After two college marching bands were attacked in separate rivalry games this fall, directors at Texas and Oklahoma did something different for their Oct. 12 matchup.
The bands marched out of the Cotton Bowl together, side by side.
"They've got our back," said Brian Britt, the director of the Pride of Oklahoma. "We've got their back."
Collegiality between marching bands - even of rival schools - has always existed, but it's stronger now because of what happened in Orlando and Iowa during the season's opening weeks.
A Miami fan battered multiple members of Florida's band while pushing through a crowd after the Gators' 24-20 win at Camping World Stadium, according to the Orlando Sentinel. UF's director was thrown to the ground from behind.
Three weeks later, multiple Iowa band members reported they were subjects of "physical and sexual assault, verbal harassment and racial slurs" while leaving their rivalry game at Iowa State, according to The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. One band member was hospitalized with broken ribs.
Ask around, and you'll hear other band-fan horror stories. Raw chicken thrown at South Carolina. An air gun pelting Southern Miss sousaphones. Britt said a couple fans have taken swings at his Sooners in his 17-plus seasons, and Georgia's Brett Bawcum remembers multiple fan fights when UF hosted the Bulldogs in 1994.
"We can't pretend this is a new problem," Clemson director of bands Mark Spede said.
So why is it still happening?
Donovan Wells hasn't had any incidents during his three-decade career, but he has a theory: The bands are simply easily accessible targets to increasingly disgruntled (and sometimes inebriated) fans.
"You want to really take it out on the football team, but you don't have access to them," said Wells, Bethune-Cookman's director of university bands. "But when the bands come by, that's the next best thing."
And when those band members come by, they're at a disadvantage.
Their uniforms make them impossible to blend in with a crowd. Because they travel together in large groups with bulky instruments, they're not as mobile as an individual fan.
Those problems are compounded when they mix with fans outside the stadium, especially at neutral sites. When Georgia played at an off-campus event a few years ago, Bawcum said the Bulldogs' 430-student band got separated in the post-game chaos. It took two hours to reunite.
"I don't know how we got out of that place alive," said Bawcum, Georgia's acting director of athletic bands.
Bawcum doesn't expect any problems when Georgia faces UF next week in Jacksonville because event organizers understand their needs. Instead of parking in general lots and wading through fans enjoying the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the band parks at a private loading dock. At pep rallies, they're escorted by the same security guards they see every year and know by name.
Beyond logistics and police presences, bands take other precautions to protect themselves and their visitors.
Britt reminded his Sooners before the Texas game to stay aware of their situations and remain in groups of at least three. Before the Florida game, Bawcum will tell his musicians not to "return fire" if opposing fans heckle them.
Clemson has members of the band service fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi walk out with the visiting band to show fans that they should be "treated as guests, not 'the enemy,'" Spede said.
"Fans are much more reluctant to hurl insults or worse when they see our own band members right there..." said Spede, who's also the national president of the College Band Directors National Association.
"Since implementing these sportsmanship policies at Clemson more than a decade ago, we've noticed a marked difference in fan behavior here. Is it perfect? No. But better? Yes. It also takes vigilance year after year."
This year has been an unfortunate reminder of the vigilance it takes to keep bands safe. Although directors stressed that incidents of violence are rare and isolated, they're still unacceptable.
"To be clear, most fans on both sides are wonderful," Britt said. "But it doesn't take but one person to punch you in the face and make your day take a turn for the worse."