The Band Plays On

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Seattle Times - Notre Dame and Michigan have seen better football days, but Saturday in Ann Arbor will be among the bigger matchups for two of the country's most storied programs.

No rankings, no worries.

The first night game in Michigan Stadium's 84-year history will draw ESPN's GameDay crew, a retro look for both teams and perhaps the biggest crowd in college football history.

The record of 113,090, set by Michigan against Connecticut last September, is expected to tumble as a crowd of 115,000 is possible. The teams are first and second among FBS schools in winning percentage -- Michigan at .735 and Notre Dame at .732. Michigan is No. 1 in all-time wins at 885, Notre Dame No. 3 at 843.

Big Game. Big Night. Big House.

Expect a cacophony of yelling, chanting and music. Luckily, two of the most famous fight songs in the land will bring harmony to the dissonance.

In addition to extra hours of fans imbibing on their favorite beverages, expect to hear Michigan's "The Victors" and the "Notre Dame Victory March" a few dozen extra times.

While it can be argued there are bigger rivalries, there might not be two fight songs with more famous choruses. The marches are long, perfect for pom-pom waving and clapping, before building slowly to their famous stanzas.

"The Victors," almost universally mislabeled as "Hail to the Victors," was written by Louis Elbel immediately after he attended one of Michigan's most noteworthy victories at the time, a last-minute 12-11 win over the University of Chicago in 1898. OK, so no one left on the planet saw it live, but it was huge, trust us.

Elbel was adamant about praising the victory as much as possible, so in writing the piece he had more "hail" in the lyrics than an Oklahoma thunderstorm.

"The Victors" was called "the greatest college fight song ever written" by John Philip Sousa, the most famous marching band conductor in U.S. history.

"'The Victors'" is a powerful melody that is catchy and easy to sing," said Scott Boerma, the director of the Michigan marching band.

"Both 'The Victors' and the 'Notre Dame Victory March' have melodies that ascend throughout their opening phrases, providing an uplifting, forward-moving emotional reaction."

And that's before Michigan fans have an extra five or six hours Saturday to get ramped up. Notre Dame band director Ken Dye said the songs were written as part of the growing popularity of using music at sporting events. The "Notre Dame Victory March" was written by the Shea brothers, Michael (music) and John (lyrics) in 1908 -- the same year as "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" -- but was arranged as it is now known in 1925.

Dye said the "Notre Dame Victory March" derives from "ragtime rhythm" or syncopation. "Both are great fight songs, but the 'ND Victory March' benefits from the newer musical elements developing in popular American music in the early 20th century," Dye said.

Both teams will wear legacy Adidas football jerseys. Player numbers also will appear on Michigan's famous winged helmets for the first time since the late 1960s. A large shamrock logo will appear on Notre Dame's gold helmets for the first time since the early 1960s. The Michigan band also will be going all out with light suits on the drum major, flag members and dance team, Boerma said. The lights will require wireless controllers. Boerma said the bands will only add to what will be an electric (literally) atmosphere.

Said Boerma: "When you hear the 'Notre Dame Victory March,' played back and forth with 'The Victors,' it simply feels like college football at its finest."

Both bands also respect each other and know they are playing two of the catchiest college tunes of all time.

"The Notre Dame marching band is made up of some of the classiest students and staff members I've ever met, so we always look forward to sharing the day with them," Boerma said.

Here is something you are unlikely to hear any Ohio State fan utter: "The Michigan Band has historically been one of the benchmarks of musical excellence in the collegiate band world," Dye said. "They perform with great pride and conduct themselves with dignity and confidence."

And on Saturday, wedged into the Big House, about 115,000 fans can safely say, "They're playing our song."

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