Outside empty FedEx Field, in a dark, shivery parking lot, the Washington Redskins Marching Band played on — and on, and on — because the forecast is now calling for more “Hail.”
Forward marched the volunteer musicians, more than 100 of them, as they repeatedly played “Hail to the Redskins” at Wednesday night’s band practice.
“Yes,” associate director Ed Greene said. “Yes, yes, yes.”
The storied group had its groove back after finally getting its old fight song back.
For weeks this season, as the Redskins piled up points and wins, the band that began the year after the team arrived in Washington was forced to sit out its own tradition: Each time the team converted a point-after-touchdown kick, a recorded version of “Hail to the Redskins” played over the FedEx Field sound system. The team told the musicians not to play the big, brassy song that the band’s founding director had co-written 75 seasons earlier, in the leather-helmet era.
For some fans and band members, it was a personal foul. The musicians were still performing the song before games and after field goals, but they wanted their touchdown tradition back.
“That’s what so many Redskins fans grew up with: hearing the marching band play ‘Hail,’ ” drum major John Carpenter said.
Now “Hail” has come home.
After the Hogs Haven Redskins blog urged the organization to reconsider, the team struck up the band: Shortly before last Sunday’s season-deciding game against the dreaded Dallas Cowboys, team officials asked the Redskins Marching Band to play along with the old recording, made more than a decade ago by a different group of musicians and vocalists.
“Everybody was excited,” Carpenter said. They played the instrumental parts of the fight song four times, after every one of kicker Kai Forbath’s extra points.
The Redskins won the game, advancing to the playoffs after a long stretch of misery. They will play the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx on Sunday; the NFL’s oldest marching band will play, too.
The team did not make any officials available for comment.
The Washington Redskins Marching Band was created by franchise founder George Preston Marshall, who wanted to ramp up the game-day experience in part to attract female fans to old Griffith Stadium.
“Hail to the Redskins” was composed by band leader Barnee Breeskin; Marshall’s wife, silent movie actress Corinne Griffith, wrote the lyrics, which originally included an exhortation to “fight for old Dixie” and the line “scalp ’em, swamp ’em.” The first lyric has since become “fight for old D.C.” (though some fans have taken this season to shouting “fight for RGIII,” for the team’s star quarterback); “scalp ’em” was changed to “beat ’em.” (The Redskins, however, remain called the Redskins.)
The Green Bay Packers have an even older fight song than “Hail to the Redskins” (#HTTR on Twitter), but there’s no band to play it in Green Bay. In fact, the NFL is hardly a marching-band hotbed. The only other one is Baltimore’s Marching Ravens, who began as a Baltimore Colts band in 1947 and stayed together as the city twice lost its football franchise.
The marching band has spanned three stadiums and 24 head coaches. It is one of the most durable traditions for a franchise in which just about everything else has turned over.
“I love this Redskins tradition,” Rahsaan Edwards said. “You got the football team, you got the cheerleaders, and you got the band.”
Edwards, a 37-year-old contracting officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was among the first marching band members to pull into Parking Lot H for band practice Wednesday. He joined in 2000, three months after the team’s last home playoff game. He has hailed just four winning seasons, though the group has a saying: “The band never loses a game.”
Still, he said: “I’ve been in the band 13 years; this is my first January practice. The team has been good and, um, not so good. I’ve been here for a lot of bad stuff.”
Now, the team is winning again, all the songs sound a little more triumphal and more people than ever are talking to Edwards about the band. “We haven’t had that buzz in a long time,” said Edwards, a first trumpet.
The band marches 120 musicians before every home game, playing around the perimeter of the stadium and then on the field for two songs plus a full version of “Hail to the Redskins.” Then, they move to the Club Level for the game. They are not paid, though the team provides uniforms, instruments and a locker room. Each band member also receives a pair of free tickets to each game.
This wasn’t such a great perk during the fallow period, saxophonist Joe Jacob said. “Before, I couldn’t give my tickets away,” the retired Marine said. “This year, people are begging me for them.”