Tech sergeant crushes anthem high note, celebration at Vikings game
By Mike Burbach | Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. | Published: December 31, 2015
There was a series of high notes in the chill of TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday night: Harrison Smith's interception for a Minnesota Vikings touchdown, for example; Teddy Bridgewater's touchdown passes; Blair Walsh's long field goal.
And, before any of that, was the high G that Johnny Holliday hit and held before 40,000 fans and a national TV audience on the coldest stage he'd ever played.
"I couldn't feel my mouthpiece ... is it on my face?" Holliday recalled in a jocular phone interview Tuesday. "It was cold. I pushed a New York Giant out of the way so I could put my face in the blower."
Holliday's trumpet rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was stirring enough, but his enthusiastic – and unusual – celebration when it was over set the crowd roaring even louder.
"Out of all the performances I've done in my career, I've never done that before," he said, "especially in uniform. There was just so much going on that night, and that and the high note were the only outlet I had."
Holliday, 46, is a technical sergeant, active guard and reserve, with the 934th Security Forces Squadron in Minneapolis. He was born in Texas and raised in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the states. During his military career, he's been deployed in the Mideast and also stationed in Texas and Florida. He's a jazz musician accomplished on trumpet -- his primary horn, he says, is a custom-made Marcinkiewicz "Excalibur" -- on flugelhorn and on saxophone. He plays regularly at major military ceremonies and events. He's played before events for the Florida Marlins, Miami Heat and NASCAR, as well as at major jazz festivals.
He's been stationed in Minnesota since May. He got a call from the Vikings last Thursday inviting him to play the National Anthem after the originally scheduled performer had to cancel when the NFL changed Sunday's game against the New York Giants from afternoon to evening.
"Christmas Eve, I get the call. I'm at Gander Mountain with my wife, so you know how that's going," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, yeah, I can do it.' "
There were a number of reasons his emotions were high Sunday night, he said, including the recent loss of Security Forces defenders and OSI agents in Afghanistan. In addition, colleagues from his unit, including senior leadership, had joined him on the field.
As his energetic performance of the anthem wound up, he raised one hand to the crowd. "I don't ever raise my hand when I play," he said. "You've got to hold your trumpet." But this time, he did, he said, as a patriotic symbol, "representing one nation under God."
Then, as the song ended, "when I finally opened my eyes and heard the crowd ... wow."
His high G that night was high, but he can go higher.
"I can go to double E," he said. "I think I've hit a double F; I have to check the video."
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