Feb 04, 2017

Super Bowl Halftime, 1974 Style: Longhorn Band, Violins and Miss Texas

Reporting Texas

Judy Mallett, Miss Texas 1973, played her violin during the Super Bowl VIII halftime show. This photo appeared in the September 1974 issue of Sports Illustrated, eight months after the game. (Photo credit: James Hejl/Sports Illustrated)

HOUSTON – The 1974 Super Bowl in Houston wouldn’t be recognizable to young fans today. The goal posts weren’t moved to the back of the end zone until the following season. A 30-second television ad cost just $103,000. And there was no wall-to-wall coverage for the week leading up to kickoff – ESPN wouldn’t launch for another five years.

The halftime show certainly wasn’t the spectacle it is today, either. For most of the first decade of Super Bowls, college bands were the standard halftime entertainment, The first Super Bowl halftime show in 1967 featured marching bands from the University of Arizona and the University of Michigan. The Grambling State band made its first of six appearances in Super Bowl II, while the U.S. Marine Corps Drill Team played accompanied jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald at Super Bowl VI.

When the NFL brought its championship to the Lone Star State for the first time, it was only fitting the Longhorn Band was there.

“Of course they invited Texas,” said Bill Phillips, 64, who was a trumpet-playing sophomore when UT performed at Super Bowl VIII. “Back then, we were one of the best college bands in the country.”

That was thanks to Vincent DiNino, the first full-time director of the Longhorn Band. During his 21 years as director, DiNino built the band into “The Showband of the Southwest.” He brought in the bass drum affectionately known as Big Bertha and switched to the western uniforms still worn today. He also hired James Hejl, the band’s first full-time assistant director, in 1970.

Hejl, now 77 and living in Brenham, worked closely with DiNino to create the marching patterns and themes for halftime shows. Under their tutelage, the band performed at four straight Cotton Bowls from 1971-74 before an opportunity arose for the Super Bowl.

“We were aware that Vince was working on getting that lined up for us, so I couldn’t say it was a surprise,” Hejl said. “But I think everybody was very excited about that because it is pretty much the premier event of the fall season, pro or amateur.”

 

Judy Mallett, the winner of the 1973 Miss Texas pageant and an accomplished violinist, wasn’t nearly as excited. Her manager booked her to perform with the UT band at the Super Bowl, but she wasn’t much of a football fan. Now a Fort Worth attorney in her mid-60s, Mallett had grown up watching her older brother play baseball at Baylor.

“I think my fee was something like a couple hundred dollars, maybe even less,” Mallett said. “I don’t even know if he charged them that.”

Hejl started planning the show in December during finals week. But with an appearance at the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, the band had just two weeks of rehearsal time before the Super Bowl. The show kept undergoing minor changes at the recommendation of Jim Skinner, the entertainment director for the Dallas Cowboys at the time who served as a liaison between the band and the NFL.

The Longhorn Band traveled to Houston a few days ahead of the game. Final tune-ups took place at Westchester High School, where one of the assistants previously had been band director. (It was also Phillips’ alma mater.) Mallett arrived the day before the game and needed just one run-through with the band. She was quite familiar with her piece, “Orange Blossom Special,” which she had played for the talent portion of the Miss Texas pageant.

The band arrived at Rice Stadium around 9 a.m. on game day. Hejl remembers seeing a helicopter hovering over the field, trying to dry the freshly painted end zones with its whirling blades. The sun never broke through the clouds that day, and it was a dreary 54 degrees when he, Phillips and the rest of the 350-piece band marched onto the field for the pregame show. They started with a few songs typical of a UT show before moving on to a medley of the Dolphins’ and Vikings’ fight songs. Country singer Charley Pride joined them on field to close with “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“We had a little trouble with him getting the pitch at the first note because I don’t think we did an intro,” Hejl said of their run-through with Pride the day before. “It was just a drum roll and then you start, that’s the way we normally did it.”

The game kicked off at 3:30 p.m. and the band members took their seats in the upper corner of one end zone. A lopsided first half saw Miami lead Minnesota 17-0 after the Vikings were held to 110 yards of offense. Mallett remembers telling her manager as halftime approached that she wouldn’t play if it began to rain.

“It was so cold and so miserable,” Mallett said. “And all I was really worried about was just having fun playing in spite of the weather and getting my little violin back in its nice, safe little waterproof case.”

The rain held off and the show proceeded without incident. The band started with its more traditional music before moving into a large violin formation as Mallett took the field. She stood near the sideline at the 50-yard-line as a semi-circle of trombones, trumpets and saxophones accompanied her for “Orange Blossom Special.”

Once Mallett finished and walked off, the Longhorn Band progressed into the circus portion of the show, including “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite.” The final portion saw the band play “Grand Ole Flag” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” (the latter while forming an outline of the country on the field) before ending the show the same way it ended every show: by walking off to Texas Fight.

“It was kind of like a home game for us,” said Phillips, now a land manager for a Dallas oil company.

Miami and Minnesota traded touchdowns in a mostly uneventful second half. Once the game ended – a 24-7 Miami win – the band loaded up the buses and headed back to Austin.

“We knew that was the biggest performance we’d probably ever be a part of,” Hejl said.

Mallett can’t say the same. She had a top-10 finish in the Miss America pageant and performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, who invited her before he invited the Miss America winner because he believed “Miss Texas got robbed,” as Mallett remembers. But looking back on her Super Bowl show, she is glad she could be a part of something that simply doesn’t happen these days.

“It was such a huge privilege,” Mallett said. “You know, I’m proud of the fact that it was wholesome and odd and not obscene and bizarre.”