UT band bids farewell to 100-year-old bass drum ‘Big Bertha’

Big Bertha 1 will retire this season but the Longhorns already introduced Big Betha 2

AUSTIN – It is one of the most iconic sounds in all of college football: Big Bertha.

If you have ever seen a Longhorns football game or listened to it on the radio, you’ll know that every time the team scores a touchdown or field goal or puts any points on the board, the Bertha crew strikes the drum, however many times equals the points on the board.

This is Big Bertha’s final year. There is emotion for Big Bertha’s retirement and excitement for what comes next.

“She is definitely an iconic fixture of what it is to be part of the 40 acres. You know, we’ve got the cannon, we’ve got Bevo, we’ve got Bertha. You know, the trifecta there,” said Delia Botbol, the band program coordinator and color guard instructor.

Botbol is known as Mama Bear, and she knows Big Bertha well.

“She has been in my life since I was a member of the Longhorn Band back in 1989,” Botbol said.

But 1989 does not even begin to tell the full story.

“One-hundred years ago, 1922, the University of Chicago wanted a drum made for their football program that they had at the time. You know, they wanted the biggest drum in the world,” band Director Cliff Croomes said.

But then came the war.

“The team was sort of disbanded and the drum was stored under the stadium at the University of Chicago there during the entirety of World War II,” Croomes said.

After World War II, the University of Texas brought Big Bertha home.

“He bought Big Bertha for $1, got her transported down here to Austin, Texas, and presented her to his successor,” Croomes said.

And this is where she has been ever since.

“So in ‘55, she was introduced to the University of Texas. And, you know, she comes out every pre-game. Leads the band out onto the field, and it’s also still used as a musical instrument. So, you know, during The Star-Spangled Banner and other parts of our pregame,” Croomes said.

But obviously, week after week, bowl game after bowl game, touchdown after touchdown, Big Bertha has taken a beating.

“You can see the wear and tear on her head, you know, where she’s been hit. She’s lost her shape a little bit,” Botbol said.

So this season is Big Bertha’s last.

“Thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone. I had a lot of good memories and it’s really sweet that it’s come full circle for me and being a little freshman on Bertha crew not knowing what I was getting myself into, to getting to retire her my one of my last four games ever,” Izzie Garrett said.

And to honor her time at UT and the decades of memories, there was a special going away ceremony.

“We had 500 Longhorn Band alumni, plus the 400 members of the Longhorn Band all over the field, together with Big Bertha 1 and introducing Big Bertha 2,” Croomes said.

“When I saw all the other ... alumni marching with a lot of the people that I marched with my freshman and sophomore year, that’s when it kind of really hit me. I was like, ‘This is really special.’ So it was such an amazing opportunity because I didn’t think I’d ever be able to work with Bertha again. Here I am,” Garrett said.

Big Bertha will not be at the games anymore, but she isn’t going too far.

“There’s an Athletics Hall of Fame at the North End Zone in DeKalb Memorial Stadium, and there’s already a spot reserved for Big Bertha,” Croomes said.

And Big Bertha 2 is ready for the next generation of Longhorn students, staff members and fans.

“The best is really yet to come,” Croomes said.

“You have to be there in person. She is magnificent. She’s beautiful. She’s gorgeous. The metal, I mean, I was in awe and I’m so honored that I get to know I get to take care of this one, too,” Botbol said.

About the Author

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.

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