Bert Montgomery: Of Egg Bowls, the Maroon Band, and things that never change

December 1, 2009 11:30:00 AM

Bert Montgomery -


Things sure have changed since I was in the Famous Maroon Band. Back in 1986, I was a trombonist (one of among 30-plus trombones) in the band. Dr. Kent Sills (or, "Doc") was director of bands; Mr. Bob Taylor ("Mr. T") was assistant director. MSU football legend Rockey Felker was in his first season as the Bulldogs'' head coach. 


At the end of our summer band camp in August of that year, Coach Felker came over to give us a pep talk. The loudest guy in the band stood up and yelled, "Hey Coach! How badly are we going to beat Ole Miss this year?!" (For the record, and to show respect to my Aunt Helen over in Senatobia, whom I love even though she roots for the wrong school, we lost that year). 


Back then, the Maroon Band sat next to the student section. Doc Sills would keep one eye on the game at all times, one eye on the game clock, and one eye on more than 300 overly excited college students for whom he was responsible (yes, I''m convinced Doc had three, or maybe even four, eyes). 


Doc just waved his hands frantically at us, and somehow we knew what song we were to play; and we were always about to play something. Sometimes Mr. T would take over. He simply scribbled a word or two on a small dry-erase board, held it up high, and immediately we were playing. 


This weekend, for the first time in 23 years, I had the opportunity to sit with the MSU Famous Maroon Band during the Egg Bowl. And yep, things sure have changed since I was in the band.  


Doc has gone on to that great band hall in the sky and is waiting to frantically wave his hands at us all again one day . . . Mr. T is now Doctor Taylor and hasn''t been at MSU in who-knows-how-long. I hear he''s about to retire. 


Elva Kaye Lance is now the director of bands (herself a Doc Sills'' Maroon Band alumna). Drs. Clifton Taylor and Craig Aarhus are the associate and assistant directors. 


These days everyone has big televisions in their college stadiums, and like TVs at home, they come with commercials and other entertaining tidbits between close-ups and instant replays of what''s happening on the field. MSU''s Scott Field at Davis-Wade Stadium is no different. 


Today''s directors have headsets and microphones. In addition to the action on the field, the sidelines, and the actions of more than 300 overly excited college students carrying expensive musical equipment, Lance, Clifton and Aarhus converse directly with marketing folks up in the press box to manage "air" time. Marketing folks need to know when the band will play so they don''t run competing commercials over the band, and so the band doesn''t play over the commercials. It was a little tricky during the first couple of home games with the new jumbotron, but the kinks appear to have been worked out and they are all working together to maximize the entire stadium experience for everyone.  


Today''s Maroon Band follows color-coded pre-printed plastic-covered song-title cards instead frantically waiving hands or scribbled words on dry-erase boards. They sit in the end zone rather than with the students (which actually gives both groups of students more room to move). 


As I sat with the Maroon Band and cheered on the Bulldogs, I realized that though things have indeed changed, so much has also remained the same. 


Doc''s gone and Mr. T has left, sure. But Doc''s former student is now head director; and Mr. T''s son is now a student manager of the Maroon Band. 


Coach Felker is no longer the head coach; Dan Mullen, with his national championship ring, is. But Rockey Felker is still part of the Bulldogs'' coaching staff, in charge of player personnel and high school relations.  


At the end of the game, I walked into the section of about 30 fellow trombonists and spoke to three of them. Riley, Charles, and Armed spoke of old high school classmates that went to that other school; old high school band members who now play for the other band. They spoke of how it''s been a tough year to be a Bulldog, but an exciting one. And, they reminded me that even as band members they understand there are two seasons of football every year: The first season consists of eleven games, and the second season is the Egg Bowl. 


I wonder if Coach Mullen made his way over to the band at the end of band camp just before school started like Coach Felker did in 1986. If he did, I''m certain the loudest student must''ve asked, "Hey Coach! How badly are we going to beat Ole Miss this year?!" (For the record, and with love for my Aunt Helen whom I called from the end zone to offer ministerial counseling, we killed ''em this year!). 


Win or lose. Lo-tech or hi-tech stadiums. 1986 or 2009. The rivalry between MSU and "that school up north" will never change. 


Bert Montgomery is an author, MSU religion/sociology instructor, and pastor and lives in Starkville. His e-mail address is [email protected]