ATHENS -- Those haunting first few verses, slow, dramatic and quiet, save for a guitar and one lonely voice.
I can feel it,
Coming in the air tonight, oh lord.
I’ve been waiting for this moment, all my life.
Then the build-up to that climatic, famous drum solo.
Thirty-three years ago, “In the Air Tonight” was an unforgettable hit by a British adult contemporary pop star. And, somewhat surprisingly, it has become an unofficial anthem for the modern-day Georgia football team.
“It’s something that if I hear on the radio driving down the street, the first thing I’m thinking about is game day,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It’s just something you associate with Saturdays in Athens, with being between the hedges. It gives you chill bumps.”
“That’s the part where everybody’s like, ‘All right, time to go,’ ” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “They hear that drum, and they’re revved up.”
Phil Collins certainly never envisioned in 1979 that he was writing a song that would serve to fire up football teams. Collins was merely using music to vent his anger at the end of his marriage. He has maintained it’s not about watching a man drown.
But through the years, the song, thanks in large part to that four-second drum solo, has taken a hold in pop culture. Mike Tyson’s cameo in the first “Hangover” movie certainly helped. Now it’s in use by sports teams, including the Bulldogs, who blast it at Sanford Stadium during pregame warm-ups as players stretch.
It’s grown to be enough of a tradition that the team now plays it before scrimmages, in an effort to simulate the importance of a real game.
“Right in that moment, right before the pin drops, it’s just so much emotion,” junior nose tackle Mike Thornton said. “And once the beat drops, you just go crazy.”
By “the beat” he means the drum solo, when the UGA student section air drums in unison, and many players interrupt their stretching to join along.
“Yeah I do. Every single time it gets to that part, I’m one of those guys,” junior receiver Chris Conley said, smiling.
Offensive lineman Watts Dantzler: "I know when the drum part arrives, the O-linemen will all go -"
And Dantzler air-drummed.
“I used to not like it at first, but it sort of grew on me,” Jenkins said. “You have to get hyped off it. I think it has become an anthem over the past few years. It’s not a bad little song to warm up to.”
So how did it come about? According to UGA team staffers, the tradition started in 2006. Then-players Tra Battle and Kelin Johnson are credited with having it played at practice, and the team liked it so much it was adopted for pregame. The redcoat band got involved the next year, joining in with the drum solo at the 3:16 mark. Since then, it has been on the pregame music list for team stretches.
The song was released in 1980, a decade before most Georgia players were born. Guard Dallas Lee and receiver Rantavious Wooten are the only players on scholarship who were born in the 1980s.
Linebacker Amarlo Herrera is among the many players who had never heard the song before coming to Georgia. Now he occasionally joins in on the air drums.
“It depends on how I feel,” Herrera said, smiling.
Georgia is far from the only team that has adopted the song. Up the road, the Atlanta Falcons also play it during pregame stretches. Offensive lineman Kolton Houston says he has heard other teams around the country use it.
Thornton’s high school team also used “In the Air Tonight” for dramatic effect -- but in the locker room, just before running out onto the field.
“Our strength and conditioning coach, Coach Ball, would cut the lights off, and they would just let it blast. Guys would go crazy,” Thornton said. “I don’t do the drum thing, but in my head I can picture myself making plays under the lights.”
The song lasts four minutes and 54 seconds, and it is slow and dark. Somehow, it became the perfect song for a team going through stretches, a way to get amped up.
Defensive end Ray Drew, who grew up in the country and is an ordained minister, stops short of calling it a team anthem, but he doesn’t deny its potency.
“You can feel it in the air whenever you run into the stadium and you know it’s getting close to game time,” Drew said. “It’s electric. You know it’s there. You feel it in the air.”