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White: UGA-Tech rivalry finds new life in Band Bowl

All year they play the soundtrack to someone else’s triumph, so it’s no wonder the members of the Georgia Redcoat Marching Band are aching for their own shot at gridiron glory.

Today, they put down their instruments and go head to head with their biggest rivals, an unofficial group of Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Marching Band members, in the Band Bowl — an 11-on-11, no-pad, tackle football game in what is a longstanding, albeit unsanctioned, spectacle.

The fanfare and revelry may pale in comparison to the attention the annual meeting between the Georgia and Georgia Tech football teams, but it’s more than enough for the participants, who kick off at noon today at Southeast Clarke Park on Lexington Road.

“It’s funny how we get so serious for one game, but it’s a lot of fun for us,” said Jeremiah Starr, a Georgia trumpet player and senior history major. “It’s a rivalry, for sure, and there’s a lot of emotion on the field for this.”

Crossing paths only once a year, what better way to build on the traditional in-state rivalry than by getting a little dirty playing football?

“I think we all have a lot of respect for each other because we spend all our Saturdays in the fall doing the same thing,” said Georgia band captain Brett Johnson, a tuba player and senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. “And there’s a lot of respect between us because they’re out there playing, mixing it up with us once a year, too.”

The game’s origins are a bit unclear, but it has been played on and off for decades. After a two-year lapse, the series came back with bigger aspirations at the end of the 2009-10 football season.

“Because it had been a couple years since any of us played and because I was a senior, I was basically the only one left who remembered that we even played this game,” said 2010 Georgia graduate Chris McConnell, who led the charge to bring the game back. “It was hard to get some solid support the first year, but I had hopes it would continue again. I didn’t know if it would pick up that much steam, but it has.”

It’s now part of a home-and-away series, intramural referees handle the calls on the field and the bands spend the better part of a year preparing, in varying degrees, for a one-game schedule. That means playing pickup games before or after band practice in the fall and working three or four hours each weekend through the winter.

It’s a lot of time to put in for a single game, but that only increases the appeal of the exercise.

“The two schools have rivalries, and the football teams are intense enough, but every guy dreams about himself being on the football field and being part of that drive to win the game,” McConnell said. “The band, outside of the cheerleaders and whoever else is involved with the team on the field, probably is the closest to the football team. We see them play all year, and this is like finally getting that shot to score the winning touchdown ourselves.”

The popularity of this year’s game is expected to eclipse the previous two with more than 200 people already accepting invitations sent via Facebook.

“It’s getting bigger every year we play,” said sousaphone player Tony Floyd, a junior majoring in middle school education. “Last year, one of the band frats cooked out for all the players after the game. This year, I think we’ll have more people there, and it’s a bigger event every year we do it.”

Fans or not, the game has already reached epic proportions for those playing.

“When the crowds part and God’s looking down upon the Bulldog Nation, be it in pads or a group of ragtag marching band members, there’s no better feeling than teeing it up between the hedges,” McConnell said.

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