This is mostly a reprint of a recent blogpost of mine, but since Part 1 received some positive feedback, I thought I'd include Part 2 here as well. Comment or Flame at your leisure.
This fanpost is a continuation of this fanpost. If you’re not sure what the premise is, go back and read the opening paragraphs of Part 1. But in a nutshell, I’ve decided to assign every team in the NFL an instrument in the symphony orchestra. In Part 1, the NFC was assigned the woodwind and brass instrument families, and now it’s time to turn our attention to the AFC, who gets the percussion, keyboard and string instrument families. Most of the teams of the AFC grew out of the old American Football League, which was formed in 1960. These teams were added to the NFL during the merger in 1970. So, without any further delay, here are the Percussion, Keyboard and String instruments, continuing in score order.
AFC Teams – Percussion, Keyboards and Strings
Timpani – New England Patriots
The timpani was for a long time, the only percussion instrument in the orchestra and it was a founding member of the orchestra. They hold an elevated place among all other percussion instruments as they are one of the few “pitched” drums, able to play both high and low and loud and soft. A timpani roll may just be the most stereotypical symphonic sound that there is. Despite their founding member status from the Classical era, their role in the orchestra is merely rhythmic support, and until recently they were rarely featured. And so, it is fitting for the New England Patriots to be the Timpani. They were an early AFC team, originally the Boston Patriots formed in 1959 for the AFL. And until the Tom Brady era, hadn’t won a Super Bowl.
Glockenspiel – Denver Broncos
The glockenspiel is the fancy German name for a xylophone, although any serious percussionist will point out that a xylophone’s bars are made of wood, while the Glock (not the gun) is made of metal. This instrument entered the orchestral ranks in the early romantic era, and has a very distinctive sound. Despite having no German connections to speak of, the Denver Broncos are a great fit for this instrument. The Broncos entered football in 1959 along with the AFL, and have even won two Super Bowls, making them a fairly prominent team. Their distinction comes from being one of the few teams in the NFL to never move or change names since their founding, just as we're still using the old German name for this instrument today.
Snare Drum – Oakland Raiders
Another easily recognizable drum of the percussion family, the snare drum gets its name from the metal snares underneath the drum that give the snare its characteristic rattling sound. It entered the orchestra in the early Romantic era. Snares are common in lots of other types of music (rock, marching bands, etc), and a famous snare roll opens the Star Spangled Banner. While the Oakland Raiders are something of a laughing stock these days (haven’t made the playoffs since 2002), they were a well-respected franchise once upon time. They entered the AFL in 1960, and have even won three Super Bowls and a pre-merger Championship. When I think of snare drums, I immediately think of a trap set, and then rock music. And while this may be a stretch, Metallica is a huge fan of the Oakland Raiders, even having given some impromptu performances during tailgating. So, the connection of the Raiders and rock music makes this instrument assignment a good one.
Bass Drum – Buffalo Bills
The Bass Drum is the driver of many orchestral pieces, and it’s been said that the bass drum player of Sousa’s famous band was the highest paid member of the group. It’s the bass drum’s job to keep the tempo steady, but not once have they been given the spotlight. Like the snare, it entered the orchestra in the early Romantic era. The Buffalo Bills are a perfect fit for the bass drum. They joined the ranks of football in 1959 with the AFL and even won a pair of AFL league championships giving them a bit of legitimacy, but since the merger haven’t won a Super Bowl despite several Super Bowl appearances. Like a bass drum keeping time, they just keep on keeping on.
Cymbals – New York Jets
How hard is it to bang two pieces of circular metal together to get a loud crash sound? Not that hard actually, but to make it ring and reverberate in the right way, or to keep them in rhythm can be. Cymbals are shrill and add icing to high emotional moments, but are never the featured instrument. However, they remain a prominent instrument of the percussion section, joining the orchestra in the early Romantic era. It’s appropriate to connect the shrill and “icing” function to the New York Jets, a team that likes to draw attention to itself in one of the largest media markets in the US. And since being formed in 1959, the Jets have only one pre-merger Super Bowl win, despite making a lot of noise in the media.
Triangle – San Diego Chargers
This is probably the most iconic and frequently made fun of instrument in the entire orchestra (see, Grimley, Ed). When you get right down to it, the player is holding two pieces of metal…one of them is bent into the shape of a triangle, and the other is a glorified stick. A child could play this instrument. Never-the-less, the Triangle was introduced in the early Romantic era. And you know what? The San Diego Chargers, a team created in 1959 has not won a single Super Bowl and is also the butt of many jokes. For example, “Why doesn’t Los Angeles have an NFL team? Because then San Diego would want one.” HEY-O!
Tambourine – Kansas City Chiefs
Next is the tambourine. This instrument is the bastard child of the cymbal and drum, and is typically used to create a lot of extra noise during emotional high points in the music. It was first used by Mozart in the late classical era and is sometimes used to help keep a beat, as any fan of 60s rock can attest. So, it’s fitting that the Kansas City Chiefs represent the tambourine, a team that hasn’t won a championship since the 1960s either. They joined the AFL in 1959 as the Dallas Texans, but moved to Kansas City in 1963. Lastly, as a handheld hybrid drum/cymbal, the tambourine is similar to some of the other hand held drumming instruments the Native Americans used (except without the jangles) in various rituals and ceremonies too.
Marimba – Houston Texans
The marimba is like an over-sized Xylophone, and unlike the Glockenspiel, it has wooden bars instead of metal ones. It can also cover a much larger range (some as many as 5 octaves), and can be played with up to four mallets at a time. It was invented in the late 19th century, but wasn’t revived in the United States until the 1980s. Since then it has become a popular solo instrument and appears in more contemporary orchestral pieces. As a relatively newer team in the NFL, the Houston Texans joined the league in 1999 and are a perfect match for this newer orchestral instrument. And since it hasn’t achieved any sort of status as a standard instrument in the orchestral percussion section, it’s even more fitting that that the Texans, who have yet to win a Super Bowl, be associated with it. And hey, they’re the Texans, where everything is bigger.
Celesta – Cincinnati Bengals
This instrument is part keyboard, part percussion. The insides of this instrument contain metal plates of varying lengths, and hammers strike the plates to produce sound. The hammers are connected to keys that make-up a small keyboard. This instrument wasn’t introduced to the orchestra until the late Romantic era. But, if you’ve watched a Harry Potter movie, then you’ve heard the celesta play the famous opening theme. The Bengals were a relatively late addition to the AFL in 1967, and as the celesta is more of a novelty instrument, the Bengals similarly are more of a novelty franchise. They are a frequent home to criminals and players with off-the-field issues as they now have the most arrests of any NFL team and have become something of a novelty for it. Their success on the field has been limited as they have not won a single league championship.
Harp – Miami Dolphins
The harp is technically a stringed instrument, and its associations are usually ethereal and angelic. The harps strings are plucked, and it takes quite a set of finger callouses to play. It was introduced in the early Romantic era. The Dolphins joined the AFL a little later in 1965 and since then have won exactly two Super Bowls. I picked the Harp for the Dolphins as they are a team with some distinction, like the Harp, but are not a powerhouse franchise. Also, when I think of an ethereal mascot, I think of the ocean dwelling dolphin.
Piano – Baltimore Ravens
Easily the most recognizable instrument of all time, the piano might be the most popular as well. As an orchestral instrument, it’s used sparingly and wasn’t introduced as an orchestral instrument until the late Romantic era, but as a solo instrument it really shines. Many famous composers have written solo concertos for the piano. The Ravens joined the league recently in 1996 as an expansion team. Like the piano replaced the harpsichord as the dominant keyboard instrument, the Ravens replaced the Colts in Baltimore. Like the piano, the Ravens rise to prominence was quick as they’ve won two Super Bowls since joining the league, and there’s no more popular a team than the last Super Bowl winner.
Guitar – Jacksonville Jaguars
The guitar is a rarely used orchestral instrument, and I added it simply to get to 32 teams. There are only a few token pieces like those of Mahler and some contemporary music that use the guitar as an orchestral instrument, but it’s more of a folk and rock instrument these days. And thus, it’s only fitting for one of the newer franchises of the AFC (created in 1993), the Jacksonville Jaguars, to be associated with the guitar. And just as the guitar is barely an orchestral instrument, the Jaguars are barely an NFL franchise these days, having made the playoffs only twice in the past 10 years.
Violin – Pittsburgh Steelers
What would an orchestra be without a violin? It is a founding member of the orchestra and the quintessential orchestral instrument. It is almost impossible to write an orchestral piece without one. The violin is perhaps the most expressive instrument of the orchestra, capable of mimicking the human voice perfectly with intense vibrato. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most accomplished team in the AFC, with the most league championships to their name. They are also the oldest team in the AFC, formed in 1933, so it’s a perfect fit for them to be associated with the premiere orchestral instrument, the violin. And heck, a violin’s strings are made of steel too.
Viola – Cleveland Browns
The viola is the butt of all string jokes as it never has the melody, and even gives way to the 2nd violins for 2nd duty of melodic support. A founding member of the orchestra, their role is almost exclusively as a harmonic voice, buried in the texture. Only on rare occasions will a composer throw the violists a bone and let them shine with a melodic spotlight. And so it is that the Cleveland Browns find themselves associated with the viola. As the 2nd oldest franchise in the AFC, they have one of the worst modern track records. Sure, they have 8 league championships to their name, but they all came before 1965 and before the merger so they may not be worth much. Of their 28 playoff appearances, only 2 of them have come in the last 20 years. Here is a pair of jokes about violas and the Browns. “How many violists does it take to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies? Ten. One to the stir the batter, and nine to peel the M&Ms.” Also, “How many Browns does it take to win a Super Bowl? Nobody knows, and we may never find out.”
Cello – Indianapolis Colts
The most sensual of all instruments, the cello is the 2nd most expressive instrument in the orchestra. Also a founding member of the orchestra, composers love the depth of tone quality a cello can get, and they are used to contrast the higher pitched violin frequently. The Colts are the third oldest team in the AFC, originally formed in Baltimore in 1953 and later moved to Indianapolis in 1984. They are an accomplished franchise winning five league championships, including 2 Super Bowls, especially recently with Peyton Manning at the helm. We’ll see how Andrew Luck manages to handle the reins.
Double Bass – Tennessee Titans
Like the tuba, the bass lives in the lowest of sound worlds. Also a founding member of the orchestra, they rarely get a feature, but they are crucial to providing the harmonic support and rhythmic support of the orchestra. The Tennessee Titans were originally the Houston Oilers, formed in 1959 as part of the AFL. They moved to Tennessee and became the Titans in 1997. They have two league championships to their name, although both coming pre-merger. As an older franchise, they have yet to win the Super Bowl and seem to be an appropriate fit for the Double Bass, as they rarely get the limelight. The double bass is the largest of the string instruments, so it seems apt to be paired with a team whose mascot is the very definition of large: Titans.