345 seconds in the Super Bowl spotlight

More than 200 members of Syracuse University's marching band took part in the Super Bowl pre-game performance.

For many Syracuse University students, there was little that could top the excitement of the SU-Duke basketball game last Saturday night.

But for members of SU's marching band, that was merely a warm-up for what was likely the biggest performance of their musical careers: Super Bowl XLVIII.

Mere hours after what many are considering to be one college basketball team’s all-time best game, members of SU's marching band were back at the Carrier Dome.

"Listen to me when I tell you: try to kick a whole lot of ass while you are out there."
- Band director Justin Mertz

The lingering adrenaline, a steady drizzling rain and the lack of sleep couldn't dampen excitement at this mandatory 4 a.m. call-time.

It was Super Bowl Sunday, and members of the 200-strong SU Marching Band were filing onto buses bound for East Rutherford, N.J., where they would be performing before the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos faced off in the NFL championship. 

After learning in December that the SUMB was invited to join their counterparts at Rutgers University to warm up the MetLife Stadium crowd of more than 82,500, director Justin Mertz estimated that the band put in "easily 200" hours of making arrangements, meetings, conference calls and rehearsals to be ready for its performance.

The two bands met at the Rutgers University Practice Bubble around 9 a.m. Sunday, and started practicing a routine that included a musical montage of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Jay-Z’s “New York State of Mind” and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

Later, over lunch at the Menlo Park Mall, Mertz said that, musically, the bands meshed quickly. He described the day, up to that point, as seamless.

Mertz credited this to the constant communication he had with Rutgers band director Tim Smith in the weeks leading up to last Sunday. Colleagues for nearly a decade, the two wanted to ensure their bands were learning, playing and attacking the notes in conjunction with each other.

The afternoon passed quickly with a series of check-ins at an undisclosed location, a quick-change on four charter buses and a police escort into MetLife Stadium. Outside, the bands' before-the-show section practices created a mash-up of talented, well-practiced noise.

"We've done MetLife before, but it hasn't looked like this," Mertz told the band members, referring to previous SU football games at the stadium. 

Before heading into the tunnels underneath the stadium, Mertz thanked the band members not only for waking up early that morning, but also for all of the hard work they put in in preparation for the Super Bowl.

"I really want you to soak this in and have a good time and enjoy your performance," Mertz said. "We will never do anything like this again.

"Listen to me when I tell you: try to kick a whole lot of ass while you are out there."

The bands marched out onto the MetLife Stadium field just before 6 p.m. and had 5 minutes and 45 seconds in the spotlight for their homage to New York and New Jersey classics. Glimpses of the performance were shown on national TV, while tens of thousands of Seahawks and Broncos fans looked on live.

SU Setnor School of Music director Patrick Jones, who joined the Super Bowl trek, said he has seen the band program get "better, and better, and better in every conceivable way."

"What Professor Mertz has done is nothing short of amazing," Jones said.

Jones said that many people don't realize the pressure that Mertz, his staff and student assistants and band members go through to put on a football or basketball game performance in the Dome.

To be at the Super Bowl less than 24 hours after the SU-Duke basketball game is proof to Jones that the band is "germane to SU."

"This is just such a high point, I think, in SU's life,” he said. “What an amazing weekend, right?"

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