The stories behind NCAA's best fight songs

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
12:00
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Tommie Wright won’t tell you his age, but the 90-something behind Florida State’s fight song certainly doesn’t mind reliving the first victory over Florida (16-7, in 1964) or the party that followed (Tallahassee’s biggest party since the end of World War II). In honor of die-hards like him, we looked into the history behind some of college football’s most storied fight songs.

Florida State University: “The Marching Chiefs”

Preseason rank: 7
Football program established: 1947
Marching band established: 1939
Band size: 470

History: On Oct. 6, 1950, grad student Doug Alley’s fight song lyrics appeared in the school paper, the Florida Flambeau. “‘Gee, that is a good poem. I am going to write some music to that,’” Wright recalls thinking. He wrote the song that afternoon -- in less than an hour.

Factoid: Wright still has the original score in his office drawer. The copyright becomes public domain in 2025.

Louisiana State University: “Fight for LSU”

Preseason rank: 1
Football established: 1893
Marching band established: 1893
Band size: 325

History: Louisiana’s 40th governor, populist Huey P. Long, named Castro Corazo the university’s bandmaster in 1934. Long (lyrics) and Corazo (composition) collaborated on “Touchdown for LSU.” But after Long’s assassination in 1935, Corazo and swim coach W.G. Higginbotham co-wrote its replacement, “Fight for LSU.”

Factoid: The first time assistant band director Eric Melley was on the field for an SEC opener, the crowd was so loud that he couldn’t hear the 325-piece band right in front of him.

University of Alabama: “Yea Alabama!”

Preseason rank: 2
Football established: 1892
Marching band established: 1913
Band size: 425

History: In an October 1925 fight song contest, student and The Crimson-White newspaper editor Ethelred Sykes won the $50 prize. With his reward, Sykes paid for “Yea Alabama” to be arranged for the band, and it replaced “The Alabama Swing” and “Glory, Glory, Alabama.”

Factoid: In addition to short and full versions of the fight song, the band has “The Teaser,” in which it plays the first five notes slowly to rouse the crowd.

University of Southern California: “Fight On”

Preseason rank: 3
Football established: 1888
Marching band established: 1918
Band size: 300-plus

History: In 1922, USC dental student Milo Sweet composed the song and entered it in a school spirit contest. It was officially adopted in the mid-1920s.

Factoid: If you’ve seen a USC fan raise what appears to be a peace sign and wondered why a war-torn Trojan would, the “V” is actually for “Victory.” Fans and alumni greet each other with the gesture.

University of Oklahoma: “Boomer Sooner”

Preseason rank: 4
Football established: 1895
Marching band established: 1878
Band size: 311

History: Oklahoma’s song traces back to Yale’s “Boola Boola” and North Carolina’s “I’m a Tarheel Born.” In 1905, OU student Arthur M. Alden put Yale’s tune to new words. The next year, UNC’s lyrics were adapted.

Factoid: In the 1983 Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, with the Sooners down 20-3 in the third quarter, the band played the fight song nonstop for an hour and five minutes. The Sooners won, 21-20, and the musicians got the game ball.

University of Oregon: “Mighty Oregon”

Preseason rank: 5
Football established: 1893
Marching band established: 1908
Band size: 240

History: One year after being named the university’s first salaried band director, Albert Perfect -- a Swedish immigrant living in North Dakota -- and journalism student Dewitt Gilbert wrote the words to “The Mighty Oregon March: The Tipperary of the West.” It debuted Jan. 7, 1916.

Factoid: Ever see Ducks fans make an “O” with their hands? They’re following the band’s lead: Musicians hold up the “O,” sing, “Ohh,” and then continue into the fight song.

University of Georgia: “Glory, Glory to Old Georgia”

Preseason rank: 6
Football established: 1892
Marching band established: 1905
Band size: 440

History: Georgia’s song goes back to the 1890s, when the band started playing “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” but switching “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” to “Glory, glory, Georgia!” In 1915, soon-to-be music chair Hugh Hodgson wrote the arrangement still used today.


Factoid: Georgia shares its fight song with songs performed by Auburn and Colorado. When the Bulldogs face Auburn once a year, the bands perform a joint halftime show in which they play the song together.

University of Michigan: “The Victors”

Preseason rank: 8
Football established: 1879
Marching band established: 1898
Band size: 380

History: Music student Louis Elbel wrote and composed the song in November 1898 in the wake of a 12-11 victory over rival Chicago and the school’s first Western Conference football championship.

Factoid: John Philip Sousa’s band debuted the song in May 1899 in Ann Arbor. Sousa once called it “the best college march ever written,” according to the school.

South Carolina: “The Fighting Gamecocks Lead The Way”

Preseason rank: 9
Football established: 1892
Marching band established: 1920
Band size: 280

History: The melody comes from “Step to the Rear” from the 1967 musical “How Now, Dow Jones.” Football coach Paul Dietzel wrote new lyrics but kept his authorship confidential so the basketball team wouldn’t object to using his song.

Factoid: A gamecock fights with the bony spur sticking on his back leg. When fans stick out their pinky fingers and thumbs and pump their hands in the air, they’re showing you their spurs.

University of West Virginia: “Hail, West Virginia”

Preseason rank: 11
Football established: 1891
Marching band established: 1901
Band size: 390

History: Grads Earl Miller and Ed McWhorter collaborated on the melody in 1915, and Fred B. Deem penned the lyrics. The lyric “black or crimson” refers to former rival Washington and Jefferson College.

Factoid: Some alumni insist that “Fight Mountaineers” is the true fight song, but the debate is fruitless because both songs are played at games.

University of Wisconsin: “On, Wisconsin!”

Preseason rank: 12
Football established: 1889
Marching band established: 1885
Band size: 304

History: Two friends, William “W.T.” Purdy and Carl Beck (a UW student), wrote the tune in a Chicago boardinghouse parlor in 1909. Purdy had planned to enter the piece in a University of Minnesota contest with a $100 prize. Once they finished, however, Beck convinced his friend to send it Bucky’s way.

Factoid: More than 2,500 schools have adopted this fight song, and it is also the state’s official song. The legislature and governor adopted it on July 11, 1959.

Michigan State University: “MSU Fight Song”

Preseason rank: 13
Football established: 1896
Marching band established: 1870
Band size: 300-plus

History: When Michigan State beat Michigan for the first time in 1913, fans celebrated by singing UM’s fight song. When MSU beat Wisconsin the next week, it capped the victory with “On Wisconsin.” MSU didn’t have a fight song. Assistant yell master Francis Irving Lankey and fellow student Arthur L. Sayles changed that.

Factoid: No matter their opponent, the football team reverts the lyrics “Go right through for MSU” back to the former line, “Smash right through that line of blue,” in honor of its archrival.

University of Notre Dame: “Notre Dame Victory March”

Preseason rank: 24
Football established: 1887
Marching band established: 1846
Band size: 380

History: Brothers Michael and John Shea, both ND alumni, wrote the song in 1908, and it was first played at Notre Dame on Easter Sunday in 1909. It became a football game standard 10 years later.

Factoid: The first performance of what is now a famous fight song was on the organ of the Second Congregational Church in Holyoke, Mass. Michael Shea debuted his composition there in 1908.

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