Redskins Marching Band drum leader dies

December 31, 2013

Greg Rodgers (center, with single snare) was the drum leader for the Redskins Marching Band. Rodgers, 53, was with the band for 24 years. He died Monday of a heart attack. (Redskins Marching Band photo)

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A full obituary of Greg Rodgers was published in the Sunday, Jan. 4, editions of The Post.

It can be found here.

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This post has been updated.

A bad year somehow got even worse for the Washington Redskins.

Greg Rodgers, a veteran of the Redskins Marching Band and leader of the band’s drum unit, died of a heart attack Monday, while stopping for gas on his way to work.

His death was confirmed by a spokesman for the Fairfax County government, for whom Rodgers had worked since 1987 as a civil engineer.

He was 53.

In his day job, Rodgers was a site-review engineer with the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. 

But on NFL Sundays — and at midweek practices — Rodgers played center snare with the Redskins Marching Band.

In that role, he set the tempo for the other percussionists and, by extension, the entire band, which marches 120 musicians before every home game, playing around the perimeter of FedEx Field and then on the turf.

“Simply put, he was one of the best percussionists I’ve ever been around,” said Kenny Scott, who played a set of tom-toms — “the quint” — behind Rodgers for a decade in the NFL’s oldest marching band.

Scott, like Rodgers, had played at Norfolk State University, though Rodgers was there first, in the late 1970s, when the Spartan Legion Marching Band’s drummers acquired a nickname: The Million Dollar Funk Squad, which the school’s percussionists still use today.

“Greg was one of the original Million Dollar Funk Squad members,” said Scott, who left the Redskins band after a decade. “I always paid deference to him because of that. And he always had a position of authority within the Redskins Marching Band.”

I met Rodgers at band practice on a bitterly cold night last January, as the Redskins were preparing for the fateful playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field.

The band was getting ready to play at FedEx, too, after getting its old fight song back: For weeks, the musicians had been forced to sit out their own tradition, after team officials decided to use a recorded version of “Hail to the Redskins” following touchdowns. Near season’s end, after some controversy, they’d been asked to strike up the band again.

Rodgers kept the drummers around for nearly an hour after most of the other musicians left. It was a practice-night custom for the percussionists; it won’t sound right if the drums aren’t tight, they explained.

Nobody is paid to play in the all-volunteer band, but as with the other musicians, Rodgers took the job seriously. In his early years, he didn’t even use his county leave time for vacations. “It went for band,” he once told Team Fairfax Insider, a newsletter for county employees.

Rodgers, who lived in Clinton, Md., kept playing — even through periods of pain, when he was having hip problems and struggled to march, Scott recalled. Why? “For the same reasons as pretty much everybody else. You really love your craft, and it’s a way to keep doing something you love. It’s a way to stay involved and be around people you really enjoy.”

Rodgers, Scott said, “was always fun to be around. There was nothing low-key about Greg Rodgers. He was one of the most charismatic, silly practical jokesters, always laughing and having a good time.”

He was also a skilled percussionist and learned all of his section’s parts in case somebody called in sick for a game, Rodgers said in a 2010 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Suffolk News-Herald.

“Greg has a high level of professionalism and a high skill level,” Redskins Marching Band director Eric Summers told the newspaper. “He’s made the percussion section a whole lot better. You’d think he was a music major.”

Rodgers auditioned for the band in 1990, after a friend from Norfolk State heard that the group was searching for qualified percussionists.

“It was a fun time to join the band,” Rodgers told the county newsletter last year. “The Redskins were doing great, Joe Gibbs was the coach, they won the Super Bowl in 1991. And we were still at RFK Stadium, where you could really feel the vibe from the fans.”

But in his 24 seasons wearing the marching band uniform — which used to include a colorful feather headdress — the Redskins had a losing record 12 times and made just seven playoff appearances. Rodgers and other members frequently found themselves telling people: “The band never loses. The band is undefeated.”

Still, even in recent years, as the team struggled, Redskins Marching Band members got together early to tailgate before home games and met up to watch road games together. “It’s our sheer dedication to band — and sports — that builds camaraderie,” Rodgers told Team Fairfax Insider.

“He had such dedication to the band,” Kenny Scott said of his old friend. “He wanted to be out there with everybody, with the section and the band. You don’t do that for over 20 years and not have a love for it.”

In 2010, team owner Daniel Snyder honored Rodgers for his dedication, presenting him with an official Redskins Marching Band ring as he celebrated two decades with the group.  

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family right now, with the loss of Greg,” Redskins senior vice president Tony Wyllie said on Thursday. “He was instrumental in creating such an outstanding drumline with our Redskins Marching Band. We appreciate his dedication and service for a quarter of a century. He will be missed — and our deepest condolences go out to his family.”

Rodgers is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and their daughter, Gabrielle. 

A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Ebenezer AME Church, 7707 Allentown Road in Ft. Washington. The family will receive visitors for two hours prior to the service.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this post.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
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