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The 5th Quarter

The 5th Quarter: North Carolina Central vs. Grambling State

These bands turned the Celebration Bowl into more than just a football game

A cold, dreary day in Atlanta wasn’t going to stop the show for fans who traveled from near and far for the final historically black college football showdown of the season.

The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, held at the Georgia Dome in the heart of downtown Atlanta, entailed more than just winning on the football field. It was time for the bands from Grambling State University and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) to battle, putting their hearts and instruments on the line for what would be their own personal championship right from the stands.

The chilly, 43-degree weather and light rain that fell over the dome seemed to cause some delays. Nearly 20 minutes before kickoff, the majority of fans were still outside struggling to find parking and hurrying inside to find their seats.

Yet, the Grambling State University World Famed Tiger Marching Band had no problem getting the party started with or without a crowd.

Well before the scheduled noon kickoff, Cameo’s Talkin’ Out the Side of Your Neck could be heard clearly throughout the dome’s lower concourse, followed by Grambling’s unofficial fight song that led to crowd participation from the few fans who had already taken their seats. On the opposite end of the field, North Carolina Central University’s Sound Machine remained quiet, but ready — the calm before the storm. When the band did prepare to play, many more supporters were there to appreciate the smooth sounds coming from the bands. It was their prelude of what was to come — the band, giving the crowd a small dose of what it had to offer, but saving the good stuff until halftime.

Once the game began, NCCU’s football team was the first to put points on the board with a 3-0 lead that would remain throughout the entire first half. With the low-scoring, highly defensive game happening on the field, some fans seemed to check out of the action and left their seats to wander the dome’s many levels. But by halftime, the 31,096 attendees were all in their places awaiting what most fans came for.

The Sound Machine had been out of the stands and on the sidelines since the seven-minute mark of the second quarter, well before Grambling’s band, which made its way down to the sidelines with a little less than three minutes left in the half.

NCCU would be the first to entertain the crowd this time around. The band hyped itself up and jammed out with fans to DJ Kool’s Let Me Clear My Throat before getting in formation to take the field.

The band, with fewer members than Grambling’s, rushed the field from its designated sideline and prepared for its first number. Before NCCU played, the band paid its respects to the school’s late chancellor, Debra Saunders-White, who died of cancer last month.

The band launched into the first song, offering quality sound and neat formations, and continued to play while forming a star in the center of the field. Dancers with bright golden banners in the center and flags composed of deep purple, fuchsia and shimmering shades of blue uniquely brought the formation to life.

For the band’s second number, the NCCU Dance Group took its place in front while dancing to the band’s rendition of Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us and moving on to Luv by Tory Lanez.

During their performance of D.R.A.M.’s Broccoli, members of the Sound Machine broke out of their shells and joined in on the fun, performing the latest dance moves before transitioning to Red Opps by Atlanta’s own 21 Savage.

The Sound Machine ended its performance strong, blowing out Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles to a standing ovation from its supporters. The band marched off the field with confidence after a job well done, further proof that smaller bands can provide power and quality sound no matter the numbers.

NCCU was winning the game on the field and the band followed with a solid performance. But it was Grambling’s turn to attempt to take the bragging rights all the way back home to north Louisiana.

The Marching Tigers split into two halves, lining up neatly along both sidelines. Grambling’s drum majors took center field, giving the excited crowd a performance before the main event with their synchronized moves and crowd-favorite drum major backbends.

The band entered from both sides, coming together as one unit on the field. The Marching Tigers began with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Can’t Let Go, letting the crowd know who they were by spelling out “GSU” for their first formation of the show.

Members of the Orchesis Dance Company seamlessly slid in front of the band before the beginning of the second song, and entertained the crowd as the played Michael Jackson’s Working Day and Night.

The band switched up the tempo and brought it back to the hip-hop hits, beginning with Cut It by O.T. Genasis, and offering an energy-packed routine while bringing it back to Louisiana with Choppa Style by Choppa.

As with NCCU, the Marching Tigers saved Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles for their last song while exiting the field. The tune was louder and stronger this time around, eliciting another standing ovation from the crowd.

Before the Marching Tigers could even return to their seats, NCCU began to play, signifying that the battle was far from over.

The 5th quarter had come early.

Throughout the second half, the sections of the bands challenged each other from across the field. The Marching Tigers fed off their team’s energy as Grambling gained momentum in the fourth quarter, which led to a 10-9 victory and Grambling’s first national championship since 2008.

The bands waited patiently for the team celebration and trophy ceremony to end before gearing up for their battle. Those who looked forward to watching the action unfold moved closer to the bands as other attendees rushed out of the dome to beat traffic.

The 5th Quarter

Following the ceremony, Grambling blew out the Louisiana favorite My Sidepiece by the Louisiana Blues Brothas. NCCU began to fire back. Grambling went on to combine two songs into one selection, playing The Weeknd’s Earned It before transitioning to Starboy.

The Sound Machine kept in touch with the modern theme, blowing back at Grambling with Bruno Mars’ latest hit, 24K Magic. Grambling resorted to Chance The Rapper’s No Problem while NCCU opted for Young Thug’s Best Friend — a rather refreshing selection, since so many of the previous songs have been repeatedly played throughout the season.

By this time, only a few fans remained as the stadium cleared out. Workers were busy cleaning up the seats as the field received treatment for the Atlanta Falcons game that would be played in the dome the following day.

Throughout the commotion, the bands played on. Grambling doubled back to 24K Magic while NCCU continued the pattern of playing throwbacks that weren’t heavily in rotation this season, including Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up.

Grambling softened the mood with Prince’s Purple Rain as NCCU followed by smoothly playing Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. The bands would go back and forth for another five minutes before ending the battle on high notes — literally.

The conclusion of the 5th quarter wrapped up a weekend that saw the best competing with the best on the field and in the stands, leaving fans with memories that are bound to last well into next season’s matchups.

Which band performance resonated with you?

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.