Florida A&M University’s Rattler Football team played its first home game of the season over the weekend and beat the Hampton University Pirates with a score of 44-20. And the team did so without the school’s famed marching band cheering them on. And longtime fans of Rattler football say it’s just not the same without the band.
Hip Hop Recording Artist Future performed his hit single “Turn off the Lights” during the halftime show, and the crowd sang along. But reviews of Future’s performance, were mixed.
“Uh, I thought it was pretty cool,” said FAMU sophomore TaShawn Carpenter when asked whether he liked Futures performance. But he adds that it didn’t make up for the absence of the school’s “Marching 100” band.
“Um, I think it sucks, to be honest. It’s kind of a let-down when you don’t see the band.”
Older fans like 30-year FAMU football attendee Ruth McQueen, say they didn’t even know who Future was to begin with.
“I tuned it out. I did not like it,” McQueen said.
At most school’s fans go to football games to watch and cheer the football team. But at historically black colleges and universities, the football team usually finds itself sharing the spotlight with the band.
“It’s the fanfare,” said Derek Horne, the Athletics Director at Florida A&M. “And I think that…the bands are a big part, and that’s the unique culture of HBCU’s and their sporting events.”
This is the first football season in more than 65 years where the band hasn’t been there to pump up the crowd The Marching 100 band was suspended after the November hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. Twelve band members are charged with felony hazing. The school is facing a wrongful death lawsuit from Champion’s family and FAMU’s longtime band director and university president have resigned. In the months after Champion’s death, FAMU has revised its hazing policies and put new rules governing campus clubs and organizations in place.
With the band’s absence FAMU officials scrambled to fill in the gap by booking artists like Future and female rap pioneer MC Lyte to perform at the games. But while these acts go on during halftime…there are still four other quarters of the game that have to be filled. And it’s here where he band’s absence is really being felt.
“The game is so quiet, the energy is different, it doesn’t flow the same. You can tell something is different,” said FAMU student Eric Demps.
Past members of the Marching 100 say even when the band comes back, it’s got a lot of work to do to rebuild everything that’s been torn down. And that may include keeping a much lower profile than it’s had in the past.
“While it may be a while before we get back on the national stage, I’m fine with that,” said Victor Gaines, President of the Marching 100 Alumni Association. “I want us to focus on what we do best—performing for our fans, performing for the school and [for] FAMUans. As long as we take care of home, we believe home will take care of us.”
This year FAMU has put a lot of emphasis on bringing people out to the games. It’s launched an appeal to Rattler Fans to come out and support the football team and the school. Athletics director Derek Horne, says the push is working. Almost 18,000 people showed up for the first home game, and FAMU is still selling season tickets.