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J.A. Adande

Pairing Williams With the NFL Is Sure to Be a Hit

September 07, 2006|J.A. Adande

When NBC needed someone to write the theme music for its NFL coverage, the network turned, naturally, to a man who has never been to a pro football game.

Look at it this way: John Williams hasn't flown an X-wing fighter through space or outrun dinosaurs, and he still wrote memorable soundtracks for "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park."

Truth is, there's no better choice to score America's Sport than America's Composer. For the last 30 years Williams has provided the background music for our lives. If you haven't heard his notes it means you don't own a television and last went to the movies to catch opening night of "Lawrence of Arabia."

The ominous strings that warn of a lurking shark in "Jaws," the flourishes to herald another escape by Indiana Jones, the sounds that draw you in to Harry Potter's magical world -- Williams is responsible for all of them.

He wrote the original music for nine of the 25 biggest box office films of all time. He wrote the theme song for the "NBC Nightly News." In sports, he wrote the theme song for four Olympics, starting with the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. He wrote the menacing "Imperial March" (a.k.a. Darth Vader's theme) that's still popular with college marching bands 26 years after it made its debut in "The Empire Strikes Back." He wrote the "Superman" theme that used to blare from the Staples Center speakers after a particularly strong effort from Shaquille O'Neal.

So Williams has been at the venues, even when he isn't there. It's not that Williams doesn't like sports, it's just that, in his words, "I've never been a games-goer."

Williams, a New York native who as a teenager moved to Los Angeles with his family in the 1940s and went to UCLA, said he used to take his sons to Dodger Stadium -- "I think it was about the hot dog more than the baseball," Williams said -- and when he conducted the Boston Pops orchestra for 12 years he used to head over to Fenway Park with the brass section to watch the Red Sox. But he never managed to pull himself away from work to catch a football game. (At least the 45 Academy Award nominations and five Oscars show that he was spending his time well).

He has watched the sport on television enough to get a sense for it and its place in American culture ... which is why he felt the pressure when he was asked to write NBC's Sunday Night Football music for the network's return to NFL coverage after an eight-year absence.

"Absolutely," Williams said. "The hope was that I could get into something that would connect with people and represent the sport. You never know if you do. I hope I have."

Williams spent a month writing it, spent a long June day with an orchestra in a studio recording it (while Al Michaels dropped by), and came up with a winner. His Sunday Night Football theme's forceful tempo and aggressive horns will make you want to suit up.

"That music has to be very special, has to have a sense of drama, has to have a sense of power -- things that are unique to the game of professional football," NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said. "He has delivered that so tremendously."

Music is as much a part of football as helmets. In college it's the marching bands (Williams remembers the Notre Dame Victory March and USC's "Conquest" from his youth). In the pros it's the sound of NFL Films, where the music of Sam Spence and the narration of John Facenda in the 1960s made games seem like Greek myths and turned the sport into something important. ESPN didn't bring the announcers, the production crew or even the old yellow blazers from ABC when it took over the "Monday Night Football" franchise, but it did keep the iconic music (and featured people from all walks of life humming it in an ad campaign).

"Football is a different kind of musical portrait," said Williams, who described his Olympic scores as celebrating the gathering of nations. "It's a tough test. It's a rugged, gladiatorial contest.

"The thing about football is it has all that but it's got a distinctly American character.... Football is about up-front linemen banging each other. It's rough. The music is rhythmically taught and strong and tough. It's brassy. It's not something you do with a lot of violins, which you might do if you're doing swimming.

"Brass goes with football."

Sounds like something John Madden would say. Which means it sounds like football season.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.

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