INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Tonight’s College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T (7:30 ET, ESPN) represents the pinnacle of the season.
A game of this magnitude requires an opening for the ages, and ESPN’s Creative Content Unit has delivered just that with an original score from celebrated composer John Williams.
Titled “Of Grit And Glory,” the anthem is “magical, hopeful and powerful,” according to co-director and producer Martin Khodabakhshian.
“‘Star Wars,’ ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Indiana Jones’ . . . John Williams is a genius,” Khodabakhshian said. “On the cusp of the release of ‘Indiana Jones 5,’ he wrote us an original composition, and it’s a big score. It’s like he took the best pieces of all his scores and did something special for ESPN.
“We’re going to try to make some people cry at the end of this thing. I can’t oversell it. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. [This process] was one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had and a highlight of my career.”
Khodabakhshian dreamed up the concept with game producer Bill Bonnell and co-director and editor Mike Sciallis of Victory Pictures. Khodabakhshian and Sciallis wrote Williams what they described as a “love letter,” expressing their adoration for Williams’s influence through movies and sports.
The legendary composer received the letter and was moved to write the score. The piece features a 96-piece orchestra; the musicians got the call six days before recording and – in less than three hours on Dec. 21 – saw the music for the first time, did a couple of run-throughs, and then recorded it for the tease.
ESPN’s camera crew captured the recording session of this extraordinary composition created for the night of college football’s biggest game.
“You trust that it’s John Williams, so what he’s written we’re going to love,” said ESPN Vice President of Production Julie McGlone, who oversees the Creative Content Unit and The SportsCenter Enhancement Unit. “It was the best musicians in the industry and a fascinating exercise to watch it unfold.”
The anthem features one of the greatest legends in music paired with some of college football’s greatest legends, as Tony Dorsett, Vince Young, Tommie Frazier, Peter Warrick, and Tim Tebow – now an ESPN/SEC Network college football analyst – give voice to their myth-making championship moments and what made their trophy-winning nights so extraordinary.
Williams, who is now 90, maintains the distinction of being the record holder for the most Oscar nominations for a living person (52) and ranks only behind Walt Disney (59) as the most-nominated person in Academy Awards history.
“Intercollegiate football has been at the heart and soul of our nation’s life for so long, that the opportunity to musically salute this great tradition has been a particularly meaningful joy for me,” Williams shared exclusively with Variety.
“I was thrilled and excited when ESPN suggested that I write a theme for the January 9th championship game. The games themselves always raise the collective spirit, and in the end, the competition brings us all closer to a place where the concept of winners and losers dissolves into mutual respect and admiration. The invitation to write this music constitutes a great honor for me, and I feel especially privileged to make a small contribution to one of our country’s most treasured traditions.”
“John Williams doesn’t miss,” Khodabakhshian gushed. “When you initially hear [the score], you’re like, ‘Holy crap, I was not expecting that for college football, a championship game.'”