On the surface, crying at the 2015 Texas Bowl doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The 2015 season was a wholly unremarkable one for LSU that started off promising but came crashing down with an ugly November. LSU got off to a 7-0 start, opened at No. 2 in the first ever College Football Playoff poll and Leonard Fournette was running away with the Heisman trophy. But when the calendar turned to November LSU lost three straight games, each exponentially worse than the last.
Fournette had his Heisman campaign go up in smoke in Tuscaloosa and LSU played a hideous game against Alabama. A week later, Arkansas shellshocked LSU in Baton Rouge and a week after that a clearly disinterested Tiger team took another beating in Oxford.
LSU regrouped, beat Texas A&M and saved Les Miles’ job...well for a few weeks at least. At 9-3, LSU limped into Houston to play an unremarkable Texas Tech team that was led by some guy named Patrick Mahomes in NRG Stadium. So no, the 2015 football season wasn’t special for LSU and playing an okay at best Texas Tech team in a late December bowl isn’t the kind of stuff you typically remember forever.
But I do. I remember every thing about December 29, 2015 because that was my last game as a member of The Golden Band from Tiger Land. The last time I marched pregame. The last time I put on that uniform. The last time I lived out my dream.
What I remember most about the Texas Bowl was trying to soak everything in and make one final night last the rest of my life. I remember a few hours before we were supposed to get off the bus and head into the stadium I took out my phone to record a minute or so of the section. The funny thing is, we weren’t doing anything special or memorable. We were...just being us. And I wanted to capture that moment, keep a little piece of that for ever.
Not long after that, we got bored. That’s because Tiger Band has this rich tradition called “hurry up and wait,” where we haul ass to get the entire band somewhere only to sit in our bus in a parking lot for hours. Anyway, we had blown through our DVD supply and Game Show Network wasn’t yet running Family Feud reruns so I got on the mic and started reading a lasagna recipe to the section. I don’t know why, I was a bored college kid. After I relinquished the mic another senior, Wyatt, who is the chillest guy I’ve ever met said “Junda...don’t ever change.” That meant a lot coming from him, because Wyatt didn’t say much. If he told you something, he meant it.
Flash forward a few hours and now we’re inside NRG Stadium and that’s when reality sets in. Finally I’m facing “the end.” Not being part of band in some capacity never seemed real. I mean, at the moment I’m 22 and I started playing music when I was 11. Literally half my life, all my formative years was spent in band. I remember throughout the 2015 season feeling a clock count closer and closer to zero after every pregame in Tiger Stadium. I’d end up next to another senior trombone player, Kevin, at the end of pregame and he’d count down on our way back to our seats “four more left...three more left...two more...”
I remember being in a daze the moments before my last pregame. Time was rushing forward but at the same time moving at a standstill. I remember before we went out on the field I tried to hug everyone: Scott, Anna, Kevin, Alex, Wyatt the fourth-year seniors; Lane and Alex, my fellow fifth-year seniors; the underclassmen; Briana, the freshman who wound up behind me in the S of the LSU we’d spell out. She’s about a foot shorter than me and her trombone slide would always jab me in between the shoulder blades; I hugged Sophie, the Golden Girl who ended up in front of me. I did my last pregame handshake ritual with Scott: three low-fives then jump and into each other’s shoulders;
Then, against my will, the drum major whistled us to attention. A typical Tiger Band pregame show is only about 20 minutes long. But the four notes part that everyone knows? That part of the show’s not even three minutes long. It never feels like that to us, because the directors drill us on it over and over and over again. It doesn’t feel like two and a half minutes when you’re on the field in front of 100,000 people, it feels like an eternity. But sadly pregame, the thing that made me feel more alive than anything I’ve ever experienced, isn’t forever. Eventually you have to get off the field and you never get to run it again.
It’s cliche to say I saved my best for last, but I did. I made sure to hit every pitch perfectly, I made sure to make every step be precise. Tiger Band gave me everything, so it was only fair I gave everything right back to that wonderful organization.
After we got back to our seats reality finally hit. What I just did, what I would never get to do again came crashing down on me. I remember my hands being shaky. I grabbed a sip of water, I took my hat off and set it at my feet. The Tigerband diamond on my hat was staring back at me and I cried. Not just cried, I sobbed. Like an inconsolable, heaving kind of sob.
I was sitting next to Wyatt while I was breaking down and he put his arm on me. Like I said, he wasn’t the kind to say something, but putting his arm on me comforted me more than any possible words could. He let me have my moment but he also let me know that he and everyone else in the trombone section was there for me.
I’m glad the archives had that photo I’m using for the lead art. That’s, of course, a shot of us from the Texas Bowl. I’m at the bottom of the S, right on the corner. The last pregame I ever marched, frozen in time forever.
In my bedroom at my parents’ house there’s a shadowbox on an old dresser. That shadowbox contains the most precious things in the world to me: the shoes, gloves and cords I wore that night. No, the 2015 Texas Bowl between LSU and Texas Tech won’t live on in college football lore. But for me, that night in Houston is a night I’ll keep with me forever.