Groce, Mike Windish, Gene Paulus, Brent King for all their assistance in moving the band, the equipment, and anything else that came up along the way; and Erin, Rah and Jim for taking the proverbial bull by the horns and getting the band to and from Tennessee so I could take the extra day of travel and not destroy my hearing permanently. (And a personal thank you to Paul Head for joining us and helping out whenever needed. Paul, you got to see things first hand and I cannot thank you enough for all of your support!)
As I curl up on the couch for the next few days watching a stack of dvds and simply relaxing (finally), I conclude by borrowing the Bands of America slogan–this was by far one of the most positively life changing experiences I have ever had with the UDMB.
Happy holidays everyone!