Duck Tale: Ducks and Musicians Band Together to Beat Stanford

It’s a heartbreaking reality that we couldn’t watch the Ducks play football in person in 2020, and perhaps no group felt that loss more deeply than the Oregon Marching Band—“the Soundtrack of the Ducks.”

The disruption brought by the coronavirus pandemic stinks, but it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on the time I spent in the band and the highlights that defined it. One of these highlights was November 14, 2015, when the Ducks upset the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto, squashing their playoff hopes.

On an evening lit by a rosy-orange sunset, we entered the shallow bowl of Stanford Stadium and took our place in a corner near the northwest end zone with most other Ducks fans, a small mosaic of yellow and green in a sea of Cardinal red.

Our pregame show drew a chorus of boos from the opposing crowd—a sound we had actually grown to enjoy. “Proudly marching and performing our show meant to hype up the Ducks fans in front of a stadium filled with mostly Stanford fans gave me a unique sense of pride for my team,” says Timmy Beick, BS ’19 (psychology), an alto saxophone player.

The game’s seesaw scoring gave us plenty of cues to create the “wall of sound” for which we were known. Every outstanding run by power back Royce Freeman prompted a rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” When the Ducks defense was tested, we rallied them on with the theme song from the movie, Conan the Destroyer. Every UO touchdown, of course, triggered the energetic fight song. With the band to our backs, all of us on the drum line endured the brunt of the noise—trumpet screams that would make your skull rattle, low brass bellows that warped the air, and our thundering drums maintaining the band’s pulse.

With just seconds left, Stanford scored a late touchdown to draw within two, 38–36. Playoff hopes were on the line for the Cardinal as they went for a two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. But Oregon linebacker Joe Walker stopped the pass, sealing the Ducks win.

The yells from the band were deafening, even with earplugs in. Our instructors’ hands shot up and punched the air with excitement. They ran by and high-fived everyone they could reach. Bandmates shouted and shook each other by the shoulders before regaining their composure as the drum majors started conducting the fight song. The horns and woodwinds blasted behind us while we made the ground quake with our drums, gleefully grinning.

Oregon fans’ euphoric hollering nearly matched our volume while we erupted into our victory tune, “Winner” by Jamie Foxx. In the electrified atmosphere, Ducks players rushed to the band—the field in front of us became a dance floor as the team moshed to our blaring horns and pounding drums. The party lasted the length of the song, a few meaningful minutes of joy and atypical camaraderie between the band and the team they fervently supported.

Win or lose, the band finishes every game as a choir, singing a cappella the “Oregon Pledge Song”: Old Oregon, we pledge to thee our honor and fidelity. Both now and in the years to be, a never-failing loyalty. Fair Oregon, thy name shall be written high in liberty. Now, uncovered, swears thy everyone our pledge to Oregon.

That night, with misty eyes in the aftermath of victory, we sang the words with more heartfelt passion and pride than we ever had before.

Dane Johnsen, BA ’19 (journalism), played tenor drums for the Oregon Marching Band from 2015 to 2016.