The Incident

October 21, 1981

What follows is a version of what happened that day in 1981. I have found out that it is not the only version of the story, and what really happened is actually in dispute. Here are some of the other versions:

  • Donald Fleitman '85
  • Jim Melton '82
  • Gary Merka, B-Co '82
  • Leon Hutto, A-Co Infantry Band XO
  • Gary Thorpe, BQ '82
  • Carl "Doug" Moore B-Co. BQ '82

    It had to happen sooner or later. The Aggie Band could not execute perfectly forever. Someday they would statistically have to make a major faux paus. And that day was on October 21, 1981, in Houston. The game was against Rice University, and in the band's defense, the incident was brought about by, shall we say, external tampering. That's right. Sabotage. But first, the story of what happened. Disaster struck during the halftime performance. What other band could make headlines by making a mistake? Each drill is precise, and the slighest mistake by one person has domino effects. Each individual must perform his or her function exactly as designed. It is a team effort. On that day, the crowd in the stands was stunned as the drum major suddenly stopped the drill before the Block "T" was formed. To the trained eye, it was apparent that, seconds before, something had gone wrong. Part of the crisp marching style was no longer crisp. Band members who normally passed within inches now collided. Errors in execution were everywhere. How could this be? The disaster that the Aggie Band had always avoided had finally happened. There was no way to complete the drill.

    Rumors spread immediately. One of the first was that the Aggie Band had done it on purpose to mock the Rice band known as the MOB (Marching Owl Band), which is noted for undisciplined and antagonistic stunts. "We're not interested in that kind of stuff, " Colonel Haney, director of bands, said in addressing that rumor. He added that each band member was supposed to be concentrating on putting on a flawless performance. He also said that several of the band members has reported that their concentration had been disturbed "for a brief second" which caused four drill leaders to turn too soon. That was all it took. This gave rise to a second rumor, one which still persists, and has gathered an air of truth. The rumor was that members of the Rice band blew whistles to confuse the Texas A&M band. Aggie Band members respond to both whistle and baton commands from the drum majors. In response to this rumor, Major Joe T. McMullen, the associate band director, said there was no truth to it. To this day, however, all Aggie Band drills in Houston are done with baton commands only, and movements are on predetermined yard lines--no whistle commands are used at all. In addition, the band is urged to never depend on the whistles as a crutch. To this end, the drum majors frequently blow false whistle commands during drill to test the band against such methods by others. Rice found a weakness, and exploited it to mock the Aggies. And it worked. Once. Never again.

    The mistake in the Rice game was such an event that newspaper articles continued throughout the week and then, on the following Saturday at Kyle Field against Southern Methodist University, the band performed one of the most difficult drills ever designed, and did it flawlessly. Each drill the rest of the season was more difficult than the last. Each called for individual movements and intense concentration. After the Arkansas game that year, the editor of the Bryan-College Station Eagle wrote in the November 22, 1981 edition:

    "We all thought we knew how good the Aggie Band was--until the Arkansas game a week ago. That was the most incredible halftime performace I have ever witnessed...A&M is probably the only school anywhere that throws in a free football game with its band performance One of these days, I fully expect the band to be invited to a bowl game--and to be told it can bring along its football team if it wants to."

    The Aggie Band survived its worst nightmare and ended the season with its head held high and praises ringing in its ears.

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