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Ohio State's influence on the Cal band

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Following the 1949 season, the Cal Bears suffered a tough loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl, and their band was overshadowed by The Best Damn Band in the Land. The Cal band looked to Ohio State for inspiration as they evolved into the creative, precise unit they are today.

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Here's an interesting tidbit about the Buckeyes' impending contest against the Cal Bears: the biggest rivalry we'll see on the field this Saturday may be between Cal's marching band and The Best Damn Band in the Land.

This history between these two marching bands dates back to Ohio State's Rose Bowl appearance against Cal following the 1949 season. Cal's band poked a little fun at the Ohio State band prior to the game for a perceived lack of spirit, but they were soon silenced by Ohio State's pre-game and halftime performances. The game would result in Ohio State's first Rose Bowl victory, a 17-14 comeback win against the Bears, and it also led to some big changes for Cal's band.

The game itself was a heartbreaking loss for the Golden Bears, with a tie score of 14-14 until the fourth quarter was nearing an end. The Buckeyes worked to draw the Bears offsides in the final moments, with the yards attributed from the procedural penalty putting Ohio State in comfortable field goal range, resulting in a 17-14 victory. Adding insult to injury was the scandal that erupted over the disparity between the respective halftime performances of the Cal band and The Best Damn Band in the Land.

Criticism of the Cal band erupted in the local press and on campus, maligning everything from the performance in question, to the mustard-yellow color of the uniform pants. An editorial in the Long Beach Independent charged that Cal's performance, "fell far short of [the performance] staged by the Buckeyes," and the Oxnard Press-Courier implored, "...won't somebody please ask the Cal bandleaders to change their uniforms? They look like street cleaners." The 1949-1950 edition of Cal's yearbook, the Blue and Gold, featured a four page photo spread from the Rose Bowl, which included a photo of the high-stepping Buckeyes, but excluded the Cal band entirely. Even Cal's president, Dr. Robert Gordon Sproul, was quoted as saying, "That band smells," though Sproul later insisted the quote was meant to refer only to the uniforms, and was taken out of context.

It's possible that the backlash against the Golden Bears' band was rooted in frustration over the Rose Bowl loss. Many felt that officiating in the matchup with the Buckeyes had been questionable, and expressing dismay at Cal's band being outclassed by Ohio State's band may have seemed like a good outlet for that frustration. Cal's band director at the time, Dr. Charles C. Cushing, a Cal alumnus, a serious musician, and the Cal band director for sixteen years, resigned amidst the controversy, citing that musical performance mattered more than "stunts."

As a result, the Cal band studied the high-stepping style of Ohio State, as well as other Big Ten bands, and evolved to a similar style. Cal's band, known as "The Pride of California," also incorporated a "Script Cal" into their halftime show in the 1960s, which may sound familiar to anyone familiar with The Ohio State University Marching Band. Cal is, to date, one of very few bands outside of the Big Ten conference to adhere to the challenging high-stepping style of marching.

Much like The Best Damn Band in the Land, the Cal band is now widely respected for their creativity, precision, and thrilling performances, and the genesis of their evolution was the influence of The Ohio State University Marching Band.