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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Saturday, October 06, 2012

Keep your seats, here come The Redcoats

If you are a true Georgia Bulldog fan, you are missing out on something good if you don’t make the effort on Friday afternoons (and Saturday mornings) to witness the Redcoat band rehearsing for the big football game.

There is nothing like hearing the band fill the cavernous confines of Sanford Stadium on game day, but you can get a more relaxed presentation if you come to a rehearsal on Friday afternoon at the band’s own cozy practice field at the far end of the intramural fields off College Station Road.

Perhaps the setting has something to do with the appeal of the late-afternoon performance, especially now in the comfortable climes of early autumn. You can wear a light windbreaker now, but when the temperatures drop, the band will still be there, enthusiastic and upbeat, ignoring nature’s bite to ready themselves for another lively halftime show.

The band has been an integral plank in the platform of college football since the beginning. While they may be in a minority, there are those who come to see the halftime shows as much as they do the games. Talk to traditionalists like the network announcers, and they will often inject into their conversations a mention of wanting to get to the stadium early enough to enjoy the band’s rehearsal for a balmy Saturday afternoon or crisp evening.

Georgia dedicated its brand new stadium on Oct. 12, 1929, and there was nothing quite as exciting about the Sanford Stadium dedicatory game as the appearance of Yale’s Boola Boola band. The Eli band was as much of an attraction as the team itself — which was considered the scourge of the East and which featured the headline-making back Albie Booth, the team’s centerpiece.

The band was a big hit with the Georgia fans, but in the end there was little for Yale to celebrate with Catfish Smith scoring all points in a 15-0 victory. Through the years, I talked to a lot of old timers who remember Catfish’s performance, but also that of the Yale Boola Boola band.

Georgia’s Redcoat Band always renders an emotionally inspiring presentation on Gameday. Their due diligence at practice on Friday has something to do with that. The members of the band are passionate Bulldog fans, too. They wear a lot of red, some of the clothing bearing the slogan “Finish the Drill.”

You see a lot of coeds toting tubas, you hear the cymbals clashing, a sound that epitomizes the band sound. There’s a lull and you hear the drummers idling in the brief solitude, with a soft rat-a-tat-tat. Sorta like one drumming his fingers on a desktop.

The majorettes go through their paces alongside the girls of the flag line. They all smile energetically, just like they do on game day. Have you ever seen a band member without a sunny disposition? A member of the flag line, Kaley Krafka, a senior from Marietta majoring in early childhood education, smiles generously at a foursome of observers at a recent practice, as if we had been part of the 93,000 who fill Sanford Stadium on Saturdays. Band members like trumpeter Alex Blitch go through their paces with an appreciation for detail and efficiency — pay attention on Friday and you won’t be embarrassed on Saturday.

As I watched the band prepare for a recent game, delighted by the enthusiasm and competency of its members, I thought of the colorful story I heard from Georgia coach Erk Russell about the evolution of the name of the band over the years.

For obvious reasons, the original name, “The Georgia Dixie Redcoat Band,” had to drop the reference to “Dixie,” making it the Redcoat Band. But then someone suggested that Redcoat smacked of British imperialism so the name was changed to “The Band.” Then it was discovered that a band of roving hoodlums attacked, pillaged and murdered a local rural family, making “band” offensive to several neighbors.

“So,” Erk would deadpan, “Now they call us ‘The.’”

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