On the field, Michigan ruled. Off of it, it was all about the Delaware State band
The dancers moved effortlessly two at a time into the Michigan Stadium tunnel and then disappeared through the small hole inside the cavernous stadium.
So, too, went the Delaware State drum major, senior Matthew Brown, pumping his fists with flair, each step its own rhythm, its own movement to the beat.The football team may have been demolished on the field Saturday, outclassed in every physical way, but before the game, at halftime and afterward, it was all about Delaware State.
That was when the band took over.
More than anything athletically, except maybe former NFL wide receiver John Taylor, Delaware State is known for one thing: The band, which calls itself The Approaching Storm.
“We are the ambassadors of the university, so we just try to instill school pride,” said Brown, in his second year as drum major. “Most of the crowd comes to see the band.
“ We love the attention. If you see how the crowd reacts with us at a home game, you wouldn’t believe the excitement, the energy. We bring that all to the games.”
Led by Randolph J. Johnson, they are to Delaware State what football is to Michigan and basketball is to Kentucky.
The band has a full page in Delaware State’s media guide and the first line says “halftime is show time” in Dover, Del.
Consider this. Delaware State’s band - 16 of them anyway - played with the Temptations in New York City in 2005. A year later, the band performed at the Super Bowl in Detroit at Ford Field.
And that doesn’t compare to January of this year, where the Delaware State band traveled to Washington and played at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“Playing in the inauguration, it was just fabulous, having Mr. Johnson come, practice hard, in the cold, pretty much, yeah, inauguration prepared us for here,” Brown said.
“It’s one of the top experiences I’ve had since going to Del State.”In many ways, he was referencing both. Being a historically Black college and university, playing the inauguration for the nation’s first black president had to be special. And from a band perspective, playing in front 106,304 people Saturday had to be a musical thrill.
But most of all, the band members look like they are having fun. They are constant movement and motion. The tubas sway with their feet as they play. The cymbal players keep time by moving their legs.
At times, even when every band member stays in the same spot, they look to have continuous movement. It is a free-flowing form of expression, complete with the dancers up front.
With red and turquoise uniforms, they have flair, dance moves and unlike many marching bands in college, some groove.
There isn’t stiffness in Delaware State’s band but a fluidity in their movement and in their music, which happened to be a Michael Jackson medley during halftime Saturday.
They are, simply, the stars in Dover. How else can you explain why fans show up at the start of Delaware State football games and then sometimes leave after halftime?
“It’s an integral part,” Delaware State senior cheerleader Alicia Williams-Bey said. “The band brings the school spirit with us. A lot of the fans come to the band, actually, they are that popular.”
They also gained a following in Ann Arbor. Toward the end of the post-game performance, the Delaware State band marched toward the south end zone to clear the field for one final Michigan Marching Band song.
As they walked away, four young girls in Michigan clothing cheered for the Delaware State band, imploring it to play one more song.
And other Michigan fans stood above the tunnel, taking pictures as the Delaware State band exited the field. They stuck around to see them because it is not every day a band comes around and is more anticipated than the football team.
Saturday, that’s exactly what happened.
“It’s a great experience, a fantastic experience here in the Big House, Johnson said. “You hear about it, you see it on TV.
“But being in the house itself is a fantastic experience.”