A few years ago Brian Britt realized he had to make a change. College football season was approaching, and he needed a new way to find out who was best equipped to lead his team. The pace of the game was speeding up, and the evidence was right in front of him. When Britt had first come to the University of Oklahoma, Mike Leach, who had helped popularize the fast-moving “Air Raid” attack, was offensive coordinator. Now Leach was winning at conference rival Texas Tech, legions of programs had adopted similarly swift styles, and the pressure was on for Britt to find a way to adjust.
College football fans in the past decade have been witness to an explosion in the number of teams who play fast. Hurry-up, Air Raid, zone read, spread — whatever name an offensive scheme answers to, the end result is the same: a headache for the opposition, who often can't get off the field quick enough to substitute. But just as the players on the field and coaches on the sideline have been forced to contend with the changing speed of the game, so, too, have the play callers in the stands. Because Britt, you see, isn't a defensive coordinator: He's the director of the Pride of Oklahoma, the Sooners' marching band.
It first occurred to me that Britt's job may have gotten more difficult over the past 10 years while watching the annual intrastate rivalry game with the Oklahoma State Cowboys that's lovingly referred to as “Bedlam.” The game was the 107th of its kind. It was also the first to go to overtime. And in the waning moments of regulation, as the Sooners hurried toward a game-tying touchdown, I first noticed something that years of watching college football had trained me to ignore: the band.