Like many of the state's most colorful tales, the story of Texas' Big Bertha and a decades-long rivalry over the biggest drums in college football began with the bravado of a wealthy oilman.
In 1954, Longhorn Band benefactor Col. D. Harold "Dry Hole" Byrd, a man who had earned an unfortunate nickname for drilling wells that produced nothing before eventually making a fortune in the East Texas oilfield, directed UT band director Moton Crockett to procure the largest drum he could find.
Like Byrd, Crockett started out on his own expedition before striking it big. Really big. His discovery of one of the largest drums in the world languishing in an Indiana warehouse and his subsequent acquisition rekindled one of the great off-field rivalries in sports history between Purdue and Texas.
Purdue had the World's Largest Drum. Texas had Big Bertha. Both claimed to be the biggest, with Purdue claiming its dimensions were a "trade secret," willfully and somewhat fancifully obscuring the real dimensions to keep the mystery alive.
But on Oct. 15, Texas declared an emphatic victory when the Longhorn Band introduced Big Bertha II, a worthy successor to their 100-year-old gargantuan bass drum. Bertha II -- an even Bigger Bertha -- was unveiled to the world during a centennial celebration for its predecessor, announced at a hefty 9 ½ feet tall and 55 inches wide.
The Longhorns issued a press release headlined: "Big Bertha II, Largest Bass Drum in the World, Debuted at Texas-Iowa State Game." Texas' drum was larger than the World's Largest Drum. It was larger than Missouri's Big Mo, introduced in 2012 (which, incidentally, was the Rodney Dangerfield of drums, dwarfing both of them at 9 feet tall and 54 inches wide, but never really claiming a spot in the debate).
Obviously, Bertha II is a booming source of pride for Longhorn Band director Cliff Croomes, himself a former snare drummer in the Texas band.
"Absolutely," Croomes said. "When we say everything's bigger in Texas, we mean it. Texas had the tallest drum and Purdue had the widest drum. There was a claim to be made on both sides. And that has now been settled with Big Bertha II being both taller and wider than either of those drums."
Bertha II's surprise debut was a blow to a rivalry a century in the making, reverberating since 1921, when Purdue's band director, Paul Spotts Emrick, enlisted the Leedy Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, to build a drum of "impossible proportions" according to newspaper reports. The result was a behemoth known as the World's Largest Drum, about 8 feet tall and 48 inches wide, at a cost of $800. The drum made its debut when Purdue visited the University of Chicago for a Big Ten game pitting the Boilermakers against legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and the Maroons.
But as is the case in college football, there's always a booster looking to do something bigger and better for their school's bragging rights. A Chicago alum, Carl D. Greenleaf, who was the president of a rival Indiana music company, C.G. Conn, Ltd., had a son named Leland who played in the university band. He embarked on a plan to build a bigger drum for the Maroon Marching Band.