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Monday, November 12, 2018


Last night, The Philadelphia Eagles played the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Living in the market of another NFC team, it was one of the few times I could be sure I could catch the Birds in action, and again Dallas, no less.

Not only did I not watch, I checked the score with the Eagles down a score in the 4th quarter, and couldn't be bothered to turn it on or check the final score, not knowing of the loss until this morning.

I spent last season without the NFL, before predictably backsliding once my team made, and ultimately won, the Super Bowl. As this season began, I casually lifted what had been an out-and-out ban of the league, wearing apparel once more and catching pieces of the occasional game. I don't have a solid reason why I let the league back in. Perhaps the time off wasn't sustainable. Maybe it's because Kap's getting paid, even if not by them. Maybe it's because for all of the NFL's ills, my team's all right. But the shift had already occurred. An already well-worn path had calcified. I spend my Saturdays focused on college football, and spend my Sundays also focused on college football, further aided by Solid Verbal and Best Week Ever episodes that air Sunday recaps. So while the NFL is not completely gone, it's been significantly deemphasized.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Look

Back when USF unveiled their new Adidas uniforms this summer, there was one look that caught my eye. A look so wrong, yet so right. The Bulls wore it in game for the first time this past weekend at Homecoming.

Most of my uniform nerd sensibilities should lead me to hate this combo. It's black for black's sake. It contains shades of our colors that aren't actually ours. Some would be inclined to call it gawdy, and frankly they wouldn't be wrong.

Yet somehow, I love it.

It's flashy, and uses its bright colors in a way that look downright sharp. It was probably designed to go over well with "the kids," and while I'm decidedly not them, it's got me hooked. So while I prefer seeing us in the proper green an gold most of the time, this one can stay.

Here's what can't.

Apparently, it's rebrand season. My employer, UNC Greensboro, just underwent a rebrand - excuse me, "brand refresh" of both the athletic and institutional logos prior to the start of this school year. UMBC sent out a survey to alumni and stakeholders back in late August asking us to weigh in on a few options for an update to the institutional logo. And just recently, USF released - and quickly began pushing something fierce - a new institutional logo. It has been pretty unilaterally rejected by those of us with ties to the university - myself included.

Upon seeing just the logo,  a few things struck me. First, as many have noted, it immediately evokes the Merrill Lynch logo. I've been inclined to point out Johnson C. Smith as well. The bull used departs from our history as Brahmans (though admittedly, that ship sailed long ago). And while I just praised the mismatch for an alternate uniform above, it strays from our school colors, opting instead for green and "USF Horizon" - a shade of yellow that hearkens back to a previous colorway. I've admittedly been loud wrong being curmudgeonly and protesting a brand change before, but I remain unconvinced there was a need to stray from the previous institutional logo. Moreover, there's no need to incorporate the athletic mascot into the imagery of the institutional logo. If there was a change to be made, this ain't it, fam.

But if we whiffed on the logo, we doubled down on the messaging.

The website for our "new era" offers a hamfisted justification for the change. Our old brand "lacked awareness," citing meager numbers of parents and students who recognized the institutional brand. The one that literally  says "USF" and "University of South Florida" on it. A strawman argument that our brand lacked a consistent look presents a mosaic of identities including secondary and tertiary athletic marks (which will remain unchanged), division, unit, and student organization logos. In fact, that particular visual piece actually does a better job of showing how effectively the previous institutional logo shines through when used  for system campuses and academic units. It speaks of the story that's gone untold - again, unchanged by the institutional logo, but part of the brand packaging - and offers the backronym United we Shape the Future. Perhaps most egregiously, it positions as our primary belief "Ambition over Tradition." I wasn't alone in seeing that as a slap in the face to the many traditions myself and thousands of other proud alumni had the opportunity to help shape. It's not that I don't understand what they're going for: USF was founded more than a century after the state institutions we strive to emulate. The attempt is akin to that which Iota Phi Theta articulates far better with "Building a tradition, not just resting upon one". But to position ambition over tradition, rather than highlight our tradition of ambition, is a huge misstep in the eyes of many.

After the reveal of a logo they undoubtedly paid a marketing firm a whole lot of money to develop, they've been trying to make fetch happen in every venue, despite immense negative feedback from alumni and other stakeholders.

I am among them.

Monday, October 22, 2018

My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me

Or perhaps our record is.

If the title brought the Geto Boys' top single to mind, it's by design. This weekend, USF travels' to their hometown of Houston to take on the Coogs. I know I'm not the only USF fan who fears this is where we get exposed as fraudulent on the scoreboard.

I'd say USF has enjoyed an undefeated season to this point, but the degree to which that's been "enjoyed" varies from Bull to Bull. At 7-0, our record defies our acumen, where the good guys needed every last second to eke out a win against Tulsa and not much less against UConn, neither of which has an FBS win against anyone other than each other since this time last year. USF playing the role of cardiac cattle doesn't leave me with high hopes against a hard charging Houston team.

A loss to Houston in the final weekend of October (that game a hurricane reschedule) is what dropped the Bulls from the ranks of the unbeaten last year. Here's hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

Want far better reporting on all things USF and the Undefeated Blues? Check out The Daily Stampede.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Let the Band Play

In a post that's gotten significant attention from bandheads, Tennessee State Assistant Director of Bands James Sexton shared the game script from their game vs. Austin Peay. Of note: The schedule is filled to the hilt with announcements and commercials. Conspicuously absent: Opportunities for the band to play.

My immediate thought is curiosity about how often road bands face this, and if the Aristocrat of Bands finds itself at a particular disadvantage playing in the Ohio Valley Conference. Prior to Hampton's conference move this year, Tennessee State was the only Division I HBCU not playing in either the MEAC or the SWAC. As such, they share a conference with schools that simply don't care as much about the band as they do. As the SEC says about their football: It Just Means More.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week - 2018 Week 8

Sometimes, dreams do come true.

This weekend, College Game Day will be at Washington State University. For the past fifteen years, a cadre of Washington State alumni and fans have ensured that ol' Crimson flies over each College Game Day set - 216 shows and counting. Now it's coming home in the show's first trip to Pullman, where the Pac-12 North's two best records will square off as Oregon comes to town.

With all of that excitement, it's almost an undercard that the Oregon Marching Band will also make the trip, a nearly eight hour trek out to the Palouse that's been on the schedule since Band on the Road was compiled this summer. Their presence will only add to the electricity of gameday at Washington State.

High Notes - 2018 Week 7

It's that weekend.

Homecoming has a high notes slot pretty much every year. How could it not? By function of my role, it's always going to dominate one college football Saturday. But just as importantly, it's always going to be a a high note.

My love for my two alma maters is well documented. But this year, I came to a realization: Homecoming at UNC Greensboro (which, full disclosure, I help plan) may hold a bigger place in my heart than either one of them. Plotting my hierarchy in allegiance is easy for me: Undergrad > Grad > Employer. But my longevity here gives me a much wider base of returning alumni than either alma mater would. After all, I've interacted with 13 years of students here, vs. four at UMBC and two at USF. I'm certain to see a few of my contemporaries when I return for homecoming (and I've not been to either since 2006  and 2007, respectively) but every homecoming at UNCG brings back scores of former students who I am genuinely excited to see. This year was no different.

Amazing Happens Every Saturday

But here's the thing: Amazing happens every Saturday on football fields throughout the country, and a lot of it happens when the game clock isn't running. Amazing happens in a variety of marching styles, with a variety of musical offerings, and it happens largely out of the view of television cameras, and sadly, also out of the view of live spectators who take the opportunity to grab a beer instead of watching what's going on on the field. October 11, 2011

It's been a long time since a viral rundown, but this past weekend of college football was made for it. A number of halftime shows jumped off their usual bandhead circuits and into the mainstream.

First was Ohio State's Dance, Dance, Dance show which once again made art of stick figure art

I'll be honest, as father to a seven year old, I didn't know quite how mainstream this dance was for anyone over the age of, say, 15, but clearly a stadium full of Buckeyes knew what was up. See the full show here.

More took place in Ames this weekend than just an upset of previously undefeated West Virginia. You might not expect a herd of T-Rexes to take an unsuspecting football field in Iowa, but I'm told life finds a way.

SBNation wrote up the feat and its origin here.

You may know that North Carolina A&T State University has been at the forefront of activism and social issues since their founding, and the Blue and Gold Marching Machine is no exception. This past week's show, This Is America, highlighted various vignettes of America as we know it (or perhaps try not to know it) culminating in an arrangement of the eponymous This Is America with the Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America.

Stay woke.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Paradox of Rivalry

The greatest trick the College Football Playoff ever pulled was forcing me to cape for C.Florida. -December 2017

As Memphis was driving in an attempt to snap UCF's tenuous lead - and with it, the nation's longest winning streak - an interesting thing was afoot. I, as a USF alumnus, didn't know what I wanted to happen.

This is the paradox of rivalry:Wanting your biggest rival to come into their game with your team undefeated so that you and you alone may break their spirit, while at once wanting them to lose every game.

This Saturday's mood was a bit more nuanced. USF - ourselves 6-0 - won on Friday night against Tulsa, a last second field goal to lead for the only two seconds of the game that mattered against a team with one win. Had Memphis, an actual formidable foe for UCF, won in similar fashion after leading for much of the game, there may have been a poetic irony in the symmetry. Still, the Knights prevailed, and I didn't hate it.

These days, UCF takes on a different mantle. Should they go undefeated again - and to be clear, I don't want this, both for Black Friday and C.Florida crowing - they will increase the intensity on the spotlight they've shone on a system that will not - indeed, cannot - reward a team from outside of college football's college structure. Those who defend it will note that the playoff rewards this year only. this is correct on its face, but does nothing to acknowledge that somehow, the equity of name recognition, conference affiliation, and budget, all years if not decades in the making, all get to play a role. Likely undefeated ACC champion Clemson will waltz in unquestioned, despite their conference tying in out of conference action against the American (with Hurricane Florence mercifully sparing UNC from the ACC's fourth loss) Sure enough, the Knights will once again be on the outside looking in, a clear reminder that there is no access to a championship of any sort for a sizable portion of FBS teams. This illumination won't change a thing, of course, and the system will keep plugging along - after all, it's not broken if it does exactly what it was intended to - consolidate power in the hands of the haves.

But hey, if C Dot can cruise through again, maybe the can claim a national title defense.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week, 2018 Week 7

Since Notre Dame's situationship with the ACC began, several schools have taken the opportunity to make a band trip to South Bend. It's close enough to loop in a trip to Chicago, and the campus and stadium are living college football history.

Pittsburgh is hardly a stranger to playing Notre Dame - the two programs are in their 70th meeting, with games dating back more than a century. Still, the Pitt Band is making the trip this weekend as the Panthers take on the Irish.

High Notes - 2018 Week 6

I watched no football last weekend.

I spent the weekend on the road, heading up to the DC urrea or my cousin's wedding reception. With my kids in tow, I spent much of the time listening to top 40 radio, but I did sneak in a good chunk of the second half of the Florida-LSU game on the radio, the only football I got to consume that weekend. And while I'll always choose television if available, I was reminded how thorough a picture a good announce team can paint of the action on the field. With succinct, information-rich descriptions, a talented play-by-play announcer can give a clear visual of the action you're not seeing. For that reason, not simply because it was the only football I experienced, football on radio gets my high notes of the week.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week 2018 Week 6

I'd say it's not fair, but it is, quite literally.

I'm out of town for what may very well be my very college football confluence.

There's usually one Wake Forest game each year - two, if they're lucky, which falls during the Dixie Classic Fair. The Dixie Classic is sort of State Fair lite - not as daunting as the main event in Raleigh, but still an all around good time. The Dixie Classic Fairgrounds sit adjacent to BB&T Field, so if you catch it on one of those games, the pairing is amazing. I've gotten to fairgate in previous years, and if I weren't headed out of town this weekend, I'd certainly be back.

This year ups the ante for my particular interests significantly. Wake is playing the highest ranked team that will visit this season (though it's notable that this year's home slate also included Notre Dame. Hope they're making bank at BB&T) in the #4 Clemson Tigers. What's more, the Band that Shakes the Southland is also making the trip. Add that two bands will be packed into the smallest stadium in the Power 5, and one could frankly enjoy the experience without spending the $51 that the game is up to now on the secondary market. Somebody get to Winston, getchua corn dog, and pour one out for the homies that ain't there - like me.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

2018 Week 5

From a Band on the Road perspective, Week 5 came and went without incident. Band on the Road notched minimal traveling bands this week.

The game of the week from the perspective of many (including College Gameday and College Marching) was Ohio State at Penn State. While it would have been great to see the Ohio State University Marching Band travel, they were home hosting their own festival in Columbus. Lucky for us, the Blue Band is no one's warmup act. The folks at College Marching were there to capture so much of the goodness.


Remember that little thing I wrote about whether Nick Saban should keep playing Jalen Hurts or sit him after the 4th game, allowing him to retain his redshirt?

Uh, pretend I said Kelly Bryant.

While the situation at Bama was a non-story, there was more to be said at their perennial playoffmate Clemson, where head coach Dabo Swinney named freshman Trevor Lawrence the starter following the fourth game, putting the ball in Kelly Bryant's court. Bryant made the decision at that point to leave the team, preserving another year of eligibility upon his transfer after his graduation this year.

Many view the move to name Lawrence the starter at that time a coup de grace from the generally well-regarded Swinney. Playing in another game could have cost Bryant the opportunity ever to start a college game again, barring injury or otherwise to Lawrence.

...Which is precisely what happened.

No sooner had Bryant left the team than Lawrence left the Syracuse game with an injury. Third-turned-second string QB Chase Brice performed admirably, but the internet -and I'm sure the orange clad in the stadium - clamored for Bryant in that moment. But he was already gone, baby, gone.

While Swinney's decision to give Bryant dominion over his own future was lauded, it should be noted it was no different than what Saban had already done. Bryant wasn't cut from the team, nor was he handed a promise that he wouldn't be played. He was simply given a clear picture of the lay of the land and given the opportunity to make his own choice. Jalen Hurts had already been given a similarly prospectus as Tua Tagovailoa had taken every start to date for Bama. He could have made a decision similar to Bryant's if he saw fit.

But the fact is, the two men's futures are not identical. Hurts had at least a year of eligibility ahead of him regardless of this year's outcome; retaining a redshirt would have simply meant two. In contrast, Bryant remaining a Tiger would have meant playing out his days - or not, depending - in the South Carolina upstate.

This is the first year of the new redshirt rule, and it's led to some foreseeable and possibly less foreseeable outcomes. One thing is for sure: This won't be the last we hear of it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Championship Chatter

There have a been a few story lines in the past week or two with championship implications, or at least the illusion thereof.

First: Last week, when Boise State lost to Oklahoma State, more than one Worldwide Leader commentator noted that it was the end of the Group of Five's chances at the College Football Playoff.

Stop it.

It's revisionist history. No such access ever existed. An undefeated Boise State would have been on the outside looking in just like an undefeated C. was last year. The system would not have granted access. It's not designed for that. So while it makes for a convenient talking point after the fact of "what could have been," it never would have been.

In other news, there's a storyline I realize was only entertained by those operating in theory, not practice. As most know, national champion quarterback Tua Tagovailoa usurped national champion quarterback Jalen Hurts for the starting position at Alabama. Like many, I weighed the romanticism that Coach Nick Saban's grace stroke would be to play Hurts in fewer than four games, allowing him to retain an additional year of eligibility. Hurts, who will graduate this year, will likely transfer at the end of the year and could play two years elsewhere if his redshirt were retained. It was an idea I found romantic - Saban looking out for his former starting quarterback, even if his extra year would be spent elsewhere.

It was a fool's errand.

The fact is, what I had romanticized was a college system that would have Hurts continue to play for well below market value. Another year in college would be another year not getting paid. The fact is, there's a good chance Hurts has a professional future in some capacity, and even at a league minimum and a cup of coffee in the league, he'd be making more than he would be in college. It may take whatever play he gets for the remainder of this year, and even his bonus year elsewhere to put his best foot forward, but expecting him to capitalize on two more years is simply asking him to give up another year for free. Hurts would do well to be a part of this year's Alabama team - possibly even earning another ring - and either try his hand at the upcoming draft or pick another school at which to shine.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

High Notes - 2018 Week 4

As the Carolinas continue to recover from the impact of Hurricane Florence the earned last week's commemoration, ECU has put the states on their back - and on their helmet. Spending the past week in Orlando as the campus recovered (classes resumed this past Wednesday) the Pirates expounded upon one of college sports' great logos and included the state to their south to represent One Carolina. Well done, ECU.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week - 2018 Week 4

You actually won't find this week's matchup on the Band on the Road spreadsheet. After all, it features an FCS program and Group of Five school. Still, the pairing has some significance.

Texas Southern's Ocean of Soul will be traveling the mere mile to Houston's TDECU Stadium to take on the Spirit of Houston. Given the proximity of the two schools, the Ocean of Soul is forgoing bus contracts and getting there the best way they know how - by marching.

The two bands have actually shared a pretty high profile stage before. During Super Bowl XXXVIII, which took place in Houston's [then] Reliant Stadium, the two bands teamed up to step off the halftime show. Their performance was overshadowed by the Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson controversy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

High Notes - 2018 Week 3

I'm going to use Week 3's high notes to instead put a spotlight on the state of North Carolina. Here in Greensboro, I spent from last Wednesday through the weekend in some state of hurricane preparation or readiness. From a standpoint so unimportant that it wouldn't warrant a mention if it weren't the point of this site, every college football game after Wake Forest-Boston College on Thursday evening was canceled. While we were thankfully spared the full brunt of the initial forecast, the weather we did get, and Florence's offensive woes and inability to advance left her dumping a reported eight trillion gallons of water onto the Old North State. It will take a long time for points east of here to recover.

If you wish to donate to the hurricane relief efforts, you may do so here.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week - 2018 Week 3

If this week were going as planned, we might see West Virginia playing in North Carolina take the honor yet again. the Pride of West Virginia was scheduled to play at NC State, but that game, and all other in the Carolinas, was cancelled due to Hurricane Florence. Gone too is the Down East Viking Classic, which would have pit Winston Salem State against Elizabeth City State.

Of the games that remain, this weekend I'm flagging Temple's Diamond Band, as they travel down to College Park to meet the Mighty Sound of Maryland in a Cresap's War redux. The two bands will join forces to celebrate the life of Leonard Bernstein, who spent time in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute; his work opened the Kennedy Center in DC.

High Notes - 2018 Week 2

I decided a few year ago I'm opening the playbook on High Notes beyond just the week's marching band action.

This past weekend, I attended the North Carolina Folk Festival. Greensboro was home to the National Folk Festival for a triennium, and when its stint was over, the city saw fit to keep the party going in the form of the NC Folk Festival. An annual scheduling conflict kept me from experiencing the National Folk Festival much when it was here, but with that out of the way, I was pleased to take in a couple of days of the NC Folk Festival this year.

The NC Folk Festival was headlined and curated by Rhiannon Giddens, a Greensboro native MacArthur "Genius" fellow, and talented folk, bluegrass, and old-time musician. I've had the pleasure to see her perform numerous times over the past few years, and caught her twice during the folk festival. Should you see her on a bill near you, I urge you to seize the opportunity.

That said, a quick on-brand note as it relates to the folk festival: Just as I've opened the playbook for High Notes, so too has the folk festival in the past, describing folk as music with authentic national/ethnic roots and casting its net such that Grandmaster Flash headlined the national festival a few years ago. To that end, I'll note that as the American college marching band in general, and the HBCU marching band specifically, is a uniquely American institution, there's no reason we shouldn't see Greensboro's own Blue and Gold Marching Machine from North Carolina A&T State University at future festivals.

Modern Southern Style

Ask a college football fan about regular season neutral site games, and you're likely to get mixed reaction. Nearly everyone respects the mainstays: Texas-Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout in Dallas, or  Florida-Georgia in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville (neither of which like being called that). But be it ever so humble, there's no place like home, and many would prefer to see the often high-profile matchups that are reserved for neutral site games observed as home-and-homes, where the cadence of gameday literally marches through campus.

I can understand this - if only in theory. I went to USF, where all of our home games are played in an NFL stadium, so I don't have the same attachment to campus on fall Saturdays. Lacking that nostalgia, I find the season kickoff neutral site games exciting. The bowl game/classic atmosphere is almost always a two band affair, with plenty of festivities surrounding it. Several of the major indoor stadiums - Atlanta, Arlington, and Houston - have been hosting for years. Charlotte joined the fray a few years ago, as did Orlando, with a pair of games that don't seem to be going anywhere, and I'm here for them.

During 2018's opening weekend, I headed to to Charlotte to soak in the festivities of the Belk College Kickoff. This year, the game pitted Tennessee against West Virginia. They couldn't have asked for a better matchup.

Charlotte sits at the crossroads of the Carolinas, with Bank of America Stadium sitting a scant dozen miles from the South Carolina border. The Belk Kickoff formula to this point has been an interstate matchup, with South Carolina taking on UNC and NC State. Of the scheduled games to come, seven of the eight teams will hail from the Carolinas, with Notre Dame being the outlier. I don't know what made them stray from this formula, but it was a strong move and one they ought to go back to. Both teams and fanbases, and especially the combination thereof, made for a great gameday atmosphere.

Despite numerous geographic and cultural similarities, Tennessee and West Virginia had never met before this season's matchup. Charlotte provided the venue that brought the two together. Country Roads vs. Rocky Top. Two football and tailgating crazed fanbases descended on every corner of the city in a game I'm sure was lucrative for all involved. The gate showed it - 15,000 more spectators than the next closest game. Because they weren't making quick day trips from Columbia, Chapel Hill, or Raleigh, I'm sure they sold hotel rooms as well. And I'd wager the NASCAR Hall of Fame made out alright that weekend.

True enough, Charlotte's not one of the shiny new domed stadiums the NFL boasts; nor is it a subtropical location and perennial bowl destination with the Happiest Place on Earth down the street. But in my opinion, the city's been selling itself short by sticking to Carolina matchups. Charlotte's got a lot (its Convention and Visitor's Bureau would commend me for saying) and if they're not otherwise seeing themselves as a destination, they should be. Loyalty to the bi-state region you call home is one thing, but it's also convenient to the entire South Atlantic. With that in mind, I've been trying to think of other matchups with a similar cache for a Charlotte matchup. Anyone want to try UGA-Virginia Tech on for size in a future year? I think it would do damage.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week - 2018 Week 2

In a rivalry that sat dormant for more than a decade and a half after the turn of the century, Penn State and Pitt are back at it. This year, the game is in Pittsburgh, and the Blue Band will make the 135 mile drive for a spats on spats matchup with their in-state rival/not rival in Pitt's Varsity Marching Band.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

High Notes - 2018 Week 1

As with the Game of the Week, seeing it in person has its privileges. This week's High Notes goes to the Pride of West Virginia.

I actually caught the Pride about 30 minutes to my west, at Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem. Mount Tabor's principal is a West Virginia alumnus (and an unconfirmed overhearing in the stands led me to believe they couldn't get enough hotel rooms down in Charlotte the night before the Belk Kickoff Classic) and WVU performed at halftime of their game, bringing me to my first high school football game in a decade. WVU performed from their spy show, as well as some of their spirit mainstays, including Country Roads. This wasn't my first time seeing them - I caught them on their home turf (a USF victory, I'm obligated to point out) back in 2006. Once again, they did not disappoint.

And in true old band nerd fashion, I left after halftime.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Band on the Road Game of the Week 2018 Week 1

Joe Cahn, self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating, has been known to say the best tailgate is the one you're at. It is in that spirit that I resume the Band on the Road Game of the Week. This weekend, I'm headed to Charlotte as Tennessee takes on West Virginia in the Belk College Kickoff. Schedule won't allow me to catch the game, but I expect I'll get a good deal of the cadence of gameday from the lot and pre-events, not the least of which is SEC Gameday on the SEC Network. I'm sure there will be spirited debates on musket toting, mountain worship, moonshining, and circle drills.

What's more: As the Pride of West Virginia makes their way south, they're making a pit stop to perform a high school football halftime at Mount Tabor High School in nearby Winston-Salem, so I'm headed over to catch them under the Friday Night Lights as well.

Finally, since I didn't herald it except for updating the link from the main site, Band on the Road 2018 is up! As always, editing is not only allowed, but encouraged. If there are trips you know are taking place, let us all know!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Making the Brand

I can't remember exactly when the name came to be. It was probably at some point when I decided my sports blog and band blog would become one that the concept was born. In lieu of any actual design skills, the logo - a digital display reading 80:00 - was born, and has endured, with only minor modifications, for over ten years.

A good deal more recently, I decided I wanted something done by someone who knows what they're doing. The fact of the matter is, 80 Minutes of Regulation is here to stay, and I'm not against spending a few bucks on something professionally done. Fiverr seller techstrocity was the talent that brought a vague concept to life in a way I couldn't have imagined - a bass drum head with jersey numbers is about as on-brand as it gets. Here's to entering the site's second decade in style.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Laundry Day

As I prepare to head to NightBEAT, there's little question what I'll wear: A Carolina Crown shirt. Specifically, my most recently purchased piece of Crown merchandise, which is purple, one of the corps' historic colors.

I tend to approach my drum corps fandom much as I do my sports fandom, an environment in which, as Jerry Seinfeld famously quipped, we root for laundry. There are a couple of major disconnects with this as it relates to the DCI sphere, though. The first is the ever-changing nature of DCI uniforms. If I showed up in red and green in support of Santa Clara Vanguard, for example, it would be at odds with their current look. Same for Crown's purple or cream, and even the Bluecoats ditched their eponymous color and won a championship in spite of it.

The other is that as much as DCI touts itself a Marching Music's Major League, it operates differently. As an association, DCI probably more closely mirrors the craft beer and RV industries. The first fight they face is the value proposition. Stone's opposition isn't Dogfish Head; both of them are competing with Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. Likewise, the goal of the RV industry is to get you to choose that mode of vacationing over hotels or other means; whether you choose a Jayco or Coleman comes secondary. In sports, some of the smaller leagues like Major League Lacrosse and the WNBA benefit from cultivating fans of the sport. In drum corps, the primary objective is getting new fans into shows and choosing the experience.

Drum corps fans also behave markedly differently than sports fans. Booing, for example, is frowned upon. There's a mutual respect between not only the competitors, but the fans. And what's perhaps the most incongruent: As a subjectively objective, arts-based activity, there can be acknowledgment that you like another team better than your own. As a sports fan, that's virtually unheard of, at least in a head-to-head setting. But there have been years where I simply haven't liked "my" corps' show as much as a competitor's. There are those who would throw the whole competitive system away and just observe excellence. For my money, I love the competition, but as long as corps are putting great shows on the field, we're all winning.

Marching Orders

"From the world's most famous beach, Daytona Beach, Florida, please welcome the Marching Wildcats of Bethune Cookman University - the PRIDE!"

On August 3, Marching Orders, chronicling Bethune Cookman's Marching Wildcats through their auditions, will debut on Netflix. The series will be the latest to bring marching/athletic music to the small screen. Bama State Style featured the Mighty Marching Hornets of Alabama State in 2015, and more recently, Clash of the Corps focused on DCI. The Marching Wildcats themselves were previously the subject of their own YouTube series, Beyond the Fifty. Expect a bandhead influx on Netflix this coming Friday.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Popcorn's Ready

There's no love lost between me and Terrell Owens. As you know, I'm an Eagles fan, so as you can imagine, my mood on him soured rapidly circa 2005, given his controversy with my own team, and the gall to go to a hated rival. Still, with the soothing salves of time and a Lombardi Trophy, I don't hold much of a grudge, and even when he was persona non grata, I could never deny his talent.

TO was selected to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the class of 2018. It's an honor that frankly, I believe is overdue. He agrees. But as he did in his playing days, Owens is doing it his way: He has chosen to boycott the enshrinement festivities in Canton, opting instead to celebrate at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In turn, the Hall's ceremony will not individually honor Owens, though he will still be enshrined.

For his decision to skip the ceremony, TO cites players - "past, present and the future" - whose skills should have made them first ballot selections but whose dreams were deferred. This applies to any number of players, of course, but I can't help noticing Owens himself fits the description.

I'm not knocking TO's decision to boycott NFL activities - indeed, I've been known to do the same myself. I actually like how he's planning to incorporate his alma mater, an otherwise unheralded FCS program that gave the now-Hall of Famer a shot. But amid his protest, there's one other factor to consider, that if it wasn't part of the decision making, may at least be a welcome side effect.

One of Owens' classmates is Brian Dawkins, arguably the most beloved former Eagle of the modern era. Eagles fans will travel to Canton by the thousands, and it's not unreasonable to believe the reception for TO's enshrinement may fall short of unconditional positive regard. While it would take quite a set of unsavory folks to boo a guy during his Hall of Fame induction, Philly fans would be just those people, if for no other reason than to keep up the brand. And even if there's love in those boos, it's not something you should have to endure during what should be the pinnacle of your legacy. TO saves himself from that potential by celebrating his favorite thing - himself - in a place where everyone's there to do the same.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Occidentally Overlooked

Courtesy of GeoMidpoint and Google Maps
I'm well aware of East Coast bias. Frankly, I've got it in spades. I've been known to call western North Carolina "out west" and disregard any state that wasn't one of the 13 colonies. but I don't think I realized how much the Pac-12 is isolated from the rest of the Power Five teams until I saw it mapped out.

While I tend to equate the Pac-12 with their West Coast roots, the conference actually has all of the P5 schools in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. They've got every school west of the Rockies, of the Continental Divide, and save for Texas Tech, the entire western half of the country, as divided by the continental US' geographic midpoint. In addition to fighting the media trust in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, they're just plain far from the rest of the schools in the Power 5.

There are a few other markers that hammer home this point. The geographic center of the Power 5 schools is in Argyle, MO; about an hour from Mizzou and 100 miles as the crow flies from the mean center of US population. Without factoring in the Pac-12, that marker moves about 300 miles east to Morgantown, KY. The Pac-12's geographic midpoint is in Austin, NV; the next closest conference midpoint is the Big 12 in Broken Arrow, OK, which sits on virtually the same meridian as the midpoint of the the Power 5's east-west midpoint (Wahpeton, ND, with Oregon and Boston College being the extremes). In short, the Pac-12 is far from everything and everyone else, and while they haven't always done themselves favors in scheduling, the map does tip pretty solidly away from them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Earning Their Stripes

photo via @USFFootball
photo via @USFFootball
USF's switch from Under Armour to Adidas as a uniform supplier became official on July 1, and like many, I awaited the release of the new threads. This weekend they dropped what I assume is the primary home look on Twitter. A few things stand out to me:
-Instead of the USF or BULLS wordmarks, we opted for South Florida. This is notable because there was a time when we were style guide sticklers for USF like our neighbors to the east, despite literally spelling South Florida in our fight song. While I fell in lockstep with the university branding for years, I welcome South Florida, especially since it will hopefully stave off some of the "UCF-I mean, USF" we get now.
-We went with metallic gold instead of the university color gold (khaki). There's a thin line between lame and lamé, but I think I like it, especially with the helmet.
 -Gold/Green/Green has always been my favorite home look.

All in all, the look is solid. In our history, USF uniforms haven't been too up or two down (with perhaps a notable abomination or two) and I don't think this changes that. There's some unnecessary textured/scaly bits because Adidas gonna Adidas, but overall, I'm for it. Can't wait to see what else we've got!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Takin' It to the Street

I was never much of a console gamer.

An arcade denizen, sure. But the first console the graced the Tarver household was a Nintendo 64, contraband smuggled in by my younger brother and played furtively in the precious hours of parental absence until we were found out.

Fast forward several years. It was the summer before senior year of college, my summer job on campus netted me more money than I've ever made at one time, and in true nouveau riche fashion, I splurged on what was then a next-gen game system. Because of that 64 - most specifically, The WWF/E games Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy - I stuck with Nintendo as a platform, hoping THQ and AKI would recreate that magic on GameCube. They didn't.

A couple of weeks ago, while sidelined from doing much else, I hopped back on the GameCube, which is hooked up to a small LCD TV that doubles as my laptop's second screen. I popped in NBA Street Vol. 2 and instantly got reacquainted with an old friend.

The NBA Street franchise is the second series to begin under the EA Sports BIG label, and the first focused on a "Big Four" sport. The series used its NBA license to put familiar faces into a streetball context, pitting 3 on 3 teams against one another in game that defaulted to 21. The games debuted at the height of the NBA's hip hop era, a time when the league's image was virtually and controversially indistinguishable from the rap music of the day. Objectively and subjectively, Allen Iverson was one of the faces of the league, advancing to the NBA Finals on a 76ers team that literally had a mascot named Hip Hop. Elsewhere in the sports/entertainment world, the And1 Mixtape Tour was putting a 21st century spin on the Harlem Globetrotters, and the WWF/E was in the transition from the Attitude Era to the rise of John Cena.

Volume 2 tends to be my go-to of the series, living in the sweet spot of the franchise's advancements and fun, exciting, but relatively easy gameplay. The players in the Street series play above the rim - cartoonishly so, in fact - with exciting gravity-defying dunks, otherworldly handles, and fast gameplay. In true streetball fashion standard games are to 21 (win by two). Volume 1 set the foundation and earned the series the clout that allowed Volume 2 to level up. A generic hip hop soundtrack was replaced by licensed music, and playground color commentary was replaced by legendary hip hop host Bobbito Garcia. Of the latter, Bobbito laid down a vocal track so prolific, you could get several games in and swear he was still freestyling. Like in its predecessor, tricks and combos would charge a meter towards a gamebreaker, a nearly unstoppable shot or dunk that results in bonus points, and subtracts from your opponent. Only Volume 2 featured the second-level gamebreaker, executed through a cutscene that involves the whole team. A decade and a half ago, the game begat battles with friends and family in what was for me the waning days of college. A GQ piece dubbed it the greatest basketball video game of all time, and I can't say I disagree.

Not that I didn't love the third installment as well. If Vol. 2 reminisced on the childhood playground days (and indeed, its main theme was Pete Rock and CL Smooth's They Reminisce Over You), NBA Street V3 was the basketball court as high art. Common's voice waxed poetic on homecourts through the US, Canada, and the UK; Kanye's The College Dropout had dropped the year before, Def Poetry Jam was airing on HBO, and hip hop's conscious phase served as a foil to the crunk era, also in full swing. Here, the dunkers were artists, affixing authentic signatures to above the rim Rembrandts. Bobbito's voice talent returned, and the game was more customizable than ever - you could create whole courts (I've made one for every city, state, or metro I've ever lived in), or send your created ballers to the barber shop or get their kick game right. V3 also added a dunk contest, and gave players the opportunity to control the action during gamebreakers.

The series would advance once more, to NBA Street Homecourt, but by then it had left and platform I had - the same inertia that got me a Gamecube years before stuck me with a Wii in the generation where Homecourt debuted on PS3 and XBox 360. Still, I'm led to believe that the series had already peaked and already had the best it had to offer.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

In The Beginning

UMBC Down and Dirty Dawg Band, Homecoming 2002
UMBC doesn't have a marching band.

It's never needed one, at least not for the traditional reason, as we have no football team. But a simple plan to make us mobile over a decade and a half ago has grown in a big way.

Sixteen years ago, I was entering my senior year at UMBC. I had been given the go-ahead by Athletics to purchase some field drums, allowing the usually stationary pep band to move. Typically bound to a drumset, the then-less than five year old Down and Dirty Dawg Band was increasingly called into action for university events - sports beyond just basketball, pep rallies (usually for the chess team) and other activities. We started with a bass drum, two snares, a set of quads, and a pair of cymbals, if memory serves me correctly. Living on campus that summer, I had the pleasure of unboxing them and putting them into play for the first time.

In our first year, they were put to good use. The entire pep band marched in the inaugural Homecoming parade. An ad-hoc drumline performed at FunkFest, a collaborative program put on by many of UMBC's black student organizations. In the years that followed, the drumline has grown, bother in size and stature. They perform, both independently and with the pep band, at UMBC games and have become an integral part of the gameday experience. Mobile gigs and parade, including Catonsville's 4th of July parade, are now standard.

Timeline of UMBC's NCAA Tournament run,
UMBC Magazine, Spring 2018
As UMBC made history in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the UMBC contingent in Charlotte got to add to their (admittedly unexpected) extended stay by marching in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Never in my wildest dreams could I have anticipated that a modest move to get us in motion would have led us to capitalizing on the biggest victory in men's NCAA Tournament history in such a cool way.

Proudly we hail to thee.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


 HBCU Battles of the Bands may be slim pickin's this coming school year.

Back in January, we learned that due to a scheduling conflict with Atlanta hosting the Super Bowl, Honda Battle of the Bands would not take place in 2019. While disappointing, those of us in the Southeast (and especially those of us in North Carolina) new we'd still have Queen City Battle of the Bands.

But wait...

This spring, we learned that the "Queen City" Battle of the Bands was moving to Houston. This was one of the sites I thought was likely to assume the Honda mantle before that event was canceled, and its placement in a major stadium in the heart of SWAC country made sense, if not convenience for some (read: myself).

But wait...

This week, we learned that the event in Houston, now the National Battle of the Bands, had changed its date.

To 2019.

To recap, we lost functionally three battles for the 2018-19 school year in relatively short order. The pickings are slim for battle in the coming year, to the consternation of bandheads everywhere.

Crankfest in New Orleans will likely see its third year. Savannah State took the opportunity to publicize the return of Marsh Madness, which debuted in 2017. And the National Collegiate Marching Band Championship Bowl, which postponed its opening from last year, is scheduled to debut in Columbia SC just after Thanksgiving. Will any of these competitions step up and fill the void? Will a new challenger emerge? Or are we headed to a light year?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Part is Greater

Last month, the NFL chose to reignite the National Anthem controversy that dominated headlines last season. The owners decided on a policy: Players on the field must stand and "show respect" to the flag, but they also had the option to remain in the locker room, as they did prior to 2009. It's an example of a compromise that leaves no one happy: Proponents of the Anthem protests see the move as silencing, while those who feel the flag (and by erroneous extension, our military) is being disrespected - including the president - find it abhorrent that remaining in the locker room is even a choice. Amidst it all, I could see myself returning to my 2017 season state, and not messing with the NFL anymore.

But then there's the Philadelphia Eagles. Lauded last year as the wokest team in the league, the World Champions doubled down by all but refusing the obligatory White House invite. To hear the White House tell it, they were disinvited, but it seems fewer than a dozen would have been in attendance anyway. The spin was that the team disagreed with "their president" and his stance on the Anthem protests, but regardless of how the president tried to couch it, not a single Eagle took a knee all season. In the days that followed, quite a few Eagles were outspoken - or in the case of Malcolm Jenkins, quite the opposite - on the cause for the protests and the change that those who partook sought to effect. In doing such, the Eagles garnered widespread support, even from backers of rival teams.

So where does that leave me? Frankly, I'm ready to throw the whole league out. But the thing is, their one redeeming quality - the Philadelphia Eagles - is the reason I tune in in the first place. Is there a way to be an Eagles fan without supporting the NFL? If not and Super Bowl LII is the last game I ever watch, there are far worse ways to go out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What More Can I Say

In the interest of full disclosure, I've sat down on a few occasions with the intent of writing something about the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct that led to numerous changes on DCI; among them, a change in the leadership of the Cadets, including George Hopkins, the alleged perpetrator, and the Board of Directors; clarifying statements and positive action from other corps; and sweeping updates from the DCI Board of Directors regarding ethics and participant safety.

There's not much I have to say that's not already covered in the original piece, its followup, or the most poignant response. The several allegations against Hopkins were first reported by Tricia L. Nadolny of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Links to the aftermath are included within. On the heels of the initial report, The guys at Drunk Corps International delivered a podcast that was appropriate parts information and seething rage.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Moderate Use of Caps

Just kidding, this is a Georgetown game.
I'm not going to front like I'm a Washington Capitals fan, but they're close enough to my circles that I'm keeping a bit of an eye on their Stanley Cup run. Devoid a team of their own, my Baltimore folks tend to root for the Caps (to the annoyance of others who don't mess with DC like that). I'm also two generations deep in DC-ness, and tend to swing pan-mid-Atlantic, so despite it probably being ill advised as a Philly sports fan rooting elsewhere in the Metro division, I'm pulling for the Caps. There are a few more reasons to side with the team from the District:

-My overwhelming East Coast bias
-My soft spot for long suffering cities/franchises
-The other team's called the Golden Knights. As a USF alumnus, I simply cannot root for a team with that moniker.
-A successful Stanley Cup campaign would mean that Vegas won a championship in their very first season of competition. Call me a hater, but I've suffered far too many seasons to go for that.

While I'm not #ALLCAPS like some of my friends are, I'm in for a Moderate Use of Caps.

On The Bench

To provide too much information as a matter of context: Two days ago, I went to the doctor to ensure there's no need for an expansion draft in this household. The common stereotype/reality is that men schedule vasectomies for the start of March Madness - if you're going to be confined to the couch for a couple of days, there are far worse times than one where you can watch college hoops around the clock. I'm learning first hand that Memorial Day weekend is a strong choice as well.

As a lacrosse fan, Memorial Day weekend immediately registers as championship weekend for me; I caught both semifinals yesterday and will watch Yale and Duke compete for the championship tomorrow. We're also at a time of year where three of the four major sports are in session, including a Game 7s in the NBA tonight and tomorrow, and the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. And today features three major auto races - Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and the Coca Cola 600. All in all, it's not a bad time to be sidelined.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Eye Off The Ball

Sometimes, greatness can be right before you, and you don't even know it.

For many years, I've attended the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament here in Greensboro. While I get the opportunity to enjoy some of the best basketball in the country, I'll acknowledge that my attendance is, at its root, a band trip. I watch the games, certainly, but may sometimes miss some of the individual stars.

This year I got to see eventual tournament runner up (and eventual national champion) Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. While I made plenty of note of their pep band, I failed to take note of Arike Ogunbowale. She didn't have a particularly standout game - 27 minutes and 16 points in an 83-47 drubbing of UVA - but she would become a household name weeks later as the fired off buzzer beaters to take Notre Dame both to and through the national championship game.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ride or Die

I'm no one's bandwagon fan.

The concept has never sat right with me. Sure, I'll find myself a rooting interest if I have no dog in the fight, but I can't see claiming a team that's not otherwise my own. I can sympathize with some reasons - UMBC, for example, has gained a healthy bandwagon over the past month and change because of the spotlight shone on a program that is lovable in every way - bit it's never been my style.

"Fairweather" is similarly pejorative among sports fans. That's me all day every day. My teams are my teams are my teams, but if I have a finite amount of time, attention, and resources, chances are the bottom of the order isn't getting the lion's share.

The 76ers have long been my fairweather bellwether. Their recent and long lasting struggles have kept them largely from my limelight, but I'm aboard as the Process starts turning profit in this year's playoffs. So don't be surprised if I crow a little when you've heard me be pretty quiet on the Sixers to this point, especially during this year I'm having.

Down the road and down the org chart sits the Sixers' Delaware-based G-League team. Dubbed the 87ers five years ago, they recently rebranded as the Blue Coats (not to be mistaken for the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps of North Canton, Ohio). Though I was critical at inception, I had made my peace with the Sevens, but the change is a marked improvement. The colonial era connection with the parent franchise remains, but instead of connecting through important years, the Blue Coats imagery leans on Caesar Rodney's famous ride. The new brand is positively Delaware, and I'm entirely here for it.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cause And Effect

As the 2018 iteration of One Shining Moment approaches - one that will certainly feature UMBC - I look to a few possible outcomes of the first round's historic upset.

First, personally: I've always rocked UMBC gear regularly, though I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge I might do it a little more now. And people know what the hell it is.

In addition to the One Shining Moment feature, I hadn't considered until Brandon Horvath mentioned it in a quote in an ESPN article: The team is almost certainly going to be up for an ESPY this summer.

While this won't be a one-year proposition, a bit more success - and I'll note, coach Ryan Odom has already agreed in principle to a contract extension - could lead to a shift the next time realignment rolls around.

As a USF alumnus, I know a thing or two about conference realignment. UMBC has been a member of America East for the past decade and a half. In general I have few complaints about our conference membership, save for one big one: being a geographic outlier. UMBC's closest conference foe lies two states and 250 miles away, despite the contiguous state cluster of all other member institutions. UMBC is the second newest member, and in its most recent expansion - then Division II UMass Lowell - there seemed no speedy interest in bridging that gap. Might hardwood success make us an attractive target for another league?

It's tough to say. After all, being competitive is all but an after thought when it comes to television markets when realignment is concerned. There are a handful of conferences that are geographically and competitively reasonable:

-The Colonial Athletic Association. It's a perceived step up, perhaps the class of the one-bid leagues. From a media standpoint, it's a tough sell with conference member Towson just a few exits around the Beltway. From a personal standpoint, Elon's right down the road from me.
-The Metro Atlantic Athletic Association. We'd still be geographically disconnected from the rest of the MAAC, though the trip to the closest opponent cuts nearly in half from the America East. We'd be the only public school, but reunite with old NEC conference foes Quinnipiac and Monmouth
-The Big South. We fit the Mason-Dixon Line definition, at least, and we've been members before. Selfishly for me, member High Point is a short drive away, with several others a reasonable distance.

No one knows what the future holds, but here's hoping it's bright for the Dawgs.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Dawg Days of March: Media Guide

This is part of a three part series:

A corollary of the added attention is that in relatively short order, quite a few articles were written extolling the virtues of dear old alma mater, both on and off the court.

-SB Nation had to figure out who the hell we even are.
-After they did, though, they gave a pretty robust oral history..
-ESPN, too, felt the need to tell folks who we are.
-They also provided a 72 hours in the life of UMBC piece.
-The New York Times said our Cinderella story was true in academics too.
-Sports Illustrated gave us a (digital) cover.
-Among the biggest bump in our fanbase? Actual Retrievers.
-Our mascot got some podcast love.
-Our director of multimedia communications (read: Twitter guy) balled out as well. Here's the account in his own words.
-The rest of Twitter enjoyed it as well.
-Our players compare the victory to a Fortnite win, because we nerd hard.
-They also shouted out the chess team. You thought I was playing?
-The spotlight also turned to President Hrabowski, the engine who makes this whole thing go.
-In fact, the world-renowned academic saw fit to pen a piece himself.
-Elsewhere in academia, the Chronicle of Higher Education sung the praises of universities like us.
-Back on campus, we kinda didn't know how to behave with this sort of thing.
-Some of our alumni sounded off on seeing everyone get a taste of a school that meant everything to us.
-One such alum? The Surgeon General.
-But apart from those of us who learned to love directly form 1000 Hilltop Circle, UMBC captured the hearts of a nation, and while the run was brief, it can never be forgotten.

Dawg Days of March: Color Commentary

This is part of a three part series:
Play-By-Play - Color Commentary - Media Guide

It was a go from the minute I knew we'd be in Charlotte.

I'm sure you've gathered by now: I'm a UMBC alumnus. But as a matter of context, not credentialing, I'm going to do something I don't often do: Lay all of my bona fides on the line. I attended UMBC from 1999-2003. I played four years in the pep band, attending virtually every basketball game, including those over break I had to drive back down from home in Delaware for. I'm married to a UMBC alumna. The processional at our wedding was Our UMBC, the alma mater, despite it having come into being after we both had graduated. I serve on the pep band alumni board of directors, and continue to give back to my alma mater. If I'm not mistaken, I've attended every postseason trip of any of our programs to North Carolina: men's lacrosse at Carolina, baseball at Wake Forest, men's soccer at Wake and again in the College Cup, and our previous NCAA men's basketball tournament trip in 2008. You could say I'm bought in.

UMBC has no Wal-Mart t-shirt fans. No one - until perhaps last weekend - picks up UMBC apparel because it's the cool thing to do. We're "An Honors University in Maryland" - a nerd school outside of Baltimore that objectively sits next-tier-down from the flagship in a state system in terms of resources and notoriety. So if I see someone in a UMBC shirt or hat, I know, whether you're an alumnus, current student, family member, or employee, we share some piece of a common experience. 

Last weekend's experience is undoubtedly the best live sporting event of my life, and shy a championship, it may very well go unmatched. But one of the things that I saw bring so many people I know together had nothing to do with basketball. It wasn't a shared love of UMBC basketball, but in it the crystallization of a shared love of UMBC.

I'd be lying in your face if I told you I expected this to happen. A tweet (that full disclosure, I briefly considered deleting) shortly after the selection read, 
Some have asked when I knew a victory was assured, and it's tough to say. I specifically recall noting the start of the "fourth quarter" - the 10 minute mark in the second half - and feeling confident in our 16 point lead. At that point, a loss would have been a choke job on our part, which seems counterintuitive of a 16 seed playing a 1. But I've also spent a lifetime as a Philly sports fan, so I'm not willing to acknowledge a sure thing until it is indeed that. 

The overwhelming feeling of that weekend, particularly that night, is one of pride. Pride in my university, pride in the men who took the court, pride in my pep band, who held their own against a pair of Power 5 programs with marching bands to pull from, pride in the UMBC faithful who were there in Charlotte and the many more who experienced it in a variety of other ways. I'm also humbled by the fact that for so many folks, I was the one who you thought of when you thought of UMBC, and the one who got the call, the text, or the wall post. 

My voice still has not fully recovered from last weekend. I shouted chanted, and barked more than was healthy. A friend commented that she could hear me on her TV and was legitimately unsure if she meant figuratively or literally. I sang the fight song and alma mater more than I ever did as a student - the former because  I was typically playing it, and the latter because it didn't yet exist. While a trip to the second weekend would have been sweet (pun fully intended), no one can take Friday night away from us.

I can fully acknowledge that in a lot of ways, sports are frivolous, but they have a power to galvanize like no other. While the basketball team was an inextricable part of my college career, there were many others for whom it was not who were still brought together by this experience. Make no mistake - we're proud of our talented alumni, our brief but important history, our exceptional president, but this experience was unlike any other. Sure, the visibility provides a certain external validation that doesn't always come from the mainstream with other accomplishments, and I think having everyone else see the amazing university we already knew is part of it. But there's a way that one's alma mater - that our alma mater - is tied into our sense of self that makes this victory on the court all of ours.

The four letters on my shirt have always meant a lot to me, but only in the past week have others began to take note. I've always rocked UMBC gear, but now it's getting comments. Visitors to my office take note of the degree that hangs over my left shoulder and mention the game. The cynic in me mentally notes that I've been wearing this same gear for nearly two decades and the institution didn't get exponentially better because of the singular accomplishment of our team, but I can't sit here and act as though it meant nothing when I experienced firsthand how it made me feel.

Dawg Days of March: Play-By-Play

This is part of a three part series:
Play-By-Play - Color Commentary - Media Guide

"Shock and awe in college basketball! UMBC makes history in Charlotte!"

Those words, spoken by Bill Raftery on the TNT broadcast of UMBC's historic victory over #1 overall seed Virginia, may go down in NCAA Tournament lore. 

UMBC's journey to the highest of highs began two weeks ago with a victory over Vermont in the America East conference championship. In case you've forgotten: 

I watched on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday afternoon with admittedly few expectations. A friend messaged me after Jairus Lyles' game winning not-quite-buzzer-beater fell and our dance card was punched. A decade prior, I watched UMBC win at home in the conference final to secure the first trip; this victory came on the road as the #2 seed against a team that has bested us the 23 previous outs. 

Because I already had another reason to familiarize myself with first round tournament sites, I knew that there was a site that would be most advantageous for me: Charlotte. UMBC's postseason history in North Carolina has been strong across sports, and sure enough, Charlotte it was. My attendance from the moment they announced it on Selection Sunday was never in question.

I made the trip down to Charlotte on Friday afternoon, and headed to a pregame social at the team hotel. I made a mutually beneficial agreement with a then-stranger, now-friend fellow alumnus: He was in from Atlanta; his hotel was adjacent to the arena and came with parking. I'd give him a ride back uptown after the social, and park in his designated spot. Works for me. I met Jeremy at the social, and got to catch a few more familiar faces: Nancy, my Director of Residential Life from my undergraduate days who is now the Vice President for Student Affairs; Cara, our mascot emerita who worked this game who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years back at Spirit Groups Alumni Day; Talmesha, a dance team contemporary of mine who now coaches her former squad; and of course our esteemed president, Dr. Hrabowski. I also got to see quite a few other alumni, employees, family members, and fans, and the current iteration of the Down and Dirty Dawg Band.

My usual predilection towards seeing games and bands gave way to the intent to be all in for my team. The pregame social and team sendoff lasted into the first game of the session (Kansas State vs. Creighton) but I didn't mind. After we saw the team and spirit groups off, we headed uptown to the arena, where I caught some of the second half of that game (and gave y'all a little #bracketbands) before the good guys took the court. Thanks to a bit of wheeling and dealing by our Director of Alumni Relations, I got to sit with Jeremy rather than in the solo seat I had purchased from StubHub, so I had someone with whom to share history.

The first half was a low scoring back-and-forth; by the under-12 timeout, both teams were still in single digits, and the first half ended tied at 21. While there was still a half of basketball still to be played, this didn't feel bad, as a fan of the team who by all intents and purposes should have been getting their teeth kicked in.

UMBC's defense stayed tight as the offense heated up in the second half. By the under-16 timeout, UMBC led by 11, and would never hold a smaller lead the remainder of the game. It was at about that point that the win probability flipped in UMBC's favor as well, though I've spent enough years rooting for losing programs that I wouldn't have believed it if you told me. It started to feel real around the "fourth quarter" - 10 minutes remaining in the game. By that point, UMBC led 47-31 with no signs of letting up. Everyone not clad in orange and blue was rooting for history by then, and the Carolina fans who had moved down to enjoy the game with us pointed out, accurately, that UVA wasn't built to come back from a deficit. UVA's deficit would never again fall within a dozen, and UMBC would go on to win by 20.

At some point late in the second, the students, who like us were in the arena's upper deck, saw a victory at hand and made their way down to the lower level to prepare to celebrate. After the game went final, the pep band pivoted deftly from the fight song and alma mater into All I Do Is Win and an all out party. An unnavigable crowd at the escalators led us to enjoy the celebration mostly from the upper deck, eventually making it down below before being politely but firmly ushered out by arena staff. 

I should mention that from the point of inevitability on, my text and social media blew the hell up. My affinity for UMBC is pretty well documented, and everything from congratulations to wellness checks came my way. I assured folks I was, indeed, still alive, and went live on Facebook from outside the arena. A crowd stuck around for some live video from the local news. 

I'll remind you that this was the session's late game, so it was pushing midnight at this point, but I was nowhere near sleep. Several of us kept the party going at World of Beer in the Epicentre, reflecting on the day and cheering at the SportsCenter highlights on the bar TVs before calling it a night, and my departure back up to Greensboro. I wasn't the only one who had to make a change in plans - after all, 135 previous attempts would have told us not to plan for a repeat performance as a 16 seed.

I actually had a work obligation on the Saturday that followed, and despite finally getting into bed around 4:30am, I was still plenty energetic by the next day, though I crashed hard Saturday night. Sunday's game was at 7:45, so I had a good deal of family time, including a hike, prior to heading back south to Charlotte. I ended up paying more than face value for Sunday's ticket, due largely to UNC playing but certainly at least in part to interest in lightning striking twice for UMBC. I made my way down to Charlotte just in time to see disappointed Carolina fans streaming out of the Spectrum Center, having just witnessed a drubbing at the hands of Texas A&M. 

From a fan perspective, we were playing with house money by the game against K-State. A win here and a Sweet 16 berth would have been icing on the cake, but at the same time, we just knocked off #1; who should we fear? After nearly 48 hours of press, one thing was for sure: We wouldn't have the element of surprise on our side. 

UMBC once again got after it defensively, though shots didn't fall as they did on Friday night. To our players' credit, they shot with no memory, but despite being in it all game long, the clock ultimately struck midnight on our Cinderella run as the Retrievers fell, 50-43. The pep band got out the fight song and alma mater before yielding to the victors, and the team got nothing but congratulations from the whole arena, As it had two nights prior, the night once again ended at World of Beer before hopping on I-85 northbound with nothing but pride in the alma mater.
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