While Vikings sports wallowed in mediocrity over the last few years, there has been little for fans to fight for and even less that has been worthy of singing about.
But things change quickly here in the Northwest, and the Vikings’ rapid ascent to Big Sky Conference power has given fans something to cheer about. Sell-out crowds have quickly embraced the mainstays of college fandom – name calling, taunting, rhythmic clapping, taunting, jumping up and down and of course, taunting – but have struggled to embrace the crowning jewel of college sports: the fight song.
The blank faces that fill the arena when the PA announcer calls for the PSU fight song indicate that most Viking fans don’t even know PSU has a fight song, much less what it sounds like or what its lyrics are.
"We have a fight song?" a confused student seated behind me asked at the last home game, putting words to the question on the mind of many of the 1,500-plus in attendance.
It turns out PSU has a long history of fight songs going all the way back to the Vanport days.
Back then, when the basement of Lincoln Hall served as an all-in-one sporting complex, fans recited "Men of Vanport" to cheer the Vikings to victory and an honored place in Valhalla. While none of the alumni I talked with specifically remembered "Men of Vanport," a faded typewriter-written page buried deep in the PSU archives testifies to its place as the progenitor of Viking fight songs.
As the school grew (and its name changed), so did the fight song. At some point, someone borrowed the music to part of "Men of Ohio," one of Ohio State’s numerous fight songs, and put Portland State lyrics to it. This is the fight song that scored the go-go Vikings basketball teams of the ’70s and the song whose lyrics you will find should you google "Portland State" and "fight song." As far as I can tell, the "Men of Ohio"-inspired song stopped being used when funding for the pep band evaporated around the time the men’s basketball program was discontinued in 1981.
About three years ago, frustrated with the lack of school spirit and emboldened by a generous donation to restart the pep band, Athletic Director Tom Burman approached PSU jazz professor Charlie Gray about reviving a fight song for PSU. Gray came across the "Men of Ohio" song but was concerned with the copyright issues and not convinced it was right for PSU. "It didn’t seem to fit," Gray said. "It just seemed a little bit too slow."
Instead, Gray orchestrated a new fight song from scratch, with consideration for the inherent limitations of a 10-12 person pep band. The result was the current song, which pep band leader Gus Slayton described as a "fast march, a fast two-beat with a funk bridge" that is "upbeat, nostalgic and well-orchestrated."
Gray admits that he wrote lyrics to accompany the music but told me I "wouldn’t want to hear them." When I assured him I did, he laughed, saying that it would take a few rounds at McMenamins before he’d even consider divulging the "cynical and mercenary" lyrics.
Without any lyrics (spelling out PSU during the bridge does not count) it’s hard to consider the current song as anything other than an excuse for rhythmic clapping, much less a true fight song.
Even if no one knows them, lyrics complete the fight song. What says college sports better than thousands of intoxicated fans mumbling and swaying back and forth while the horns of the band blare away?
Even without lyrics, there’s little doubt the current song has an impact on the atmosphere at Vikings games. Rhythmic clapping can fuel a rally and be quite distracting for opposing teams, almost as distracting as having the pep band seated right behind them, wailing away for the duration of the game. "I’d like to think we have an impact on the visiting teams," Slayton said, smiling.
Seriously though, as Slayton points out, fight songs can "help schools form an identity. If you hear the lyrics, if you’ve actually sung the lyrics and you hear the melody, there’s nothing you can do but hum along or think it and get more connected with everybody."
Anyone who has attended or supported PSU can attest to the fact that developing an identity and getting the PSU community more connected are items No. 1 and 1a on the agenda of things needed to help the school keep improving.
It’s up to you to decide whether some creative lyrics can save the current fight song or whether it’s time for a new song with lyrics the growing Stott Center crowds can get behind.
If you come up with some good lyrics or have the ambition to score a new song, e-mail it to me at [email protected] and I’ll print the best of them.
|PORTAND STATE(To the tune of "Men of Ohio)Fight! Fight! Fight! for Portland StateOn to victoryFight! Fight! Fight! for Portland StateMighty men are weOn, oh, Viking down the fieldScore and win the gameLet them know we never dieWe cheer for Viking Fame!MEN OF VANPORTMen of Vanport, honor only usNo proud for men (?) ever forestalls usWin the fray whatever befalls usConquer over all!Strength for battle now awakenLive through flood and storm unshakenTill our place on high we’ve takenNever will we fall!Onward then together!Fair or stormy weather!Our team will fight for green and whiteTri-um-phant now and forever!Viking Fathers now implore usFame and glory are before usMen of Vanport, swell the chorusVict’ry over all!HERE’S TO THE VIKINGS(To the Coast Guard Tune "Semper Paratus")Oh, here’s to the Vikings’ fighting mightWith banners flying highThrough thick or thin we’re sure to winWe’ll leave them high and dry!So all triumphant we prevailWith pride and glory tooWe can rely, they’ll do or dieAye, Vikings, we’re for you!Aye, Vikings, we’re for you!|