Unitas We Stand – The Music of Football Part 1
Now that Christmas has come and gone, you know what’s next – New Years? No: it’s the Super Bowl. It is time to start wondering who’s going to get into the elite circle of four teams that will participate first in the AFC and NFC championships, then the two that will advance to the big Super Bowl 44 in Miami on Feb. 7. You gotta figure the Colts will be right in there for the AFC, so will the Chargers, the Bengals and the Patriots. Over in the NFC the Saints, the Vikings, Eagles and Cardinals all look competitive.
There are a handful of teams holding slim dreams of making the playoffs, including our hometown Houston Texans. In order for the Texans to make the playoffs all sorts of things need to happen, including a win over the Patriots this weekend, an attack on New York City by space aliens, Vince Lombardi coming back from the dead and possibly hell freezing over. (Hey, it snowed in Houston a couple of weeks ago so the atmospheric conditions are certainly getting there.)
Music has always been important to football, and not just in those Super Bowl halftime shows. Anybody who was alive in the 1960s or the 1970s almost certainly remembers the music of pro football, namely the music that was played during those NFL Films highlight programs. The feature-film-quality footage of action (usually in artsy-fartsy slow motion) would take on glorious life when matched with the stirring orchestral music (composed originally by Sam Spence) evoking warriors going into battle. I know of quite a few guys who used to get really fired up when they heard this music – it must have tapped a spigot of testosterone – and they’ve gone out and bought albums of this stuff. One actually told me: “This is the greatest album ever made.” (There’s a CD, The Power and the Glory; and if you’re really nuts over this stuff, a 10-CD box set called Autumn Thunder: 40 Years Of NFL Film Music.)
Uh, OK. So you got this vaguely Wagnerian music which honestly seems ripped off from a number of sources (“Up She Rises” is really the folk song “Drunken Sailor”; “Pony Soldiers” is copped from spaghetti westerns and so on). Then there was this announcer, John Facenda, who did radio and sports TV in Philly until one fateful night in 1965 when he went into a bar. Instead of getting shit-faced, he saw this NFL Films footage playing and started free-associating aloud about how great and graceful it all was. The story goes that Ed Sabol, the guy who created NFL Films, just happened to be in the bar (yeah, right) and heard Facenda. Anyway, this guy Facenda started narrating the NFL Films and it made him real famous. Dudes who loved this stuff (see paragraph above) called Facenda the “Voice of God,” and he narrated the highlights until his death in 1984.
If you’re now wiping away a tear (or experiencing a little stiffness in the pants), at some point in your life you apparently fell under the spell. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the best we can do is give you some examples of this football music, and some prime cuts from the great John Facenda.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some music created for (and in some cases, by) our favorite NFL teams.
YouTube: “The Autumn Wind”