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They March With Madness: An Ode to the Irreverent, Incredible Stanford Band

5 minute read

The Stanford band has a saying that the band always wins. Unfortunately Stanford’s male basketball team didn’t have the same mantra in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game.

While the Cardinal’s reign was cut short, the band is continuing its moment of internet notoriety for its irreverent persona. Band members went viral earlier this week for false rumors of smuggled alcohol via tubas and this masterpiece of raw human emotion:

A fascinated Jimmy Kimmel even flew out Alex Chang, the 22-year-old engineering major, to enthusiastically play the cowbell with his late night band.

Every so often, the world gets a quick glimpse at the irreverent madness that is the fishermen hat donning Stanford band and is surprised by how dissimilar they are to their stiffly choreographed, wind-up marching band doll counterparts. To Stanford students, the weird quirks, costumes (or lack thereof.. they notoriously embrace nudity), and antics are a prerequisite for band members (disclosure: I’m a Stanford alum).

“If you’re weird, that’s celebrated that’s the norm,” Nicoletta von Heidegger, the infamous Tree mascot from 2012-13, told TIME. “And there’s always someone weirder than you are.”

But Will Funk, who currently plays the Tree, says that this weirdness often confuses onlookers. “People come up to me all the time and are just like, ‘Why?'” the 20-year-old Science Technology and Society major said. Thus, to clear up any confusion, here is a brief explainer regarding what makes the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) truly unique:

Musical talent isn’t required
Kimmel asked Chang, a self-identified percussionist, if playing the cowbell was a demotion. This is a silly question since the band doesn’t require anyone to know how to play any instrument. Non-musicians who join the 150 person group get thrown something to bang on or blow into. This lends itself to a drumline made up of football helmets, high chairs, and a literal kitchen sink. “My mom’s favorite is the stop signs,” Funk said.

They wear everything… and nothing
My first memory of the Stanford band as a student involved a lot of nudity. But they also embrace “rally gear” and go to games in attention grabbing costumes.

These costumes can get them in trouble. Like at Notre Dame in 1991, when the drum major dressed as a nun and conducted the band with a cross (while “pregnant”), and again in 1997 when a band members dressed as a Cardinal and the devil had a fight on the field.

They are a marching band that doesn’t march
As of 1963, they became a “scatter” band. That means they run wildly to form ridiculous shapes—like the Snapchat logo during the 2014 Rose Bowl—to ridiculous scripts.

This provides a hilarious juxtaposition to more militaristic bands.

They sometimes take things a little too far
Stanford couldn’t go back to BYU after a 2004 halftime show, in which the band manager proposed to all five Dollies (the band’s dancers) as the announcer celebrated the “sacred bond that exists between a man and a woman… and a woman… and a woman… and a woman… and a woman.” The governor of Oregon even tried to get Stanford banned from the state after the band did a 1990 halftime show criticizing the logging industry for ruining the spotted owl’s habitat.

Things have tamed down since the days when the band drove a white Ford Bronco with bloody handprints around the Stanford Stadium track in 1994 in a game against USC—earlier that season some members played The Zombies’ She’s Not There outside the L.A. County Courthouse during jury selection for the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The band has adjusted and become less caustic in recent years. For the 2013 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, for example, the “scatter” routine consisted of cheese jokes.

Band members have ridiculous nicknames
Band members with nicknames like “Big Dickosaurus,” “Bollox” and “Donkey Fluffer” competed for the coveted role of Stanford Tree when I was on campus.

Miami Herald / Getty Images

Some people literally eat live snakes to become the Tree mascot
The process to become the high profile Stanford Tree, in which ambitious students compete for the band and campus’ approval during “Tree Week” is truly insane.

Von Heidegger won her post by galloping through campus on horseback, constructing a giant 24 by 14 ft seasaw, playing a game of human Pac Man (ghosts tackled her), and “playing a game of lube wrestling on one of the lawns on a day that happened to coincide with parents weekend,” she said. “It was probably a poor choice on my side.”

Funk, the current tree, did a strip tease down to a thong in one of the main fountains, “and I had friends pour different liquids on myself like water, ice, milk, people threw eggs on me which I washed off with old nasty beer and two jugs of maple syrup.” Urine might have also been involved in the process.

And that’s just the start of it. While I was at Stanford, one nominee drank a Bloody Mary made out of his own blood. One nominee had a friend waterboard him in public—he was running on a human rights ticket. A friend was disqualified for eating a live snake to prove his worth. The few rules include no fire, no electrocution, to excessive bodily harm, and nothing illegal.

The band always wins
Regardless of the outcome of March Madness, or any game, LSJUMB has a saying that the band always wins.

UPDATE: This story was revised to reflect the the result of Thursday’s game.

Disclosure: The writer attended Stanford University.

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