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In 70 Years, Redskins Marching Band Hasn't Missed a Beat

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Hail to the Redskins!
Hail victory!
Braves on the warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!

You know the words. How could you not? You sing them every time the Redskins Marching Band breaks into song following a Redskins touchdown.

Chances are, you've been singing "Hail to the Redskins" as long as you can remember, whether it has been a year or 40 years.

The band, of course, has been playing it for 70 years.

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That's every home game, after every touchdown.

Now that's tradition.

As much tradition as the team's well-known anthem has, the marching band that plays it has even more.

On Aug. 17, 1938, in the Redskins' second season in Washington, D.C., owner George Preston Marshall combined a local reform school band with the Chestnut Farms Chevy Chase Dairy Band to form the Washington Redskins Marching Band.

Although marching bands have always held great tradition on college campuses, only two remain in the NFL: the Redskins Marching Band and the Ravens Marching Band.

To this day, the Redskins have the longest-running marching band in professional sports history.

Spots in this prestigious fraternity are not easy to come by.

"We usually have five or six slots open a year, depending on how many people decide to leave [after a season ends]," said Tony Cardenas, who has the dual responsibilities of personnel director and team liaison.

Cardenas, who sets up the auditions, says that approximately 25 people try out each year. No matter how many members enter or leave the band, there are always a set number of 126 members at one time.

Qualifications are simple: You must be 18 years of age, you must play an instrument well and you must have an enduring love for the Redskins.

And there's one other thing.

"If you can't march, you can't play," Cardenas said.

To the casual observer, being part of a marching band may not seem to be difficult.

That observer hasn't tried marching around with a tuba, trombone or large drum for several hours, on game day or at practices.

Wednesdays are when the band holds its practices at FedExField, rain or shine.

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It's strenuous activity and it keeps the band young at heart. Cardenas jokingly refers to himself as a "newbie" in the band because he has "only" been playing since 1981.

Four band members have been playing in the band for more than 40 years. The average age is 37.5 years old, according to Cardenas, and they come as young as 18-22.

Band members are volunteers and unpaid.

When they're not playing in the band, these multi-talented musicians are serving as attorneys, computer scientists, engineers, nurses, secretaries, college professors and directors of other bands.

There is even a Washington, D.C., judge among them.

And there's Maj. Steve Harvey, who plays trumpet. He just returned from his second tour in Iraq.

Wearing uniforms made of 100 percent polyester, which can get rather warm in August and September, each band member arrives at FedExField two hours and five minutes prior to kickoff.

Forty-five minutes later, the band parades around the perimeter of FedExField, playing various tunes for 35-40 minutes. Once inside, they perform on the field before taking their seats behind an end zone in the lower bowl.

The band has an eclectic assortment of songs that they play, ranging from oldies to songs of today. And, of course, there's "Hail to the Redskins."

Depending on the game, the band will also play the national anthem or participate in the halftime entertainment.

On Dec. 2 of last season, the band was asked to play a very important role before the Redskins' game with the Buffalo Bills at FedExField. Just five days had passed since the tragic death of Redskins safety Sean Taylor.

The team set up a short but powerful pre-game tribute for Taylor. It was designed to help fans, players and everyone in the organization cope with the huge loss.

Cardenas and band director Eric Summers collaborated on several songs deemed appropriate. Among others, the band played a rendition of "Going Home" and a slower version of "Hail to the Redskins" that had fans--young and old--reflecting on Taylor's life in an especially emotional way.

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"We all lost a family member that week," Cardenas said. "We knew him and we saw him all of the time. It was a very emotional day.

The band has become much more than a game day attraction. On a regular basis, the band is asked to play in parades and events all around the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

The band once traveled to Savannah, Ga., to take part in the St. Patrick's Day parade there.

Truly part of the Washington, D.C., community, the band has become so recognizable that there is an exhibit on them at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The exhibit features an old bass drum, uniform and pictures of the band.

Making Redskins fans happy is what keeps the band going after 70 years.

"To hear the fans pick up and sing while we are playing 'Hail to the Redskins' is very exciting and adds to the atmosphere," Cardenas said. "It is an awesome sight.

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