One afternoon in April, Woody “Oh Goody” Sellers, a 58-year-old part-time DJ, was in a recording studio trying to finish the hook for a song he had been thinking about for three years. He had written most of the words, bought a beat on BeatStars.com and spent several days driving his FedEx delivery truck, radio off, humming, trying to find a stream.
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In the studio, he mumbled “Commanders” over and over again, hoping to find a punchy, catchy phrase to complete the hook. But nothing seemed quite right. Finally, for reasons that still mystify him, he blurted out, “Left hand up!” Who are we? Commanders!
Later, at his home in Capitol Heights, he played the demo for his wife, Chaquita. She asked why he said “left hand up”. After all, most people are right-handed.
Early on, Woody and his nephew, Wayne Sellers, a 25-year-old security guard who sings in the third verse, promoted the song on their personal social media profiles. Slowly it gained a wider audience and it was mostly mocked. But throughout the fall, the sentiment changed. Clips of the music video they made have gone viral. Talk show hosts praised the melody for hundreds of thousands of viewers. The Wizards DJ spun it around Capital One Arena. A company created “Left Hand Up” t-shirts for $28 each. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke raised his left hand during an interview. Ahead of a game earlier this month, sellers heeled at FedEx Field, and many streaming fans had visceral reactions to the song, shooting their left hands in the air or rushing to take selfies.
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The reception amazed the Sellers. Normally Woody’s YouTube posts get around 100 views. The video for “Commanders Song” recently surpassed 107,000.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Woody said. “Where are we at right now, I had no idea. … It’s, like, so amazing. It’s a once in a lifetime thing. »
During the meteoric rise, the Sellers said, their dream was for the team they’ve loved all their lives to play their song at FedEx Field. Recently, the Commanders invited them to perform it in their next home game, November 27 against Atlanta.
The vendors will be there. Wayne plans to take a day off from his seasonal job as a lobby security guard at FedEx Field.
“We have finished crossing”
Vendors represent an important part of the Commanders fanbase that has survived the past 20 years: the DMV’s black community. Their track taps into the nostalgia that has nurtured many fans, but it’s more than a requiem. It provides cross-generational connective tissue to a franchise that keeps telling fans that, despite its new name, it’s not an expansion team.
The anthem never mentions beleaguered team owner Daniel Snyder, and its sole purpose is, as Woody sings, to “tell you something about good fans.” The result is the first popular element of the local commanders’ culture.
The rappers bridge the rich heritage and the complicated present with symbolic verses. Woody raps with a rhyming, end-to-end style that engages the popular crowd in the glory days he references of the Hogs, John Riggins, Doug Williams and Joe Gibbs. Wayne is a breathy, modern autotune, and though he does name check his childhood hopefuls, Santana Moss and Albert Haynesworth, his era’s desire for success is palpable in the lines: “You know what I want: the Super Bowl on my mind. We have three rings, but I think we need nine.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I wanted it to be,'” Woody said with a laugh. “It’s just because it’s my time, it’s my era. I remember the Super Bowl where [Doug Williams threw four touchdowns].” He stopped, lost in the memory of watching the match with his brother, the father of Wayne, who was shot and killed in 1999. He continued: “I’m choking because it was such a good sensation.”
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At the end of July, the Sellers recorded their music video. They rented the Glow Bar/Nexxt Gen Event Center in Clinton, hired a photographer and videographer, and invited about 50 family and friends. Woody asked the crowd to join him when he rapped, “Raise your left hand!” and “We want Dallas!” He posted the video on YouTube on August 3.
For the first few weeks, Woody estimated that the video received one like for every 10 dislikes. Cowboys fans led the clown, but Commanders fans joined in. Some comments were particularly nasty, but Sellers said they didn’t mind.
“I loved it,” Wayne said. “A troll will draw eyes to the song.”
After Washington’s Week 1 victory, Woody said, the tone of the comments began to change. Every week there were more views and more fans. On October 4, after a bad loss to Dallas, former NFL punter Pat McAfee played the song on his popular YouTube show, which has more than 2 million subscribers. Three studio producers sang while raising their left hands.
Woody’s phone started to explode.
“I said, ‘Oh, that could be big,'” Woody recalled. “When I watched that, and saw the guys in the background singing the words, I was like, ‘Oh my God. “”
Within days, the video hit 20,000 views, then 30,000, then 40,000. Woody’s Apple Music artist profile showed listeners in Switzerland and the Bahamas. He noticed that the new fans were not overwhelmingly black, as they had been in the beginning.
“I noticed the people who really liked him were Caucasian,” Woody remarked. “I said, ‘We’re done crossing.'”
The following month, the Commanders went on a three-game winning streak, and Snyder announced he was considering selling the team. The fans seemed full of energy and the Sellers’ anthem had found the right audience at the right time. Comments poured in, and a few noted that while they hated the name “Commanders” at first, the song warmed them up.
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Eric Sollenberger, a longtime Commanders fan better known as the PFT Commenter on Twitter, suspects there are two other reasons the song exploded. Its organic origins stand in contrast to the manufactured culture the organization has pushed for years – reflected even in the name Commanders – and the criticism the song received early on galvanized a suddenly optimistic fan base.
Over the past few weeks, Sollenberger, who has nearly a million subscribers, has become arguably the song’s most high-profile online champion. He regularly touts the good news by tweeting photos of celebrities and historical figures, from Jesus Christ to George Washington to Miley Cyrus with his left hand raised.
“I never imagined there was another level”
No matter what happens next, the Sellers said the song has already given them more than they bargained for. And in a way, it’s the culmination of almost 40 years of practice.
In 1983, Woody was in the army at Fort Hood in Texas when he met a soldier who was still DJing in his room. He loved to listen, loved the art of the turntables, and when he met another DJ while deployed in Germany, he decided to learn to play on his own.
In the late 80s, Woody bought a small set. It took him about eight hours to figure out how to hook everything up. Over the next decade, hip-hop grew, and when he watched music videos, he looked beyond rappers to turntables. In 1998, he decided to try professional DJing and went to the pawnshop to buy better equipment. He trained hard for about a year, bombed the first gig, and kept touring. Over the years, he has carved out a side business, organizing parties and weddings.
“It’s not even about the money,” Woody said. “Just looking over there, and I got control of 100 people or 200 people or 150 people or 30 people. … It’s very rewarding for me, just to see people enjoying music. And then to receive compliments: ‘Do you have a business card?’ Or, ‘We had such a good time.’ I love it, I just love it.
In 2019, Wayne had recently returned from college in Arizona, and Woody thought he seemed a bit adrift. Wayne worked as a bouncer and at Costco and as a security guard, spending his free time in the studio, rapping, and Woody proposed that they do a song together. They put their plans on hold for the Washington Football Team’s two seasons, then resumed in the spring of 2022. What happened next, Wayne could only describe as “God’s plan.”
“I never imagined there was another level of this,” Woody said. “I was so happy with where I was. I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
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At the Commanders facility, coach Ron Rivera said he had never heard the song. Running back Antonio Gibson said he heard from a teammate that “it sucks.” Receiver Terry McLaurin said he had seen social media posts from “both guys” but was only vaguely familiar with the song, although he was aware that it included the phrase “Left hand whatever thing”.
“That b—- going strong,” said safety Kam Curl, approvingly, and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste nodded. Curl pointed out that the song was “much” better than the one a group of fans used on rebranding day, which replaced “Commanders” in the Farmers Insurance jingle. Recently, when left tackle Charles Leno Jr.’s wife showed him the song, he laughed.
“It’s corny, but I love it,” he said. “Left hand up!”