Emo has always felt anchored in an idealized high school world of school dances, locker love notes, and football games—or, at least, making out under the bleachers during one. Mainstream emo seemed to occupy the space at the end of summer, the last week before going back to school or leaving for college, filled with broken promises, unrequited love, and fear of the unknown. With a recurring theme of nostalgia at play, it’s no surprise that an all-American varsity sport like football would be rife in music that often represents adolescent sentiment.
Starting with the arrival of Champaign, Illinois group American Football, emo boasts a rich history of bands with football-related names. And while the roots of emo can be traced back to the D.C. hardcore scene of the mid ’80s (which became known as emotional hardcore, or emo-core, with the “core” later dropped), it wasn’t until 1999 that the genre went mainstream. That year also saw the release of American Football’s eponymous full-length as well as the Get Up Kids’ Something to Write Home About, which polished up the sound and brought to it a wholesomeness that made it accessible for teenagers.
With lyrics that felt ripped from adolescent diaries, emo appealed to everyone from the quiet nerds to the popular jocks—they were all team players navigating the emotional battlefield known as high school. Young people across cliques and social groups connected with these vulnerable emo groups that were singing unapologetically about feelings no other genre of bands were willing to display. And let’s not forget, these male voices that fronted emo bands typically stretched to their breaking points, which was always a fine and appropriately strained way to convey their emotions.
Here are five emo bands that really like football.