Controversy continues after satirical MOB halftime
by STEVE JACKSON and DANA BLANKENHORN
It started at halftime. The favored Aggies were down 17-0 as their band left the field and the MOB marched on. For three years, the Marching Owl Band has performed humorous halftime shows; this week's offering was a "salute to Texas A&M," parodying the Aggie military band.
Goose-stepping onto the field to the tune of an old German march, distinctively unmilitary in a variety of silly hats and helmets, the MOB was greeted by booing which continued as Bob Hord, the rubber-booted drum major, led them down the field. The first formation was a chicken thigh, as guest of honor Marvin Zindler, an ex-baton champion carried out a virtuoso twirling routine. Zindler, the man famous for closing down the Chicken Range in LaGrange, was also booed by the A&M sections.
"As any A&M freshman will attest," the loudspeaker announced, "at the bottom of every Senior Boot is a big heel." The MOB formed a boot; parts of the audience laughed.
The Aggies didn't. Ice and paper began to fly onto the field, intensifying as the band formed a fireplug for Reveille, the female collie mascot of A&M, and a twirler paraded with an empty leash, to the tune of "Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?"
The last MOB formation was a ragged attempt at the countermarching "Aggie War T" done, not to the War Hymn, but to "March of the Wooden Soldiers." The trumpeters blew Retreat, the Aggie band started playing, and the Aggie team pushed through the MOB on their way to the bench.
The scene in the Aggie stands was equally confused. As the MOB returned to their seats, a cacophony of obscenities, insulting gestures, and challenges to fight exploded. Although the Aggie yell leaders and officers attempted to restrain the crowd, two band members were assaulted, and one knocked down. Neither was injured.
The tension did not subside as the game resumed. An hour later, after the Aggies' narrow 24-21 defeat, the stadium emptied – except for the MOB, the Aggies beside, and their fans above. The Rice flags were torn from the stadium poles. Cushions and ice fell from the upper stands, and a ring of gesticulating, uniformed figures surrounded the MOB, which was by now also ringed with police. Several A&M students were restrained by their fellows from rushing the band.
Finally, instead of leaving the stadium, the band was escorted by police – and the Aggies – across the field and into the tunnel until the stadium was cleared. But a few hundred stayed. Most of the Aggie fans left, angry or hurt. And in the tunnel, a shell shocked band settled to wait. Separating them from the campus were a metal gate and a crowd of angry Aggies.
Inside, Bert Roth was feeling old, distraught, nervous. He is principal of a Houston elementary school. He is also the MOB's director. "I should have known this was going to happen."
"What's wrong? We can't help it if they can't take a joke."
"No, look. When you do something like this, it's fun, everyone enjoys it. But you've got to take your audience into account. Because if they don't like it..." he stared out at the field, "we have to take responsibility for it." Then, almost as an afterthought, "I have to take responsibility for it."
"Why? We're not the allwise judges of what they think."
"We goaded them. We're responsible. I'm responsible."
About 350 people were gathered outside the gates at the south end of the stadium. Possibly 40 were uniformed Corps members, the rest of the group was divided, more or less evenly, between A&M students and older fans, mostly alumni. Some 500 more wander between the gate area, the nearby buses, and the van beside which the Aggie band was lined up in a hollow square around their equipment, waiting to go home.
The atmosphere outside is almost carnival. The crowd is angry, yes, but it is a cheerful anger. They fully expect the band to come out. Some want to "give these kids a good talking to." Some want to fight. If the band won't come out, the Aggies may come in.
The MOB leaves the tunnels and climbs into the east stands. Their attitude is still one of disbelief. "This is America..." says one. "This is 1973. And here we are, surrounded in our own stadium by Aggies!" His audience shrugs.
A half-dozen uniformed Corps members scale a drainage pipe west of the gate. They make it look easy as, one by one, they catfoot along the stadium wall and leap inside. Emerging from behind a concession stand in the band's rear, they encounter a large Houston policeman. The verbal exchange is inaudible. The Aggies vault back onto the wall, hang over the edge, drop five feet; all but one avoid the mud.
A Corps member peers between the gates, sees a few MOBsters. He gives a signal and the crowd outside breaks into a chant. The dozen policemen present exchange glances and move between the gate and the crowd. The chant ends. "All right, there's nothing you can do here. Why don't you all go home now?" No one goes.
The concessions in the stadium are open for the high school game later in the evening.
"I gotta stay here all night." A teenage girl behind the counter looks up from counting quarters. "What are you here for?"
"They say conduct unbecoming a band."
"I'm beginning to wonder."
By 5:30, there are only about 200 Aggies outside the gates, but they continue slowly moving in closer to the cordon of Houston traffic police. The police are now telling the crowd to leave; no results. One woman shakes her finger at a burly cop: "We're paying your salary, not these kids." The light is failing fast. The officer in charge makes a radio request for "all the assistance here you can send." Two squad cars, lights flashing, appear almost immediately.
A quarter-mile away, Rice is going about its business. Security is at the stadium; the administration knows what's happening; the students don't either.
"What are the cops doing here?" A small contingent of Rice students arrive. Behind them come another dozen prowl cars – no sirens this time – on the far side of the crowd. Clearly, they mean business. The Aggies begin to disperse. The stadium lights come on. It is 5:50.
It is another half-hour before the gates open and the Food Service trucks back in, one by one, to pick up their loads of MOBsters and drive them, police cars before and behind, back to the colleges. No incidents. It's over.
It was just the beginning. Public reaction was mixed and vocal. Channel 11 condemned the MOB that night and Channel 13 complimented it. Letters in the daily papers were strongly anti-MOB at first, segueing into more balanced sentiments as of today (Thursday). And they're still writing.
The show was discussed by several sports columnists, especially here and in Dallas. Most enjoyed the put-on and felt that the Aggie fans had overreacted.
Bob Galt wrote, in the Dallas Times-Herald, "In recent years there hasn't been a lot to get excited about over Owl football. The only thing that has been consistently good has been the halftime show presented by the Mob ... It pokes fun at itself and the world."
Bert Roth and Bob Hord issued an apology to the A&M band for the unintentional offense, saying, "We consider these programs to be a tribute to our fellow schools, because only strong tradition and colorful, individualistic activities are subject to parody."
This article originally appeared in The Rice Thresher on November 29, 1973.
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