Normally, I can't stand extracurriculars at sporting events - also known as the cheerleaders, the dance squads, the promotional contests and, yes, even the bands. It's not that I don't think they aren't a valubale part of the entertainment provided at sporting events - it's just I don't believe they have anything constructive to offer (insert joke about sportzwriterz like myself doing the same for many fans or followers).
The problem is, I've been to enough high school and college sporting events in my time that the bands, aside from an occassional halftime show during football games, play mostly tripe. There's a few good things in between - one time, they let a soloist riff out the opening of Stairway to Heaven at a high school game, and a time or two I've heard a Linkin Park song or some other nu-metal/quasi-alternative band that is different.
But for the most part, it's a steady diet of Crazy Train, Thunderstruck and a handful of pop medleys that make many people slightly unbalanced. Yes, there is a "tune out" process that has been developed by many others and myself that it becomes white noise, but slightly obnoxious white noise nonetheless.
The Montana State pep band that plays at basketball games puts out a mix of dreck, decency and the school fight song in a solid if unspectacular rotation each game night, which is fine. It's simple, it's what gets the crowd relatively in the game (when things like dunks, 3-pointers and MSU's penchant for going up double digits and nearly blowing the game aren't occupying their minds - more on that in a few moments).
But Thursday night was different for the band. Different as in "instead of going to the movies like we always do, let's go salsa dancing." It occurred during pre-game. Don't remember what the band warmed up with, but suddenly, the auto-tune was off. I heard a sound I've only heard a few times since the end of my childhood a couple decades ago. "Duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh." Sure, the translation comes across great on a web page. It was the horn section in full force, belting out - wait, really?
No it can't be. HOLY #OMGDUNX, the band is bloody playing the Thundercats theme! Immediately, I began to sing along in my mind (and just a little bit under my breath) and was all of a sudden watching the intro to one of my favorite cartoon shows of all-time in my head, staring out into the seats but seeing Lion-O beat up some hapless villian while Wiley-kit and Wiley-kat mocked them and the Sword of Omens grew larger and larger as the Thundercat leader shouted "Thunder! Thunder! Thundercats, ho!"
Sometime during a break in the first-half action, they played it again. No way. The band threw in some Pink Panther, too, for good measure, which had me wanting more of this, more of the (relatively) unknown. MSU's band members did not fail.
It came during a full-length timeout late in the game, in a precarious situation after the Bobcats frittered away a double-digit edge it held for a good 13 minutes. "Dun-dun-dundun. Dun-dun-dun dun-dun." Was this heaven? The dulcet tones of the Transformers theme song was igniting, well if not the crowd, the band itself. Oh, and the scribe for the local rag, who was smiling and giddy and watching Optimus Prime kick the crap out of Starscream in front of his TV back in Chicago with a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and Gingie, the family dog, sitting right under the kitchen table waiting for me to carelessly empty the contents of the bowl on the floor.
Then, just like with Thundercats anthem, I was back in Bozeman, not nine but 32, when the bloody buzzer went off to snap everything back into action. The Hornets came to action slightly ahead of the Bobcats, continuing a run which pushed them closer and closer. After Dylan Garrity's #superhoop brought Sac State within 66-63 to nearly decimate the advantage MSU held for the longest period its held a double-digit edge all season, the Bobcats were looking for something to help turn the tide.
Enter their own Lion-O, their own Optimus Prime in the form of 5-foot-8 senior point guard Rod Singleton. He took a charge at the defensive end, then hit the "we're not losing this game" free throws for a 68-63 lead with 23 seconds left. Sophomore Tre Johnson, playing the role of Ratchet or Tigra in this instance (offering assistance in a helpful, calm manner), added four in the final 15 ticks to close it out.
After hearing two of my cartoons come to life in an arena 1,421 miles from my childhood home, the night seemed so young and full of promise. As a closing credit, the band played one of Lady Gaga's top hits - and it didn't even seem annoying. I was in too much of a childhood cartoon haze to care.