In Appreciation of ‘DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN WIN THIS FIGHT TONIGHT?!’
Originally published via Sports Illustrated, by Daniel Rapaport
If you’re a fan of college football, or if you happen to watch ESPN with any regularity, chances are you’ve watched one of the network’s ads for the Saturday night prime-time games each weekend of this season. While the commercials change weekly to reflect the games they’re promoting, there has been one beautiful constant throughout the season: “Walk on Water,” by Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Thirty Seconds to Mars, fronted by Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto, is no stranger to the world of sports broadcast bumper music: the band’s 2009 single “Kings and Queens” remains a staple of ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage. “Walk on Water”, the band’s first new release in four years (a new album is on the way later in 2017), is pleasant enough, and the video for it is actually well worth your time — it’s an eclectic montage of America-stuff (think: rollerblading, oil drills, campfires), the entirety of which was shot on July 4, 2017.
The song is almost comically epic, so much so that you can’t just listen to “Walk on Water” while traipsing through your daily routine. You’ll find yourself slaying a solo on the air guitar or rehearsing a pump-up speech to your non-existent team. The song is best enjoyed when paired with other stimuli of equal vitality, like the music video or the commercials. The promos and this song need each other; together they form a ubiquitous commercial descended from adrenaline heaven.
The key to a harmonious commercial-song pair is making sure the song matches the overall vibe of the commercial. The NBA nailed this in 2009 when it used Kanye West’s “Amazing” as the soundtrack for a playoff promo. The league was running with “Where Amazing Happens” as a slogan, and the song’s down-tempo style made it a perfect fit for the slow-motion heavy commercial. (Quick side note here — that song will always hold a special place in my heart for no other reason than this Young Jeezy gem: “Standing at my podium/I’m tryna watch my sodium.” Me too, Jeezy. Me too.)
When executed properly, there are few things better than a sports commercial with the perfect song.
Back to “Walk on Water,” and what makes it ideal for a college foootball commercial — there’s an “oooohhhh” part to the chorus that is irresistibly sing-along-able. Crucially, there are no annoying high notes that sound fine upon first listen but become painful with repetition — this was the fatal flaw for Fall Out Boy’s 2014 hit “Centuries,” a perfectly good song that sports promos destroyed. But the part of “Walk on Water” that elevates it to all-time football commercial companion status is the battle cry:
“DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN WIN THIS FIGHT TONIGHT?!”
When that commercial graces my television on an otherwise mundane Wednesday, I’m ready. I’m not sure exactly what I’m ready for — I’ve never played a down of tackle football in my life — but I’m definitely ready. “Walk on Water” feels like a motivational plea to the underdog, a reminder that belief is the requisite first step toward an upset. In a romanticized alternate universe, the key to Syracuse’s upset of Clemson was quarterback Eric Dungey seeing the commercial midweek. It simply sparked that belief.
The singability, the aggression, the inspiration, it all combines to produce absolutely electric commercials. We’re nine weeks into the season, so there’s still a bit of time for this song and these commercials to get really old. The fact that they haven’t yet is remarkable. If we’re going to be stuck with one song for the entirety of a sports season — which we are, every year — let’s be grateful it’s as fitting as “Walk on Water.”