Sports

Tim Tessalone and Art Bartner are nothing alike. They also have plenty in common

Despite strikingly different personalities, the commonalities between the two USC luminaries run deep.

A photo of former Trojan Marching Band director Art Bartner yelling on the left, and former Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone smiling and giving the victory sign on the right.

Tim Tessalone and Art Bartner are nothing alike.

About 15 minutes before kickoff of a USC football game, Tessalone, USC’s longtime Sports Information Director until his retirement on New Year’s Day 2022, is locked in. A pen sits nestled between his right ear and his temple; a folded notecard is tucked away in his back pocket. Tessalone is either strolling down the hallway, attending to one media housekeeping task or another, or he’s taken his seat already, jotting down pregame notes or whatever the case may be. The press box — the place he resides over, in a sense — is silent but for a few scattered low murmurs and the clacking of reporters’ fingers on laptop keyboards.

Down on the field, Bartner, the director of the Trojan Marching Band until his retirement on New Year’s Day exactly a year before Tessalone’s, is locked in as well, but in a completely different fashion. High atop the ladder from which he leads his band through the pregame show, Bartner seems, as he once put it, possessed. He’s blowing his whistle at decibels that seem almost impossible to accomplish with such an instrument; yelling at volumes that might contend with the roar of the home crowd after a touchdown; piercing the air with frantically waving arms in a manner that commands the immediate and unwavering attention of everyone in the stadium.

Each image is the other’s polar opposite: expressionless focus versus boundless energy, collection and seriousness vs. exuberance and release. Anyone who’s spent time in either the press box or the band knows which category they must fall into, and everyone else can safely imagine. Bring band behavior to the press box, and Tessalone will rightly get on you. Bring press box conduct to the band, and Bartner will rightly do the same.

The two assume directly contrasting personalities in their respective workplaces, and it’s evident in their everyday demeanor as well.

Tim Tessalone and Art Bartner are nothing alike.

Or, perhaps, the similarities transcend what meets the eye.

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There’s a degree of irony to those juxtaposing images.

“We were very much the opposite,” Bartner said. “You know my character and my flamboyancy. Tim was always reserved, but always had a smile on his face. Always had a very warm greeting.”

It’s a greeting that became regular between the two over the years, with Tessalone working in USC’s athletic department since 1979 and Bartner heading the band since 1970. The two would often cross paths and stop to catch up after their respective practices each day — band practice for Bartner, coordinating interviews at football practice for Tessalone.

Not before some yelling, though — from one of them. Lots of yelling.

“That’s what I always remember, is walking out to practice every day — and walking back in afterwards, because they were still going, they practiced longer than our team practiced — and just hearing [Bartner] at the top of his lungs and wondering how he had a voice still,” Tessalone said. “It wasn’t quiet stuff.”

Tessalone said it’s that passion that defined Bartner’s tenure as head honcho of the Trojan Marching Band. The athletic department is often referred to as the “front porch” of the University, but the longtime SID said that descriptor applies just as much to the Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe (Ever). With frequent appearances at weddings, graduations, retirements, even funerals; inviting celebrity guests to lead the band (Will Ferrell dressed as Tommy Trojan is an image that sticks out); and using its vibrancy to align itself with the culture of Los Angeles, as Tessalone put it, the group digs its heels into its “Hollywood’s Band” namesake.

“I think all of us, myself included, learned lessons from that,” Tessalone said. “I certainly did. The importance of that connectivity, if you will, for Athletics and the Trojan Family, for the band and the Trojan Family, the passion that he had in leading that band — that rubbed off on all of us.”

But the admiration Tessalone has for Bartner is far from unreciprocated. Because while the latter certainly did his part in riling up the fanbase, if there’s anyone who knows how to promote USC athletics — be it football or anything else — from a press standpoint, it’s Tim Tessalone.

“Anything else” is an intentionally broad phrase that surely includes the band. Bartner would drop into the sports information office throughout the years to talk with Tessalone or his staff (“He’s always really busy,” Bartner said) or ask them to promote an upcoming band event, and the requests were always cordially received.

Tessalone would check in with Bartner when their paths crossed and ask how he and the band were doing. But when prompted about his favorite Tessalone stories, Bartner found himself searching, “because he really behaved himself” — a characteristic which is necessary for someone in his outward-facing position, especially at USC.

“He always represented the University and, in particular, the athletic department, with the utmost esteem and utmost reverence, if you will,” Bartner said of Tessalone. “And I respected that. And I think everybody did. You talk to anybody on campus, I think everybody did.”

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Bartner walks into an appliance store on Sepulveda Boulevard in Torrance, Los Angeles County. The year is 1970. Bartner has just moved to L.A. from Michigan, and his new apartment is lacking some essentials. Among them: a television set.

Bartner walks around the store, perusing the various candidates, and greets the store’s owner. Seeking a deal (he later said he didn’t have much money at the time), Bartner figures it might play in his favor to tell the owner who he is: “the new — brand spankin’ new — USC band director.”

As it turns out, the owner is a USC fan himself, so he and Bartner begin chit-chatting about the University. The owner tells the brand spankin’ new band director about his son, also a Trojan fan, who’s hoping to attend USC in the near future.

The son’s name?

Tim.

Before Bartner leaves, Mike Tessalone, described as a handsome, articulate man with a “good shpiel,” sells him a new TV.

“I mean, it’s a crazy story,” Bartner reflected on his first encounter with the Tessalone family. “Obviously, Tim got a lot of his traits from him.”

________

Nobody plans to do anything for 50 years, Bartner says. “I think that’s crazy.” But fast-forward half a century plus change, and the appliance store owner’s son, along with the brand spankin’ new band director who bought a new TV for his new apartment, have become well-renowned within their respective fields, on converging timelines, at the same university.

“He was always kind of a larger-than-life presence in my eyes. Still is,” Tessalone said. “Art’s kind of a one-word guy, a one-name guy, like Magic or Kobe or that sort of thing. When you say ‘Dr. Bartner,’ everybody knows who you’re talking about. You don’t have to explain it … He is an icon not only in his field but I think in USC and in Los Angeles and in college athletics. There’s only one Art Bartner. There never will be another one. Believe me.”

“The USC band is highly held in acclaim in this country,” Bartner conceded, “but I think that Tim has the same respect by other PR, sports information people throughout the country. I know he has it in the Pac-12. And he has it in the Big Ten for the Rose Bowl and the other bowl games, and of course back at Notre Dame. Maybe the same way myself and the band is held in high esteem, I think Tim is also considered one of the top guys, sports information guys in the country … I have tremendous respect for what he’s accomplished all these years.”

But despite those undeniable similarities, it remains at least somewhat amusing to contextualize them within the figures’ personalities. Bartner is the epitome of unfettered animation; Tessalone the posterboy of businesslike composure. It’s perfectly suitable for the roles they each possessed over so many decades, but it nonetheless makes the parallels — and the friendship — that much more noteworthy.

“We both really care about the University and did our best to always keep the University in the best light possible,” Tessalone said, insisting that the similarities end there and that he “doesn’t hold a candle” to what Bartner means to USC. (He’s not one to give himself much credit.) “Our goals and objectives were always aligned and the same … He got it.”

“I just think it’s kind of opposites attract, maybe. You know?” Bartner offered. “Because we’re very much a different personality, but I think the results are the same. And I think our goals are the same … We just have different ways to promote it.”

They indeed have very different ways to promote it, but the common thread is their passion for USC. So though they occupied different realms at the University, maybe no one could understand Tessalone’s position better than Bartner — and vice versa.

“When our paths crossed, whether before a game, after a game — you know how you can feel that there’s this mutual respect?” Bartner said. “You don’t have to state it. But it was just there.”

So when Tessalone calls it a career on New Year’s Day, it won’t just mark the end of a historic tenure as the figurehead of USC Athletics for the past four-ish decades. It’ll also mark the second departure by an institution central to USC in as many years.

Perhaps, then, Tim Tessalone and Art Bartner have plenty in common.