NORMAN — You have no idea what you'll be missing, Sooner fans.
But Kevin Cox does.
He is a Florida A&M alum, the proudest you'll find in our fair state. Ever since playing football and running track there in the 60s, the Oklahoma City native has loved that school. He has given money. He has offered support. He was even asked to give the homecoming address a few years ago.
So, when it was announced that Florida A&M was coming Oklahoma, Cox nearly burst.
He was excited not only because of the football team but also because of the marching band.
“Boy,” he said, “the band was going to lead the way.”
But the FAMU band won't be playing Saturday in Norman or any other Saturday this season. School officials suspended the band earlier this year after the hazing death of a drum major. The incident created a firestorm that is still burning — the dance team was suspended Tuesday after allegations of a hazing incident over the Labor Day weekend — leaving many to wonder when the band will be able to resume activities.
The scandal has marred not only the band but also the school.
“Our band is the best,” Cox said. “I'm not saying that as a biased alum. It is the best.”
The Marching 100 — a nickname that belies the true size of the 400-plus piece force — has become one of the best known bands in the land. They do precision formations. They play all sorts of music. They dance. They strut.
If you haven't seen them, do yourself a favor and find one of their performances on YouTube.
“It's a sight to see,” said Sooner safety Tony Jefferson, who has family ties in Florida and saw the Marching 100 perform several times as a kid. “We always used to go just for the band.”
It has marched at Super Bowls. It has performed at presidential inaugurations. But last fall, it faced its darkest hour when a hazing ritual killed drum major Robert Champion.
The band was in Orlando for the football game against Bethune-Cookman, and according to another drum major, Champion decided to subject himself to a hazing ritual in an attempt to gain respect from his bandmates.
He agreed to “cross Bus C.”
That is the bus used by the percussionists, the band's largest and reportedly rowdiest group, and for someone to “cross” their bus, that person must get from the front to the back while the percussionists do everything in their power to stop them. They punch. They kick. They even wield drum sticks and mallets.
Champion eventually made it to the back of the bus that night in Orlando, but later, the 26-year-old collapsed and died.
Official cause of death: hemorrhagic shock from blunt force trauma.
The headlines were ugly, and the criticisms were plentiful. Rightfully so. The university suspended the band immediately after Champion's death, then a few months later decided to extend the suspension until at least next spring.
“A big, big, big bump in the road,” Cox said. “And not just for the band program.”
The incident has given the entire school a black eye. That's because the band is its bell cow. It is the thing that the rest of the world most associates with Florida A&M, and for decades, that's been great for the entire school. Because the band was in the spotlight, everything else benefited from the glow.
Then, the scandal hit, and it cast a pall on everything.
When the world thought of Florida A&M, it thought of the band hazing, not that the school was once named College of the Year by TIME Magazine and the Princeton Review or that it is the largest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the nation or that it has alumni who are national leaders in government and business.
Alums like Cox watched during this past year as their school was sullied and vilified.
“It's been gutwrenching and beyond,” he said.
There was sadness in his voice.
“I hope they have swift and fair judgment after what they did to my school.”
Sooner and Cowboy fans can relate to those hurt feelings. Remember those times your football teams have been punished for bad behavior? The negative press rubbed off on everything.
So it goes at Florida A&M.
Cox is still intensely proud of his school. He chose Florida A&M over several other schools when he was a senior at Bishop McGuinness High, and it's a decision he's never regretted. The political science degree that he earned there helped launch a political career that included more than two decades in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
“That's my school,” he said, “and I'm not going to waver.”
This weekend, he'll host a reception for FAMU folks who are coming to town for the game.
He wishes that delegation could've included the band. He wishes it for his reeling alma mater, but he wishes it, too, for Sooner fans who will miss out.
“OU might beat us on Saturday ... ,” Cox said, “but we were going to win the battle of the bands.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125 or at email@example.com. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.