The march toward musical empire began on Oct. 22, 2003, in a bar in Milan, Italy, 4,300 miles away from Detroit. Fans of Club Brugge K.V., in town for their team’s group-stage UEFA Champions League clash against European giant A.C. Milan, gathered to knock back some pre-match beers. Over a stereo blared seven notes: Da…da-DA-da da DAAH DAAH, the signature riff of a minor American hit song.
By normal pop-music expectations, the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” had already passed its peak. Released in March of that year, the single reached No. 1 on Billboard’s alternative rock chart in early July, stayed there for three weeks, then had begun to fade out. But the members of the Blue Army, a Brugge supporters group, liked what they were hearing and began to sing along. “It’s a very catchy tune,” Blue Army spokesman Geert De Cang wrote in an email.
Eight years later, the riff-turned-anthem is ubiquitous and seemingly inevitable, an organic part of global sports culture. On Thanksgiving night, 71,000 fans at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore chanted the riff in unison. You’ll likely hear it again when the Ravens host the Texans on Sunday, in the background of the broadcast.