A Brief History of Beloved College Football Fight Songs

Penn State's Blue Band always gets Beaver Stadium roaring for the Nittany Lions when the enter the field.

Penn State’s Blue Band always gets Beaver Stadium roaring for the Nittany Lions when they enter the field.

Fight songs are a popular way for fans to cheer for their team. College football fans in particular love fight songs. A college football fight song is an instant way to get fans charged up to almost a fever pitch. Almost every college has a college football fight song. I have a CD I recorded of my 31 favorite college fight songs (more than one from some schools) that I listen to in my car primarily to fire up on my way to a game – drives my wife especially nuts but not in a positive way.  I’ll also play them on the way into work once in a while to get fired up for some meeting or a tough day that I may be anticipating. I even like some fight songs from schools that I would never root for, but I just love to hear them because they are so moving and create such a great atmosphere! It’s part of that “electricity in the air!’

One of the great pregame band traditions in college football as Ohio State forms Script Ohio as they play "Le Regiment".

One of the great pregame band traditions in all of college football as Ohio State forms Script Ohio as they play “Le Regiment”.

I didn’t know this, but the oldest one is Boston College’s “For Boston.” It was composed in 1888 by T.J. Hurley. I like the fact that “Anchors Aweigh” was originally composed as the U.S. Naval Academy’s official fight song in 1906.  The music was composed by USNA Bandmaster Charles A. Zimmerman and Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles wrote the lyrics. It was first sung at the Army-Navy game of 1910 where Navy won that game for the first time in 10 years, 10-0. Later, George D. Lottman changed the lyrics to represent the entire Navy at large, and not just the academy, to use it as the primary U.S. Navy March.  Every college football fight song has its own unique history. I don’t have the time or space to go through all of them so I’m going to take a look at seven other special college football fight songs, give you their origins. Five of these seven are on my CD.

  • University of Michigan, “The Victors”. It was Thanksgiving Day 1898. Michigan beat the University of Chicago 12-11 in a nail biter that topped off University of Michigan’s undefeated season. It also secured the school’s first conference title. Music student Louis Elbel was so inspired by the win that he wanted to do something special for his school. He believed that Michigan needed an epic song to capture the feeling. So, “The Victors” was born. With its recognizable chorus, Elbel got John Philip Sousa, the man behind “Stars and Stripes Forever” to play it at a concert stop in Ann Arbor in 1899. The following May, the school band played the song for the baseball team after they returned from a successful road trip. President Gerald Ford, who played football for Michigan, loved this college football fight song so much that it was played at his funeral in 2007. This is definitely a “must-have” in any collection of fight songs.
The Michigan Marching Band performs during halftime at The Big House.

The Michigan Marching Band performs during halftime at The Big House.

  • Florida State University, “The Marching Chiefs.” In the October 6 edition in the year 1950 of the Florida Flambeau, FSU’s school newspaper, a poem, written by grad student, Doug Alley appeared. Tommie Wright, a very capable musician, saw the poem and put the words to this college football fight song to music that very afternoon. Wright put the original score in his office drawer, where it remains to this day. The song will become part of the public domain in 2025. I love the “Seminole War Chant” myself.  That gets me fired up in the company parking lot before heading into the office.
  • Louisiana State University, “Fight for LSU.” Huey P. Long, a very popular Louisiana governor, loved LSU. He and Castro Carazo, the university’s bandmaster, collaborated on “Touchdown for LSU” in 1934. Long wrote the lyrics and Carazo did the music. After Long was assassinated the very next year, Carazo wanted to honor him. He teamed up with swim coach W.G. Higginbotham and co-wrote “Fight for LSU.” The song is so well-loved that when assistant band director Eric Melley went on the field for the SEC opener, the crowd was so loud, he could hardly hear the band. Now, that’s a college football fight song you can be proud of!   Not on my CD, but I did have chance to hear the LSU band practice in their indoor facility in Baton Rouge when a colleague of mine from work, Diane, was able to invite me in since her kids were in the LSU Marching Band when I attended their game against Mississippi State in 2008.
  • University of Alabama, “Yea Alabama!” The school held a fight song contest in October 1925. The winner was Ethelred Sykes. Sykes won $50 for his effort. A noted writer at the school, Sykes was also The Crimson-White editor. Sykes didn’t keep the money he won, however. Instead he gave it to the band to arrange the song. The resulting, “Yea Alabama!” replaced “The Alabama Swing” and “Glory, Glory Alabama.” To this day, if you just hear the first five notes of this classic college football fight song played by the band in what’s called “The Teaser,” the crowd goes wild. The first time I heard it in person was at Legion Field sitting with my Auburn friends. They left out the “Yea” and replaced it with something else.
Alabama's hated rival Auburn marches down field to their fight song, "War Eagle!"

Alabama’s hated rival Auburn marches down field to perform their fight song, “War Eagle!”

  • University of Oklahoma, “Boomer Sooner.” You can trace the origin of this college football fight song back to Yale’s “Boola Boola” and North Carolina’s “I’m a Tarheel Born.” In 1905, Arthur M. Alden, an OU student, put Yale’s tune to new words. The following year, he adapted the lyrics of UNC’s fight song. The combination is a winning one. In fact, in 1983, when the Sooners were down and almost out – 20-3 in the third quarter – the band played the song over and over for more than an hour. The Sooners fought back from sheer force of will and the guidance of this song to win 21-20. They even gave the game ball to the band for their help. I love this song. It still always makes me think of OU when they ran the wishbone while I was watching Sunday morning highlights on Sunday mornings on ABC’s College Football Report during the 70s. They would show highlights of five games and do some feature as Bob Murphy, New York Mets broadcaster, read the script for each. I remember they even once did the Delaware vs. West Chester game. It was a great hour of college football highlights before the pro games kicked off. Never saw much of Minnesota play on TV, but I got to love hearing “Minnesota Rouser” as a soundtrack during highlights.
Minnesota Rouser played before the 2015 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

“Minnesota Rouser” played before the 2015 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl by The Golden Gopher Marching Band.

  • University of Georgia, “Glory, Glory to Old Georgia.” In the 1890s, Georgia’s band started to play the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but switched the words “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” to “Glory, Glory, Georgia.” In 1915 Hugh Hodgson, who eventually became music chair at the University, wrote the arrangement Georgia uses to this day. Georgia’s college football fight song is shared with songs performed by both Auburn and Colorado. When they face Auburn, the bands join together in the halftime show, playing the fight song conjointly.
  • University of Wisconsin, “On, Wisconsin!” This college football fight song’s history began in a boardinghouse parlor in Chicago in 1909 when two friends, William “W.T.” Purdy and Carl Beck, a UW student, wrote the song together. Purdy wanted to enter it into the University of Minnesota competition because there was a $100 prize, but somehow Beck got his way and the song made its’ appearance in Wisconsin. The song is so popular that over 2,500 schools in Wisconsin use it. It also is Wisconsin’s official state song, having been so adopted in July of 1959. I think about 50% of high school bands in New Jersey play this as their fight song.  All the Catholic schools play the “Notre Dame Victory March“.  My school was unique. Our band played the “Princeton Cannon Song“, but with better lyrics -“There is a banner in the sky, The streaming red and black…”  I can hear the band playing and the voices singing it now. At Juniata College, the Alma Mater, our small band, when it came to a game, would play a rousing version of the Budweiser Beer Theme song.   That says it all!
Princeton and Brown bands play nicely together at halftime. The Ivy Leaguers are proud to differentiate their band from the big-time football schools.

The Princeton and Brown bands played nicely together at halftime in 2014. The Ivy Leaguers are proud to differentiate their bands from the traditional big-time college football schools.

 As you can see, college football fight songs have interesting histories. They are created by people who love the school and love their school’s fight songs. If you’ve got a college fight song history or anecdote to share, please let me know. I’d be happy to hear it.

Favorites from among teams we will see play this year:

Army – On Brave Old Army Team

Michigan State – Falcone Fight

Navy- Anchors Aweigh, The Goat is Old and Gnarly

Notre Dame – Victory March; Hike, Hike, Hike!

Ohio State – Script Ohio; Le Regiment; Across the field

Penn State – Fight on State!

The Navy and Air Force Academies' Drum and Bugle Corps combined to play at Navy - Marine Corp Memorial Stadium at last year's game.

The Naval and Air Force Academies’ Drum and Bugle Corps combined to play at Navy – Marine Corp Memorial Stadium at last year’s game.

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