Music is a huge part of the in-game experience for football fans. When watching from the stands, the home crowd often becomes a single entity. Together, they cheer on their beloved team. One of the ways to make hundreds of thousands of people behave as one is to have something they can all grasp onto, like a chant or a catchy song. In college football, this includes old school fight songs, often played by the school's marching band.
At the professional level, fight songs are not universal, nor are marching bands. But what about the teams set to face off in Super Bowl LI? How do they fare when it comes to their music? The New England Patriots do not have a fight song, according to the team's PR department. They do, however, have this: "New England, The Patriots, and We," a music video response to the Chicago Bears "Super Bowl Shuffle."
This video, along with "Super Bowl Shuffle," actually aired on MTV in 1986. And remember, "Super Bowl Shuffle" was a pretty hot rap song for the day that sold more than 500,000 copies and reached number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. "New England, The Patriots, and We" is the equivalent of your parents deciding to make their own version of a "hip" song. The Pats and the Bears played each other in Super Bowl XX, right after these songs were released. It should be noted that the Pats' pathetic song foreshadowed their pathetic showing; they got trounced 46-10.
The Atlanta Falcons, on the other hand, do have an old school fight song and boy, is it catchy. It's called, maybe not too shockingly, "Fly High Falcons" (#RiseUp is their current day hashtag) and will make you feel like you are at a football game in 1952 where everyone around you is wearing letterman jackets and cardigans. It should be noted, however, that Chris Moore, who has been Director of the Atlanta Falcons drumline since their inception in 2008, says he has never heard this song and it is not currently played at games, an indication that old school fight songs have fallen out of favor (and maybe are ripe for revival?).
These days, both the Pats and the Falcons have entered the modern age with their own drumlines, perhaps as an edgier alternative to the marching band, but with roots in the same kind of music that was showcased at football games of yore. The Falcons drumline (who have their own social media accounts) began in 2008, which is before most of the other drumlines in the NFL. According to Moore, the in-game opps guy at that time had been a drummer all through high school and college and he live energy into the building.
"It's cool to play songs through the sound system at games, but when humans play live, people are drawn to it," says Moore. "A live, human being playing an organic musical instrument – and the drum is the oldest instrument known to man – is an interactive and immersive experience." He says the 28 members of the line get up close and personal with fans, handing them drumsticks and letting them in on the act. The group also plays at tailgating events, performs outside the stadium prior to the games, and is active in the community at corporate and school events.
Like the Patriots drumline, they are contracted out; drummers are compensated, fed on game days and comped a ticket or two if they're available. Moore says that what makes the Falcons drumline unique among the NFL is that they have four drum majors who front the drumline, and they come from the tradition of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU). Think like the movie Drumline: they spin, do backflips, hop around, and generally have a ton of energy. "Our location in Atlanta allows us access to that type of talent," Moore explains. Sadly the team has decided not to bring their drumline with them to Houston, leaving a lot of disappointed drummers in Atlanta right now.
The Patriots drumline began in 2014 and appears to have been a short-lived experiment. They existed for two seasons but "took a season off" in 2016, according to Gallant Entertainment, Inc., the company that contracted the musicians. Maybe drumlines were just too hip for the New England crowd. Questions about whether the drumline would return went unanswered, so it looks like we'll just have to wait and see.
Only time will tell which team will emerge victorious at Super Bowl 51, but it's pretty easy to agree that the Falcons already win the music game by a mile.