In the lore of USC football, Thomas Luttgen Walker is Tommy the Toe, the Trojan drum major who would tear off his uniform jacket, throw his baton to the ground and rush from the stands onto the field to kick conversions for the cardinal and gold. The fans adored Walker, as did the media. To one sportswriter, Walker was "The Caliph of Conversion." In 1947 a picture of Walker wearing a tall white shako as he booted a football appeared in LIFE and nearly everywhere else.
Few people know that Walker, who died in 1986 at the age of 63, made a more lasting contribution to college football. A decorated veteran of World War II, Walker returned to USC as a junior in the fall of 1946 and found the football team in need of a lift. He wrote a six-note fanfare for the trumpet section: "Da da da DUT da DUH!" Trojan rooters then screamed, "Charge!"
In the decades since, the origin of the fanfare has been obscured. At times it seemed that those six notes—Da da da DUT da DUH—might have resounded through the primordial mist and propelled ancient Olympians and Roman charioteers to great feats. It is hard to imagine a modern college football game—or, for that matter, most any other sporting contest—being played without that familiar fanfare in the background.
There are a number of people, musicians included, who cling to the belief that Walker borrowed the trumpet fanfare. They mistakenly insist that his Charge is merely an adaptation of the cavalry bugle call Charge. But as anyone who has ever watched a Hollywood cavalry regiment storm across a studio lot knows, the Army's Charge is nothing like the sporting version. The military call is a 31-note piece that begins with a single note, middle C, sounded 12 times.
If anything, Walker's Charge is derived from the opening notes of First Call, a bugle piece that most people identify as horse racing's Call to the Post. It is quite possible that Walker, a frequent horse-player, conjured up his call after a trip to the racetrack. "The charge thing all stemmed from something we'd heard the night before a game," he once told Touchdown Illustrated.
Lucille Walker, Tommy's widow, advances another possibility. She claims Charge was prompted by a dirty joke. Adding an air of mystery, she refuses to divulge the joke, saying, "It would take the fun out of Charge."
Walker once told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner that he introduced the trumpet call at a band practice. "I played a few notes on the trumpet—Da-da-da-DAH-da-DAH—and the band yelled, 'Trojan warriors, charge!' " he said. "It seemed kind of effective, so we decided to try it that Saturday."
Somewhere between band practice and the game, someone decided to drop the "Trojan warriors" and simply yell "Charge!" The band introduced Charge on a third-and-one, and the Trojans responded by gaining the first down. "It was an immediate hit," Walker said.
In 1952 Dick Winslow, a good friend of Walker's, wrote a song called Trojan Warriors, Charge!, with Walker's six-note call repeated throughout. Mickey Rooney introduced the song at a Trojan pep rally, and it soon became a standard at USC football games.
But it wasn't until 1958 that Charge exploded. That year the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The baseball-starved fans of Southern California embraced the erstwhile Bums. Braven Dyer wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1959: "In some respects this desire to help pull the Dodgers through began one summer night last season when an alleged musician blew a few notes on a battered trumpet and then yelled, 'Charge.' Some of you were there when it happened and hundreds of thousands have picked it up since, until the wild yell is now their impassioned battle cry known to millions of others via TV and radio as the trademark of the Dodgers.... Yes, the Dodger management owes much to that clarion cry."
In the spring of 1959 the Dodgers put on sale, at $1.50 apiece, 20,000 toy trumpets, all of which played one tune: "Da da da DUT da DUH." The song really took off after NBC's broadcasts of Games 3, 4 and 5 of the 1959 World Series, between the Dodgers and the White Sox. Before the Series, Horace Heidt and his orchestra recorded a single called Dodgers Charge, which included narrative cameos by Dodgers Gil Hodges, Wally Moon, John Roseboro, Larry Sherry and Duke Snider. The long-forgotten tribute to Tommy Walker's fanfare includes these lines:
When the Dodgers take the field
You hear the fans begin,
You hear that famous trumpet call
Above the noise and din
Da da da DUT da DUH...
So hats off to the Dodgers,
We love them one and all
What gives them inspiration?
That famous trumpet call.
After the '59 Series that famous trumpet call was appropriated by nearly every team in the country that had a fan with willing lips and a bugle. It is easy to forget the special relationship Charge has with Los Angeles. "It's part of our tradition," says Art Bartner, the current band director at USC. "We always play it when there's a third-down situation."
It would be impossible to determine how many runs or points have been scored because Charge provided a team with a jolt of adrenaline when it was needed most. Certainly Walker himself raced through life as if constantly propelled by a blast of "Da da da DUT da DUH!"
The year after he introduced Charge, Walker concluded that leading the band and finishing his studies weren't going to keep him busy enough. To fill his schedule, he asked Trojan football coach Jeff Cravath for a tryout as the place-kicker. Cravath gave the O.K., and in 1947 Walker broke the Pacific Coast Conference record for conversions in a season. He made 19 of 29 attempts to bury the 16-year-old record of 14.
Walker didn't abandon the band, however. He wore no pads under his football uniform, and at halftime, because he was not needed in the locker room, he would slip on his drum major's uniform and a shako and lead the band. On Nov. 8, 1947, Walker's 25th birthday, Cravath allowed the Toe to lead the band during its pregame show. That day the Trojans played Stanford at the Coliseum. After leading the band in Fight On, Walker kicked two PATs in a 14-0 victory. He relinquished his band duties for the Rose Bowl game against Michigan and stood idly on the sidelines as the Wolverines whipped the Trojans 49-0.
After he graduated, in the spring of 1948, Washington Redskins owner George Marshall offered him a tryout, but Walker chose instead to become the assistant band director at his alma mater. Eventually he became the director of the USC band, which was hailed as "The Toast of the Coast." In 1955 Walt Disney saw USC's halftime show at the Rose Bowl and invited Walker to create the opening ceremony for Disneyland. Walker left USC and became the Magic Kingdom's first director of entertainment and customer relations. Disney used to tease Walker, "Everything you do is fireworks, balloons, pigeons and flags." Certainly these were four key elements in the extravaganzas Walker was known for.
In 1966 Walker left Disneyland and began a production company to put on the same kind of spectaculars he had created for Disney. He directed the opening and closing ceremonies for three Olympics and had a hand in the festivities for five World's Fairs and two presidential inaugurations. He directed the halftimes at three Super Bowls. And he directed the fireworks that highlighted the Statue of Liberty's centennial celebration on the Fourth of July 1986.
Less than four months later. Walker died on an operating table in Birmingham, where he was undergoing his third round of open heart surgery. "He was an absolute dynamo of a man," Lucille Walker says. The man who had written Charge had spent the rest of his life responding to its command.
Brace Anderson is a former writer-reporter for SI.