By Leonard Koppett
Football's Halftime College Humor is Updated and Flourishing to Beat the Band
The marcing band, brassy and brisk whether
or not it is led by an amazing baton-twirler
of either sex, is an essential feature of
major college football. Its pregame entrance
and halftime maneuvers represent a
distinctive, indigenous American pop art
In the Ivy League in recent years,
however, these traditional routines have
been abandoned for a much more sophisticated
entertainment - essentially satiric, in style
a parody of the precision-proud quasi-
military bands, in substance a social comment
on politics, sex, and other campus concerns.
These bands are the avant garde (or at least
the off-Broadway) of intermission
At most football colleges, the halftime
shows have passed beyond simple human
spellouts and crisp marching to college
and martial airs, to fancy formations and
show tunes. But the basic approach remains
the same: a spectacular display, in the
spirit of the Radio City Music Hall
Rockettes, aimed at dazzling the eye and
arousing patriotic (towards nation, region
or college) feelings.
But such productions require considerable
rehearsal time, large numbers of players and
a predilection for conformity. The Ivies have
gone their own way for practical, as well as
The Columbia Way
Columbia, for instance, "marches" about
35 men (and a couple of Barnard girls).
Whether they could keep in step or not, the
Columbia men don't particularly want to, and
don't think their audience would be thrilled
if they did. Therefore, they have sought
distinctions by displaying unusual
instruments such as:
1. "The only E-flat double-reed contrabass
marching Sarrusaphone in Civilization."
2. An authentic Australian Aborigine
Didgereedoo (whose spelling is in dispute).
This is a hollow-log, two-note super-kazoo,
3. "The world famous Lenthopipe," a
horizontal construction of aluminum tubing,
a funnel and a rubber shower hose.
4. The world's largest triangle (about
eight feet per side), intended to downgrade
Harvard's famous big bass drum-on-wheels.
The sarrusaphone, in fact, is a legitimate
instrument. It can be described as the
offspring of an inebriated contrabassoon
and a baritone saxophone of easy virtue.
However, few people - and no Columbians -
have been able to play it. Last year, the
Rutgers band rented it, came to Baker Field
with it and announced, "We not only have one,
but we have someone who can play it." The
Columbia band answered (home bands get last
licks): "we still have the only one in
That's a fair sample of the level of
insult the Ivy-type shows generate. Their
stock in trade is a parodying of formations,
backed up by a script full of double
One of the Harvard shows dealt with
Chicago Mayor Daley and the Democratic
Convention of 1968. The themes were "Beat
the Press" and "Mace the Nation"; the band
played "Chicago" while lining up to spell
"Dick" - which promptly shifted into "Oink".
Subtlety is not a prime goal of these
Peace has been a popular subject with all
the Ivy bands, with Harvard hitting it
perhaps most frequently. Yale, at this year's
Brown game, dealth [sic] with troop
withdrawals from Vietnam: from its band of
about 100, two people "withdrew" - and
promply returned. The Harvard band, at its
Dartmouth game, made a stick figure with a
pentagon-shaped head, which flew into
fragments during a commentary about "not
losing our heads."
And when "creeping Communism" seemed to be
a pre-election issue in 1968, the Yale band
devised a creeping formation while playing
An idea of the technique used can be
gained from a portion of the script used by
Princeton at its Columbia game this year.
The subject was the meat-packing industry,
and the commentary must be taken by ear,
rather than read, to get the true effect:
Meatpackers, Princeton noted, "have been
putting chicken in hot dogs to make them
cheap. And speaking of meatpacking, the band
observes that Wall Street secretaries have
been shaking the very foundations of the
financial district by shunning the
traditional brassiere. By provoking a rising
interest rate, this practice has
understandably contributed to a bear market.
Noting that the businessman has always
favored fewer restraints, we form a 'laissez-
faire' economy and salute him and his newly
To which the band played "Born Free."
What Princeton men consider a coup of
sorts occured in 1967, when the game with
Harvard was televised nationally by the
American Broadcasting Company.
Understandably nervous about possible
content, A.B.C. didn't intend to televise
the halftime show. After consultation, it
agreed to put the formations on camera, but
not the patter or music. So Princeton began
the show by spelling out "A.B.C.", telling
the spectators present: "In a blatant attempt
to get television exposure from A.B.C., the
Band forms a plug on the field." But
immediately afterward, the "A" turned into an
"N" and the band played "Who's Sorry Now?"
Veto Power Exercised
These scripts are devised, and the
routines worked out, by student groups.
There is, inescapably, a veto power over
material exercised by student authorities,
and the most persistent battle is against
over-explicit sexual terms and other
impolite expressions. (The Columbia Band
regularly forms the symbols for male and
female and merges them, which is acceptably
abstract; but one of its birth-control
scripts had to be confiscated at Dartmouth a
couple of years ago when the athletic
director happened to glance at a copy).
But the basic motivation, it seems clear,
is in the tradition of college humor - a
desire to show off cleverness and wit rather
than a desire to shock for the sake of shock.
What is relatively new, since the mid-1950s,
is the broadened sphere of subject matter,
and the emphasis on written script.
None of the bands has yet attempted a
parody of "Oh! Calcutta!," but when it does
one can expect that an early-season came will
be chosen for reasons of climate.