The Real Twelfth Man: On The Field With The NFL's Oldest Marching Band

  • Drum major John Carpenter leads the Washington Redskins Marching Band during the Sept. 19 pre-game show at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. This is Carpenter's 15th season in the band, and his 10th as the drum major.
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    Drum major John Carpenter leads the Washington Redskins Marching Band during the Sept. 19 pre-game show at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. This is Carpenter's 15th season in the band, and his 10th as the drum major.
    Photos by Coburn Dukehart/NPR/NPR
  • Founded in 1937, the band is one of only two pro football bands playing today. Here, Steve Richards whirls his cymbals while playing in the stands.
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    Founded in 1937, the band is one of only two pro football bands playing today. Here, Steve Richards whirls his cymbals while playing in the stands.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Dianna Washington plays alto sax during practice in the parking lot on Sept. 1. There are 126 musicians in the band; five or six new people join each year.
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    Dianna Washington plays alto sax during practice in the parking lot on Sept. 1. There are 126 musicians in the band; five or six new people join each year.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Larry Jenkins Jr., 24, from Forestville, Md., plays the trumpet during a successful audition for the band on Sept. 1. Jenkins teaches music theory at two Washington, D.C., public schools. The audition was held in the Redskins cheerleaders' locker room.
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    Larry Jenkins Jr., 24, from Forestville, Md., plays the trumpet during a successful audition for the band on Sept. 1. Jenkins teaches music theory at two Washington, D.C., public schools. The audition was held in the Redskins cheerleaders' locker room.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Kenneth Frye, a trumpet player from Burke, Va., gets fitted for his new band uniform with assistance from Barbara Robinson. The band received its first new uniforms in 25 years on Sept. 1 and debuted them at the Redskins' season-opening home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 12. This is Frye's 24th season with the band.
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    Kenneth Frye, a trumpet player from Burke, Va., gets fitted for his new band uniform with assistance from Barbara Robinson. The band received its first new uniforms in 25 years on Sept. 1 and debuted them at the Redskins' season-opening home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 12. This is Frye's 24th season with the band.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Warming up in the tunnel underneath FedEx Field before marching around the stadium prior to the game on Sept. 19.
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    Warming up in the tunnel underneath FedEx Field before marching around the stadium prior to the game on Sept. 19.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • The band parades around FedEx Field, playing to cheering fans who line the streets surrounding the stadium before the game. The Redskins have the longest-running marching band in professional sports history.
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    The band parades around FedEx Field, playing to cheering fans who line the streets surrounding the stadium before the game. The Redskins have the longest-running marching band in professional sports history.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • The band heads to the field before the pre-game show. The Baltimore Ravens are the only other pro football team with a marching band.
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    The band heads to the field before the pre-game show. The Baltimore Ravens are the only other pro football team with a marching band.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Band manager Tony Cardenas waits on the sidelines. Cardenas used to play tuba with the band, and his son John, 28, currently plays the saxophone.
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    Band manager Tony Cardenas waits on the sidelines. Cardenas used to play tuba with the band, and his son John, 28, currently plays the saxophone.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Tuba player Joshua Hampton Jr. waits on the sidelines. All band members are volunteers who hold regular day jobs during the week.
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    Tuba player Joshua Hampton Jr. waits on the sidelines. All band members are volunteers who hold regular day jobs during the week.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • The song "Hail to the Redskins" premiered on Aug. 17, 1938, as the official fight song of the Washington Redskins. Here, the band plays during the Sept. 19 pre-game show.
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    The song "Hail to the Redskins" premiered on Aug. 17, 1938, as the official fight song of the Washington Redskins. Here, the band plays during the Sept. 19 pre-game show.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Go-go legend Chuck Brown stops by the band room before the game. Brown was playing the halftime show and the band members were elated at meeting him.
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    Go-go legend Chuck Brown stops by the band room before the game. Brown was playing the halftime show and the band members were elated at meeting him.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Band Director Eric Summers signals to the band during the Sept. 19 game against the Houston Texans.
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    Band Director Eric Summers signals to the band during the Sept. 19 game against the Houston Texans.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Bonnie Maslanik has played trombone in the band for more than 30 years. She was one of the first women to join.
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    Bonnie Maslanik has played trombone in the band for more than 30 years. She was one of the first women to join.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR
  • Steve Richards holds up his cymbals during the game against the Texans. The Redskins lost 30-27 in overtime.
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    Steve Richards holds up his cymbals during the game against the Texans. The Redskins lost 30-27 in overtime.
    Coburn Dukehart/NPR

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Listen to the band play 'Hail to the Redskins'

Tonight, the Washington Redskins host the Philadelphia Eagles for Monday Night Football. The burgundy and gold have home-field advantage in more than one sense — the team has the oldest marching band in the NFL. From up in the stands, a group of 126 dedicated — and unpaid — band members will lead the stadium through a chorus of "Hail to the Redskins," the team fight song, each time the Redskins score.

Before each home game, the band parades around the outside of FedEx Field, playing for tailgating fans, before it heads onto the field for for a pre-game show. And after every win (and some losses) some of the band members gather behind the northwest end zone to play go-go, Washington, D.C.'s own dance music.

As one of only two marching bands left in the NFL (the Redskins band, founded in 1937, beats the Baltimore Marching Ravens, formerly the Baltimore Colts' Marching band, by a decade), the band plays throughout the game. "We cover all facets of music," says H. Wade Johnson, a third-year trumpet player, "anything from marches to Top 40. We do Christmas. We do patriotic tunes."

Listen to the band play 'Crazy In Love' during a rehearsal

According to band director Eric M. Summers, each selection has to serve two purposes: first, it must be playable "without any electronic enhancement." Second, he says, "We choose music that will, in our opinion, excite people — rouse them up to cheer for the team. A lot of them are oldies that most of the audience will recognize. Those pieces that you will be able to sing some of the words to."

Redskins Marching Band members are volunteers who have day jobs as teachers, band directors, school board members and judges. Some are retired  and many of them were trained in military marching bands. Although no one gets paid for their time, every band member gets a pair of tickets to each home game that they can give to friends or family members — or sell with the team's blessing — at their discretion.

Despite the slim monetary incentive and the time commitment (rehearsals during the week, 4-hour long games, pre-season appearances and local parades), about 25 people try out for five or six open spots each year. And those who make it into the band stay. Three members have been in the band for more than 50 years each.

We visited with the musicians as they were preparing for the start of the season to hear how long they've been part of the organization; what they do when they're not in uniform; and find out about their favorite memories of playing on the team.

Bonnie Maslanik
Instrument: Trombone
Member of band for 31 years
Day Job: Retired teacher

Bonnie Malasnik on not playing at Super Bowl XVIII

"I'm a little older than most people in the band now. ... I don't actually march on the field any more. But I sit in the stands and play and help out with the wardrobe."

"I taught instrumental music. In fact I taught the drum major, John Carpenter, when he was in 7th and 8th grade back in the '80s."

"I had marched in bands like from 7th grade on; then high school and then college. And my neighbor came running over one day and said, 'Bonnie, Bonnie! They're taking women in the Redskin Band! You need to try out!' It was the end of the '70s."

Dr. Ride Ross
Instrument: Trombone player, arranger
Member of the band for 16 years
Day Job: Education administrator

"Downstairs, in the halls, we are right across from the visiting team's locker rooms and [from time to time] you get Emmitt Smith that used to come across and talk so much trash. Jerome Bettis was phenomenal about coming across [to] say, 'Hey, you all not going to play that much today, so you might as well just go home.'"

H. Wade Johnson
Instrument: Trumpet
Member of band for 3 years
Day Job: Professor of music and Director of bands at Lincoln University

H. Wade Johnson's favorite moment

"I've been a professional performer since 1975 when I started in South Carolina at South Carolina State University and was a trumpet major there. I hail from the nice wonderful small town of McClellanville, South Carolina. It's the seafood capital of the world."

"One of my dreams was actually to be a running back for the Washington Redskins. But due to the fact that I chose music instead, this is the next best thing."

Morris King
Instrument: Trombone
Member of band for 33 years

"I don't know that I have a favorite moment. Any time I get to play, that's a favorite moment. To play 'Hail to the Redskins' immediately after a touchdown, that is chilling. To be able to play post-game concerts after a victory, and see the fans stand and dance and enjoy what we're doing, that's just as exciting. Music is a thrill itself."

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