For former Redskins band members, carpool is link to team's glory days

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

As everything around them changed -- the players, the stadium, the music -- five members of the Washington Redskins Marching Band kept one thing constant: their ride to the game.

"We had a carpool that was together for 20 years," Bernard Elliker said. "That was kind of legendary with us."

From behind their instruments, Elliker, Phil Olson, Al Mattman, Joe Burke and Irven "Ra-Ra" Errera saw decades of Redskins heroes, from John Riggins and Joe Theismann to Art Monk and Joe Gibbs. The all-volunteer marching band formed in 1937 -- the Marching Ravens, the only other NFL band, was created a decade later when the Colts played in Baltimore.

The group would switch off driving duties, with the highlight being Burke's Tastykake truck. The other four would play their instruments out of the back as it drove down the highway. Errera's station wagon, on the other hand, had such broken shocks that the police once mistakenly pulled him over for drunken driving after a game.

"We never let Ra-Ra hear the end of it," Mattman said.

The carpool began at the start of a Redskins heyday -- the team made eight playoff appearances and had three Super Bowl wins -- between 1982 and 1992. Gibbs would hold barbecues where the families of players, cheerleaders and band members could mingle.

The barbecues started winding down during Gibbs' tenure, though, before disappearing completely. When Dan Snyder bought the team, they said, it was the beginning of the end.

"It got to feel like you were a little used somewhat," Olson said, adding that he and the other drummers had to start buying their own drumsticks.

Mattman said the meals with players turned into playing for fans, which would have been fine if it weren't for the extra work.

"Snyder opened up all the new stores, so we had to take time off from work and entertain every time they opened," he said. "It took quite a bit of time, and you didn't always feel like it was appreciated."

Elliker estimates that the band reached about 115 musicians when the carpool members started leaving in the early 2000s. The surviving members (Errera died in 2008) agree that the band is much more talented now than it was when they were playing.

"There's absolutely no drinking now -- that was not the case back then," Elliker said, "Guys would hide their bottles in the holes of their tubas."

He added that he would love to be at Sunday's playoff game, but high ticket prices and arthritis mean he'll have a front-row seat from his couch.

"What I saw in that game when they beat Dallas was the way it was all the time when George Allen was here," Elliker said. "You miss the crowd and the atmosphere. It's electric."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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