An Earlier Incident

Fall, 1974, SMU vs. Texas A&M

Your Aggie Band story archive has several versions of the 1981 halftime disaster at Rice, but no mention of a similar train wreck in 1974. A female acquaintance of mine referred to it as "The Aggie Band Block "O"". Here's my recollection of the event.

Fall 1974, A&M vs. SMU at the Cotton Bowl stadium. I was a lowly p-head cornet player, happily filling my hole somewhere in the stem of the block-T. The drill had gone well up to the War Hymn, but we had one more trick up our sleeve before we flanked, marched six steps, and ran off. As soon as the "T" was formed, we would perform the "Lost Indian Countermarch".

I don't know if the BQs still do this, or if they do, they may call it something more politically correct. For the uninitiated, the maneuver goes something like this: In a block band formation, the outside shell of the band (bugle rank, left and right guides, bass rank) steps off in a follow the leader circuit of the formation in one direction, say clockwise. The next layer would do the same thing counterclockwise and so on all the way to the middle. Quite impressive, as all Aggie Band drills are.

We were to do the same thing in the block T. As the stem was only four men wide, this was a pretty simple chore. We did not go around the entire T, but were divided into sections about eight men long and made circuits of that section. That way everyone would finish their circuit together and we would step the T off en masse to thunderous applause. Or not.

Head Drum Major Brad Harrison '75 was liked and appreciated by all of us. His unique voice made one wonder if he gargled with gravel instead of Listerine. When he passed back that we were to play "The Spirit of Aggieland", three hundred Brad Harrison impersonators would sound like a swarm of demented crickets as they passed back "Spirit", "Spirit", Spirit". He was a good Drum Major, but this one time, he screwed up.

In the 1981 Rice debacle, false whistles were blamed, and the correct response was made that one should not go by whistles alone, but by your place on the field and in the music. The same thing should have applied in 1974. As I came up the outside of the T in the Lost Indian, I was a good twelve steps from my original position when I saw Brad begin the baton movements that would lead to the step-off whistle. My heart sunk as I realized he was four to eight beats early, having somehow lost his count.

When the whistle blows wrongly in the Lost Indian, you have several choices. You can ignore it and step off when you're supposed to, or you can go ahead and obey the whistle and step off, even though you're not anywhere near the place in the formation you're supposed to be. I believe most bandsmen around me chose the third option of scrambling like mad to catch up to the BQs who went for option two. In my case this involved four more steps forward plus two across to regain my spot, plus however many steps the whole formation moved forward while I was catching up.

As the bugle rank (well, half of them anyway) countermarched on the south goal line, I could tell by their faces that yes, it was as bad as it seemed. A few of them waved their bugles at the oncoming bottom of the T, trying to herd them into some semblance of order. I don't think they succeeded.

We did manage to keep it together enough to finish the countermarch and the War Hymn, flank our six steps, and get the hell off the field. I think "Block O" was a pretty accurate description of what it looked like from the stands. I spotted drummer Billy Jay '75 on the sidelines in tears. That pretty much summarized how we all felt.

Adding insult to injury, SMU outscored the Aggie football team that day. Then as is traditional when we're outscored, we had a post-game yell practice. Except we couldn't because the SMU band was giving a post-game concert. So we waited impatiently while the Mustang band played on^and on^and on. Yelling at the drum majors and yell leaders to go ahead and play over them didn't help, Lord knows we tried. SMU finally gave it up after thirty minutes, we practiced our yells, then slunk home.

To top it all off, two years later we returned to SMU and of course won the halftime. But in the SMU game program was a little blurb about the wonderful Mustang band, and how much friends and foes alike enjoyed the post-game concerts they gave as the stadium emptied. In fact, the program gushed, "Two years ago, the entire A&M student body stayed for thirty minutes after the game to listen to our band". Yeah, right.

Dean Brown '77
(White Band 1973-1976, B CO INF Band 1976-1977)

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