The UA band marched into its iconic U.S. map formation at the first Super Bowl halftime show in 1967.
The UA band marched into its iconic U.S. map formation at the first Super Bowl halftime show in 1967.

Pride of Arizona: A Long Way From the First Super Bowl to Today

Chad Shoopman took the reins of the UA marching band in 2016, with the goal of delivering high-quality entertainment to audiences and a high-quality experience to students.
Feb. 1, 2017
While UA marching band performances of the past had a more militaristic style, today's shows include more dancelike movements and theatrical flair.
While UA marching band performances of the past had a more militaristic style, today's shows include more dancelike movements and theatrical flair.

Super Bowl halftime shows have become increasingly elaborate productions, with their ornate sets, outrageous costumes, over-the-top entrances and — oh, yeah — music.

On Sunday, it will be Lady Gaga's turn to dazzle millions of game-day viewers with her talents, but the halftime spotlight didn't always belong to envelope-pushing pop stars. When the first Super Bowl was played on Jan. 15, 1967, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the featured musical act was a horse of a different color: red and blue.

The University of Arizona marching band — considered to be one of the top marching bands in the country at the time — performed the 1967 halftime show, along with Louisiana's Grambling State University band and celebrity guest trumpeter Al Hirt.

The show paid tribute to the different regions of the United States, with the UA band's 191 members marching into formations like a riverboat to represent the South and a factory to salute the North. For the finale, members of Grambling's band joined them on the field to create an outline of the United States — a formation that's still a mainstay at many UA home football games.

In advance of last year's Super Bowl, a few of the UA band members who played at the 1967 game reunited for an anniversary performance featured by the Arizona Republic. Then in September, when the UA played Grambling in football, the schools' two culturally diverse marching bands came together at Arizona Stadium to re-create the U.S. map formation while playing "America the Beautiful," in what Pride of Arizona marching band director Chad Shoopman called a special and memorable moment.

"It was a poignant moment for race relations back in the '60s, but with everything that's going on now it was equally meaningful," said Shoopman, a UA alumnus who took the reins of the UA marching band in 2016.

Evolution of the Band

Today, 50 years after landing that Super Bowl gig of a lifetime, the Pride of Arizona is still going strong, with some 250 members giving everything they've got to the band — from the first day of grueling summer band camp to 18-hour football game days.   

Shoopman is just the 23rd person to lead the band since it formed in the early 1900s. Among the local legends before him were Jack Lee, who wrote "Bear Down Arizona" and was at the band's helm from 1952 to 1980, and Jay Rees, who led the group from 1995 to 2015, during which time the Pride reached a new level of acclaim and became known as "the world's first alternative-music marching band."

Shoopman's leadership of the band is built around creating high-quality performances for crowds, as well as a high-quality experience for band members. It was in that spirit that he has emphasized the acronym of PRIDE — performance, respect, integrity, discipline and experience — to guide the band.

Asked to reflect on how today's UA band might differ from the one that took the field at the Super Bowl 50 years ago, Shoopman described a shift from military precision to more of a theatrical dance.

"The way we move is more dance-based. Back then it was more militaristic — there was a formality to the movement," he said. "Now the way we operate is much more movement-friendly for upper-body control and being able to put on the best musical performance."

Uniforms also have transformed. While they maintain the same militaristic silhouette, they now include embellishments such as silver sequins designed specifically to catch the eye.

"That's really what the evolution is — to create an experience that's more theatrical than just traditional marching band," Shoopman said.

Music selection has changed over the years, too. While the Pride's repertoire still includes classic patriotic tunes, rock and pop favorites from various eras also have found their way into the mix. The band's 2016 show featured the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. This fall, the Pride will perform the hits of pop sensation Bruno Mars in a show built around the theme of relationships.

"I try to find music that is challenging but that also provides a chance for growth in that challenge (and) something that is entertaining for the audience," Shoopman said.

"When somebody comes to a football game, if they bother to look up from their drink or their hot dog and go, 'Hey, the band sounds pretty good,' that's a win for us," he said.

Despite all that has changed in 50 years, the primary purpose of the band remains the same, Shoopman said: "We love athletics. The reason we exist is to support the teams and be a huge fan base for our teams. Win or lose, we're always their biggest fans, their biggest supporters (and) their most vocal supporters."