Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hail! To the Fight Song!

Over this past weekend, my husband, son and I traveled toAnn Arbor, Michigan to visit our house of football worship: Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. “The Big House.” Boasting the nation’s greatest seatingcapacity, you are part of the largest crowd watching a football game in America each and every time you see a game there. The attendance at our game, against San Diego State, was 110,707. After hearing the strains of the greatest fight song in the country, The Victors,* multiple times as Michigan beat San Diego State 28 to 7, I started wondering about the fight songs of NFL teams.

Most of us only think of fight songs as belonging to the collegiate world, where students and alumni yell/sing a common anthem to pump up their team, or as a not-so-secret handshake when crossing paths in the real world. But many NFL teams have fight songs, too. Some are very short and simple (see, e.g., New York Jets Keep Sailing Along), some are a bit longer (see, the 49ers' Football Polka), some reflect the local identity (see, Go Dallas Cowboys) and some use a familiar tune with shoehorned lyrics (see, the Buffalo Bills' Shout!). . .

. . . and some songs are older than dirt and have a history all their own. The Green Bay Packers own the oldest fight song, Go! You, Packers, Go!, first performed in 1931. It is just older than Hail to the Redskins, first performed for the Washington Redskins in 1938.** More than just a means to cheer on Washington’steam, though, Dallas Cowboys fans will be horrified to know Hail can be credited for the very existence of their beloved team.

In the late 1950’s, Texas oilman Clint Murchison was desperate to bring an NFL franchise to his state. His initial plan was to buy the Redskins from owner George Preston Marshall (the Dallas Redskins?!?), but Marshall changed the terms of the deal at the last minute and it didn’t happen. In revenge, Murchison bought the rights to Hail from Washington’s band leader, Barnee Breeskin, who wrote the music and had had a falling-out with Marshall. When Murchison later approached the League about expanding to Dallas, the only holdout owner was Marshall, who had been enjoying a large fan base as the only NFL team in the South. It turns out that the purchase of Hail was good for more than just needling the Redskins owner.  Murchison threatened to no longer allow the fight song to be played. Marshall loved the song so much (his wife had written the lyrics), that for the return of the song, he gave his approval for a team in Dallas.

So there you have it. That’s how a song that has carried the Redskins to literally hundreds of victories made it possible for the Dallas Cowboys to exist. Who knew?!? More details on this story and the sophomoric feud between Murchison and Marshall can be read by clicking here.

*You can feel free to argue that your college fight song of choice is better. It doesn't matter because you would be wrong. Period.
**Incidentally, Washington and the Baltimore Ravens have the only two existing marching bands in the NFL.