It wasn’t quite the pomp and circumstance of a Navy home game, but it was close.
There was no Brigade of Midshipmen March-on and no fighter jets flying overhead. However, there was more than enough pageantry to impress the crowd of 17,974 at the 2022 Military Bowl, held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Fans in town to root for Central Florida and Duke cheered heartily as members of the Faxtrax parachute jump team descended into the stadium with various flags such as the United States, Maryland and POW/MIA trailing behind.
Volunteers unfurled a massive American flag that covered the entire field in advance of the national anthem, which was performed by the acapella quartet, Voices of Service — consisting entirely of veteran service members.
There was a pregame flyover featuring Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters from the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade of the Maryland National Guard. The three choppers approached from the north as opposed to the south as is custom during a Navy game.
Maryland governor Larry Hogan presided over the pregame coin toss along with Steve Beck, president and executive director of the Military Bowl. They were joined by seven Medal of Honor recipients, all of whom were honored for their heroic actions during the Vietnam War.
Jim McCloughlan, a three-sport athlete at Olivet College who distinguished himself as a U.S. Army combat medic, sang God Bless America during a first-quarter break.
Hogan, who has religiously attended the Military Bowl during his two terms in office, was interviewed during a television timeout and praised the event.
“I think it’s an incredible event that honors our military and veterans,” Hogan said. “I want to thank all the fans and sponsors for supporting this great game.”
A fun spectacle that is not part of a typical Navy home game was an appearance by the Washington Nationals Racing Presidents during a second-quarter timeout. Mascots for the respective teams — the Duke Blue Devil and Central Florida Knight — took out Abraham Lincoln and George Washington at midfield. Teddy Roosevelt wound up beating Thomas Jefferson in the sprint from end zone to end zone.
One of the highlights of the day was the halftime performance by the Central Florida marching band, one of the nation’s largest at 400 members. It delivered a stirring 7 1/2 -minute performance featuring selections from two Broadway musicals — “The Wiz” and “Les Miserables.”
“That is the second half of a halftime show we did during the regular season and was very crowd-pleasing,” said Dave Schreier, vice president of the UCF Marching Knights. “We haven’t performed in a month and only had one day to rehearse, so we had to choose something we were very familiar with and could pull off properly.”
It capped a busy day for the Marching Knights, who participated in the official Military Bowl parade and played patriotic music such as “Anchors Aweigh” and “Wild Blue Yonder” among others. Upon arrival at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the powerhouse band entertained fans at a UCF pep rally.
Considerable effort on behalf of university officials and the Military Bowl went into getting the UCF Marching Knights to the game. Moving 400 band members along with approximately 20 staff members is a monumental effort, especially considering it is done only one other time during the football season.
This season, UCF traveled its entire marching band for just one road game — the in-state matchup with South Florida, which is located in Tampa, just over an hour away from UCF’s campus in Orlando. The Marching Knights also made trips to Tampa for the Gasparilla Bowl in 2019 and 2021. This trip to Washington and Annapolis marked the longest for the band since the 2018 Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona.
When Central Florida played at Tulane in the American Athletic Conference championship game, the university only sent a pep band of approximately 100 Marching Knights to New Orleans.
Band members, who were home for the holidays, returned to campus for a Monday rehearsal. Afterward, the entire entourage boarded 10 charter buses for the 15-hour drive to D.C. Two tractor-trailers filled with instruments, uniforms, luggage, snacks and drinks were part of the convoy heading north.
They made a couple stops along the way to refuel the buses and eat, totally taking over a Buc-ee’s at one point. Most band members slept during the overnight trip, which arrived at the Capital Hilton at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The Marching Knights traveling party required 122 rooms with the students packed three or four to a room.
Student band members and support staff spent Wednesday afternoon touring D.C., visiting the monuments and museums. They were back on the buses at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday for the trip to Annapolis.
Jillian Pirozzi, student band president, credited Schreier and Dr. Tremon Kizer — the UCF associate director of bands — with figuring out all the logistics.
“I know our band directors have worked endlessly with the athletic department to get this whole thing organized. Without their tireless efforts, this trip would not have been possible,” Pirozzi said. “I think this is the coolest thing I’ve done during my time with the Marching Knights. Our university provided us with a great opportunity.”
The Marching Knights consist of 12 sections such as majorettes, color guard, trumpets, trombones, sax, tenor sax, sousaphone, drumline and xylophone.
“It’s definitely a lot of moving parts,” said Pirozzi, a majorette.
Central Florida has the second-largest student body (70,406) of any public university in the United States. Its marching band has grown in size along with the university. Schreier was a member of the Marching Knights in the 1990s when it had 210 members.
“I think the massive surge in students, the popularity of the football program and the positive culture the band has developed have all helped us grow,” he said.
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