The Blog

XXXVII

The Super Bowl is swell and football today is great but . . . does anyone else miss marching bands?

11:00 PM, Jan 27, 2003 • By LARRY MILLER
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I DIDN'T SEE last year's Super Bowl, but at least the reason for that gave me a pretty good column. This year, on Super Sunday, my wife took our kids over to their Super Friends and told me to stay home and do some Super Relaxing. "Watch the game," she said. "I'll take them to dinner, too, so you ought to be able to see the whole thing." A kiss and a wave, and off they went. Now, I've been married long enough to know two things: First, she loves me and really does think that a man should spend the occasional Super Bowl, Super Alone; second, she's just softening me up for a new dishwasher, or a trip around the world. But what the heck, I've never looked a gift horse in the mouth. (Or any other horse, by the way. They unsettle me, and it's not just horses. Cows, lions, hippos . . . My rule is that all animals whose evacuations are larger than a man's should be avoided. They're frightening; or, at the least, immodest.)

It's probably worth saying that I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world, so missing last year's clash of the titans didn't send me into a spin. I didn't catch any games this season, or the one before, or the one before that. No particular reason, and nothing against anyone who watches as many games on a Sunday as Saddam Hussein has palaces. I guess I've just drifted away over the years. Fact is, if I have the time for television, I'd rather watch old movies: Sherlock Holmes, war pictures, noir, potboilers, Westerns, pretty much anything in black-and-white. And it doesn't even have to be the classics; I love them all. The other night the kids came bounding into our bed after a bath to watch a little TV before story time, and asked me to change the channel. I said, "Hey, take a look at this. Just give it a chance. It's Gene Autry." Two or three seconds later one of the boys said, "Why is he singing?" I started to protest, but the look my wife shot me would have easily wilted that gal with the snakes on her head. She held out her hand for the remote, and just like that we were watching "Slime Time." Ah, well, c'est la guerre. I'm not worried. Someday, they're going to love "The Searchers" whether they want to or not, especially when they find out they were named for the characters in it. (I swear, my wife doesn't know.)

Now, this is not going to be a rant against football today or anyone who loves it. The athletes are extraordinary, stronger and faster than any in history. The quarterback for Tampa Bay mentioned the military bases nearby, and how many of their fans are soldiers, and I loved that, and I think virtually all of them feel that way. And as far as the build up to the big game goes, the pre-game, the extravaganza-of-it-all, if that's what people like, fine with me. What I'd like to write about here is more of a longing, a memory of the game I watched as a kid, the televised game of football the way it was in the sixties, and the things that are gone from it.

First of all, I miss marching bands. All right, I'm biased. I played drums in our school band, and I loved every minute of it, and our conductor, Mr. Emig, was from Ohio, where they know something about concert bands and marching bands. We played and marched at every football game, and I still remember every "street-beat" and song in our repertoire

But the marching we did that I remember the most was our yearly appearances in the Memorial Day Parade. What makes them so memorable is that we only had one band uniform, and it was designed to be worn outdoors for six hours in the stands at a football game in December--not down five miles of Central Avenue at the end of May. Bears wore less padding than us.

The uniforms were twenty years old by the time I got mine, and I swear the material they used could've made good fire-wall insulation for American tanks in the European theater, which, for all I know, is exactly where they got it. After just one mile, kids were weaving around like the first three rows at a Grateful Dead concert, and I'll never forget the tinny public address announcement as we passed the reviewing stand: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Valley Stream South High School Marching Band, under the direction of Jack Emig, doing their tribute to heat stroke."

I sure did love it, though, and I think we were pretty good, too, for a smaller public high school. I know halftime tastes today are flashier than in my day, and if big production numbers with Shania Twain and Sting are what you want to see, with their practiced smiles and their nervous eyes hunting for the next exploding ramp, it's fine with me.