My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.
It was the night before the big game. Many students and residents were gathered by the downtown train station, in a yearly tradition to welcome the alumni. As the crowd waited for the train to come in, out came the Band-uh, in their customary garb …
Of … pajamas?
“It’s a different kind of gig for us,” said Lisa Vance, fifth-year flute player for the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh. “Pajamarino is a lot of fun.”
Pajamarino, a UC Davis pre-Homecoming ceremony since 1912, found participants – particularly, the Band-uh – dressed in different types of pajamas and sleepwear. While many of those in attendance were dressed normally, some came in their most elaborate PJ’s: smoking jackets, pajama pants, bunny slippers, and the occasional pillow. The Band-uh, to their credit, showed up in the full spirit of Pajamarino.
“Each section has a theme,” explained Vance. “So, trumpets have their bunny ears, flutes are wearing dress shirts. Clarinets are wearing body pajamas, drummers are cross-dressing. It’s just a fun, themed thing we do.”
As the UC Davis dance team and the cheer squad, also in attendance, entertained the crowd with their routines, the Band-uh performed well into the night. The dance team, in particular, was more than willing to participate in the yearly tradition. Over the years, the two organizations have formed a strong bond with each other. “The dance team and the band have always had mutual respect for each other,” said UC Davis dance team member Kayla Odom. “They always play music for us, and it’s always a lot of fun to work with them.”
“They’re our biggest fans, and we’re their biggest fans,” added dance team member Giselle Ross. After the ceremony, the Band-uh and the dance team marched through downtown Davis, closing off the streets as they played their way to the E Street Plaza, gearing up for the Homecoming game.
October 9. Game day had arrived, and the Band-uh was as busy as ever. Members had been practicing since late morning at Aggie Stadium, when I came to their headquarters, hours before the game. “We’ll rehearse [from 10:15] until 12:45, and we’ll run through both the pre-game show and the halftime show,” explained Band-uh director Tom Slabaugh. The Band-uh needed to figure out the logistics of their placements and routines, as it was their only chance to do it in the stadium.
Soon after, they marched over to the tailgate section of the stadium, to play for patrons before the game. As people gathered around the tailgate section, waiting to enter, the Band-uh played on. As the announcer proceeded with the starting lineups, around twenty minutes before kickoff, I was settled high in the press box, waiting for the festivities to begin. The Band-uh proceeded to line up, waiting to greet the football team with the Aggie fight song. From there, I saw the Band-uh ready to take the field. With their traditional lead-in by the PA announcer, the California Aggie Marching Band-uh filed into the stadium, with a rumble from the stadium that could literally be felt from the press box. From there, they were ready to begin the pregame show.
“That pregame show is scripted very deliberately, down to the second,” said Slabaugh. “We know, within a ten-second gap range, where we’re going to be, what song we’re playing, where we are in the song, the whole kit and caboodle.” Forming the letters “UCD,” the Band-uh flawlessly came into place, performing one of the university’s fight songs, “Big C.”
Soon afterwards, the Band-uh switched positions, forming the Aggie stallion logo on the field, and performed the Star-Spangled Banner. One more playthrough of the Aggie fight song, and, by 6:03, they were off the playing field. “We’re standing in a block at the end of the field, playing “Aggie Fight” as the football team runs through us,” Slabaugh said. “We cheer them on.” Donned in their customary blue, white and gold marching uniforms and sunglasses (despite the fact it was sundown), the Band-uh made their way to Section 108, where they would settle in for the first half.
The football team, on the other hand, was just getting started. For their homecoming game, the Aggies faced off against the South Dakota Coyotes, who, at 3-2, that went into Minneapolis and beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a Big Ten team, on September 11. The Aggies, to their credit, took out an FBS team of their own – the San Jose State Spartans – the week before, 14-13, salvaging a 2-3 record after five games.
Unfortunately, the Aggies did not start out so well, as Aggie TE Dean Rogers lost a fumble at their own 45-yard line. Luckily, the defense made a crucial stop, limiting the Coyote offense to a 37-yard field goal. All the while, the Band-uh was in charge of keeping the energy up within the stadium, playing songs like “Come Out and Play” by The Offspring during official timeouts and TV commercial breaks. The crowd came alive later in the first quarter, however, when a 1-yard run by RB Nick Aprile capped off a 64-yard drive that saw QB Randy Wright effectively move the ball down the field. Another Coyote field goal cut the lead to one in the first quarter, 7-6.
The action picked up again near the end of the first half, as the Aggies drove down the field. The Band-uh responded with a rousing rendition of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” keeping the packed crowd on their feet. Starting at their own 20-yard line, the Aggies used a combination of RB Josh Reese and WR Sean Creadick to get to the South Dakota 11-yard line. Though they failed to get the touchdown from there, they salvaged a field goal, sending the Aggies to the locker room with a 10-6 halftime lead. It was then when the Band-uh had their time to shine.
The Band-uh marched their way from the stands onto the field, with the lead-in announcer in the background:
“Because your love, your love, your love is their drug, Here is the Calfornia Aggie Marching Band-Uh!”
This gave the cue to begin the halftime show, which saw Drum Major Ryan Morrow attempting to perform to music by pop sensation Ke$ha. Student Direcctor Arbel Bedak stopped him right in his tracks.
“What’s wrong with Ke$ha?!” Morrow exclaimed, in an obviously scripted, but wildly comical, fashion. The conversation continued, to the amusement of the crowd, until Bedak gave the cue to the Band-uh, the Cheer Squad and the Dance Team, performing together on the field.
The Band-uh then proceeded to play hits by pop sensation Lady Gaga – particularly, “Pokerface”, “Telephone” and “Bad Romance.” As Slabaugh conducted high atop the ladders, Morrow danced flamboyantly from the ground. However, the Band-uh was still as disciplined as ever during, and after, the performance. “We have to make sure we’re working to a very tight timeline with entering and exiting the field,” Slabaugh explained, “because teams have to be available to enter the field with six minutes left on the clock.”
The second half gave the Band-uh a much-needed break. While they continued playing hits like “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, many of the members relaxed and enjoyed the game, replenishing the energy spent during halftime. “The band’s eating during the third quarter,” Slabaugh said. “But, there’s always someone ready to play.”
As the fourth quarter rolled around, South Dakota was holding on to a 13-10 lead, after a third-quarter TD run by RB Dante Warren. To make things worse, K Sean Kelley missed a 45-yard field goal a minute into the fourth. The Band-uh did all they could to pump up the crowd, as South Dakota began another drive, up three points. However, they could only do so much. According to NCAA rules, the Band-uh was not allowed to make too much noise, as to impede the teams from hearing their play calls. Violations would give the Aggies a 15-yard penalty. “We’re not gonna mess with that,” Slabaugh assured. “We’re gonna be on it. That’s our job.”
Fortunately, the Aggies got the ball back, recovering a fumble at the SD 39-yard line. On the very next play, Wright threw a 39-yard TD strike to Rogers, giving the Aggies a 17-13 lead with 12:24 left in the game. After the touchdown, the Band-uh played their customary “Aggie Fight,” followed by their unique celebratory drum cadence. “We always play our fight song after they score,” said sophomore Tenor Saxophone player Clara Hull. The Band-uh kept the energy going throughout the rest of the game, playing songs like “Party Hard” by Andrew W.K.
“Great game,” Slabaugh said soon afterward. “Band’s doing a real great job. Life’s good.”
The game came down to the final drive, by the Coyotes, down 4 and threatening at the UC Davis 26-yard line. With the raucous crowd and the Band-uh behind them, the Aggie defense clamped down on three consecutive incomplete pass plays. The crowd hushed as CB Jonathan Perkins lay on the ground, injured, after the last offensive play by South Dakota. Eventually, however, Perkins was helped up, and walked off the field … to victory.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock and the fans rushed the field, the Band-uh played “Hail to California” as the customary end-of-game anthem, with the football team in tow. Many times, the Band-uh have gone out of their way and made sacrifices for the football team. “[The Band-uh] follow us around the whole country,” said UC Davis LB Dozie Amajoyi. “We’ve got to pay our respects to them, because the whole Aggie family’s [always] there for us.”
Though, most who are not involved with the culture of marching bands tend to take it for granted, the Band-uh prepares tirelessly throughout the week to put on an exceptional show. But that doesn’t mean their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s big for us,” said Wright after the game. “[It’s big] just to have that support on the road, when all the fans can’t travel.”
“I think we’re unique in regards to University bands, because of our relationship with the sports teams,” said Slabaugh. “We have a marvelous relationship with the football team, in large part, because they know how much work we go through to support them.” He went on to explain that, on road trips, the Band-uh has noticed many times that the opponents’ marching bands and the players rarely have a close relationship. “Oftentimes … the [opponent’s] football team is too worried about business to worry about saying ‘Thank you’ [to their band],” he went on to elaborate.
“At the end of the game, the [football team always] comes over, and we’re all cheering at each other,” said Morrow. “They raise their helmets to us, and it’s really awesome.”
One of the Band-uh’s most well-documented examples came in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. An emergency pulled plane tickets from the football team, as they prepared for a road trip to North Dakota. The Band-uh, in response, decided to offer a token of generosity. “We heard about this, [we] gave them all of our plane tickets, got in vans, and drove there,” explained Morrow. “We still supported the team – we still made it to the game.”
Head coach Bob Biggs has long echoed the sentiments regarding the Band-uh, never taking for granted their importance to the football team.
“They’re really like our 12th player, they really are,” Biggs explained. “We have our students tonight, because we’re at home. But, oftentimes, we’re on the road, we don’t have that kind of support. And, our players, trust me, they look for them. They can hear the band playing before they enter any stadium that we’re playing in, and it gets them fired up. So, we have a real close relationship with the band, because we know the sacrifices those kids are making to get where they go.”
As the Band-uh marched to the Victory Bell after the game, they played well into the night. It was clear, by the end of it all, that they had a dedication to the football team, and to each other. The sacrifices, as Biggs put it, were well worth it in the end, rewarded with a homecoming victory, and a heightened sense of Aggie Pride.