At halftime of Thursday’s UNLV college football season opener, four limber young men sporting the Jackson State colors strutted onto the field around the 50-yard line at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Their names are Tyler “Mr. Blue Phi” Battle, Joe “Rogue Dynasty” Williams, Abraham “The Prototype” Duffy and Giann “Mr. 704” Soto. Collectively, they are known as the Fab Four — the drum majors for the Sonic Boom of the South, the mighty Jackson State University marching band.
When I said the drum majors strutted onto the field, I don’t mean in the way that John Travolta strutted through Brooklyn streets in the closing scene of “Saturday Night Fever.” This was more like the way Earth, Wind & Fire strutted through the chorus of “Boogie Wonderland,” albeit with fewer sequins.
The Prancing J-Settes, which is what Jackson State calls its pom-pom girls, were doing some mighty fine strutting, too.
They missed a hell of a show.
Boom shaka-laka-laka, Boom shaka-laka-laka.
In the Historically Black Colleges and Universities conferences, football season also is known as marching band season.
At the HBCUs, they play their brass off, hoping to be invited to the Honda Battle of the Bands held every January at the Georgia Dome. The Battle of the Bands is like the BET Big Southern Classic in the movie “Drumline,” except there are no official winners.
At the Battle of the Bands, everybody within earshot wins.
Last year, more than 63,000 spectators turned out to watch the Jackson State marching band and the other HBCU bands play their brass off. That’s about four times more than will watch UNLV play Idaho in a couple of weeks.
The Sonic Boom of the South has been invited to the Battle of the Bands five times in the past six years. Unlike the Jackson State football team, which went 3-8 in 2015 and lost 70-14 to Middle Tennessee State, the marching band has been hitting all the high notes.
With 330 members, give or take a couple of bassoonists — about 200 of the 330 made the trip and left immediately after halftime to catch a midnight flight out of McCarran International Airport — the Sonic Boom of the South is one of the nation’s largest marching bands.
Their UNLV contemporaries, known as the Star of Nevada marching band, have 100-plus members — just enough trombones and trumpets to form a marching mustache formation during the pregame show.
The reputation of the Jackson State band is so well-known — it has appeared in college football video games and has been enshrined in the NCAA Hall of Champions — that Tony Sanchez said he was considering skipping the halftime pep talk.
“I might sneak out at halftime to watch,” the UNLV coach said.
The Sonic Boom resonates. You can even purchase Sonic Boom of the South merchandise through an official online store.
At halftime, the mighty sound produced by the Jackson State marching band reverberated off the Findlay Toyota Tower and the nearby mountaintops and the Plexiglas of the press box. You wanted it to be like “American Pie.” When the players tried to take the field, you hoped the marching band would refuse to yield.
But the Sonic Boom of the South high-stepped it off the ersatz playing surface as only it and some of the other HBCU marching bands can.
The Fab Four strutted.
The Prancing J-Settes shimmied.
The drumline went Boom shaka-laka-laka, Boom shaka-laka-laka.
When the third quarter began, the Jackson State fans who had made the trip ducked through the portals to replenish their beer supplies.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski
Visit our GameDay page for full coverage of the UNLV-Jackson State game.