If there's anything more American than a college football game, it’s the marching band's halftime show. Baseball games don’t have it. Pro football games rarely have it. Hockey games definitely don’t have it. It’s a beloved oddity of tuba-flavored Americana jammed halfway between four quarters of watching giant men batter one another.
And despite the brutality of American football — where the athletes get bigger and faster every year and careers are brutish and short — marching bands have helped usher nerd culture into the mainstream.
At this weekend's Big Ten game between Ohio State and Nebraska, the Ohio State marching band put on a raucous, well-applauded video game show tapping into nostalgia.
The games spanned continents and generations: Space Invader (an ‘80s mall-arcade regular created by the Japanese), Pokémon (a ‘90s sensation and branding phenomenon also from Japan), Tetris (coded by a Soviet), Super Mario (Japanese, but featuring two Italian brothers), and 2000s American favorite Halo. Most technically impressive, perhaps, was the band’s galloping-horse formation during the Zelda theme.
Nerdy? Maybe, maybe not. Running alongside football’s decades-long growth to sports dominance in American culture, video games have become a pillar of American pop culture, an industry where $1 billion in monthly sales is considered weak.
Nor has Ohio State’s band gone where no band has gone before: In 2007, the UC Berkeley band put on a well-regarded video game show. Fellow dorm room staple Radiohead has also gotten love from the University of Arizona (in 2006), and Radiohead gave love back to USC's marching band, which performed “15 Step” alongside frontman Thom Yorke at the 2009 Grammys.
The next time anyone wants to make fun of the marching band, remember that the tuba player is doing a lot of running around. The bonus? No traumatic encephalopathy.