In the studio, he mumbled “Commanders” over and over, hoping to find a snappy, catchy line to complete the hook. But nothing seemed quite right. For reasons that still puzzle him, he finally blurted out, “Left hand up! Who are we? The commanders!”
Later, at home in Capitol Heights, he played the demo to his wife Chaquita. She asked why he had said “left hand up.” After all, most people are right-handed.
“I don’t know,” Woody said for the first of many times.
Early on, Woody and his cousin 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 got a wider audience and it was mainly laughed at. But during the fall, sentiment changed. Clips from the music video they made went viral. Talk show hosts praised the tune in front of hundreds of thousands of audiences. The Wizards’ DJ played it at the Capital One Arena. A company made “Left Hand Up” T-shirts for $28 each. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke raised his left hand during an interview. Ahead of a game this month, the Sellerses followed FedEx Field, and many of the fans streaming past had visceral reactions to the song, throwing their left hands in the air or running over to take selfies.
The reception left the Sellers speechless. Normally, Woody’s posts on YouTube are viewed about 100 times. The video for “Commanders Song” recently passed 107,000.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Woody said. “Where we are now, I had no idea. … This is so great. It’s something you only experience once in your life.”
During the meteoric rise, the Sellersen said, it was their dream that the team they’ve loved all their lives would play their song at FedEx Field. Recently, the Commanders invited them to perform it at their next home game, Nov. 27 against Atlanta.
The Sellerses will be there. Wayne plans to take a day off from his seasonal job as a janitor security guard at FedEx Field.
‘We have crossed’
The Sellerses represent a significant portion of the Commanders fan base that has survived the past 20 years: the black community in the area. Their song taps into the nostalgia that has carried many fans, but it’s more than a requiem. It provides intergenerational connective tissue for a franchise that has told fans over and over that, despite the new nameit is not an expansion team.
The anthem never mentions embattled team owner Daniel Snyder, and its sole purpose, as Woody sings, is to “tell you about some good fans.” The result is the first popular slice of grassroots Commanders culture.
The rappers bridge the rich heritage and the complicated present with symbolic verses. Woody raps with an end rhyme, crowd-pleasing style that was popular in the heyday when he referenced the Hogs, John Riggins, Doug Williams, and Joe Gibbs. Wayne is all modern, breathing autotune, and while he names the great hopes of his youth, Santana Moss and Albert Haynesworth, the yearning for success in his day is palpable in the lines: “You know what I want: 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 do,'” Woody said with a laugh. “It’s just because that’s my time, that’s my time. I can remember the Super Bowl where [Williams threw for four touchdowns].” He passed away, lost in the memory of watching the game with his brother, Wayne’s father, who was shot and killed in 1999. He continued, “I choked because it was such a good feeling.”
At the end of July, the Sellerses shot their music video. They rented the Glow Bar/Nexxt-Gen Event Center in Clinton, hired a photographer and videographer, and invited about 50 family members and friends. Woody asked the crowd to join in as he rapped, “Left hand up!” and “We want Dallas!” He posted the video to YouTube on Aug. 3.
For the first few weeks, Woody estimated that the video received one like for every 10 dislikes. Cowboys fans led the clowning, but Commanders fans joined in. Some of the comments were particularly mean, but the Sellersen said they didn’t mind.
“I loved it,” said Wayne. “A troll is going to draw attention to the song.”
After Washington won in Week 1, Woody said, the tone of the comments began to change. Every week there were more views and more fans. On October 4, after a tough loss in Dallas, former NFL punter Pat McAfee performed the song on his popular YouTube show, which has over 2 million subscribers. Three producers in the studio sang along, with their left hands raised.
Woody’s phone started to explode.
“I said, ‘Uh-oh, this could be big,'” Woody recalls. “When I saw that and I saw the guys in the background singing the words, I said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ ”
Within days, the video was viewed 20,000 times, 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 predominantly black, as in the beginning.
“I noticed that the people who really liked it were white,” noted Woody. “I said, ‘We’ve crossed over.’ ”
In the following month, the Commanders went on a three-game winning streak, and Snyder announced that he was considering selling the team. Fans seemed energized and Sellers’ anthem had found the right audience at the right time. Reactions poured in and a few commented that while they hated the name ‘Commanders’ at first, the song warmed them to it.
Eric Sollenberger, a lifelong Washington fan known as PFT Commenter on Twitter, suspects there are two other reasons why the number exploded. Its organic origins contrast with the fabricated culture the organization has promoted for years — even reflected in the name Commanders — and the criticism the song received early on excited a suddenly optimistic fan base.
In recent weeks, Sollenberger, who has nearly 1 million followers, has become arguably the song’s biggest online champion. He regularly praises good news by tweeting photos of celebrities and historical figures, from Jesus Christ to George Washington to Miley Cyrus, with their left hands raised.
‘I never thought there was another level’
Whatever happens next, the Sellerses said the song has given them more than they ever expected. And in a way, it’s the culmination of nearly 40 years of practice.
In 1983, Woody was serving in the military at Fort Hood, Texas when he met a soldier who was always DJing in his room. He loved listening and loved the art of the turntables, and when he met another DJ while deployed to Germany, he decided to teach himself how to be one.
In the late 1980s, Woody bought a small set. It took him about eight hours to figure out how to wire everything up. Over the next decade, hip-hop grew, and when he watched music videos, he looked past the rappers to the turntables. In 1998, he decided to become a professional DJ and went to the pawnshop to buy better equipment. He practiced hard for about a year, bombed the first gig and kept spinning. Over the years he has developed a sideline by playing at parties and weddings.
“It’s not even about the money,” Woody said. “I just looked out and I got control over 100 people or 200 people or 150 people or 30 people. … That gives me a lot of satisfaction, just to see people enjoying the music. And then to get the compliments: “Do you have a business card?” Or: “We had such a good time.” I love that. I just love that.”
In 2019, Wayne had recently returned from college in Arizona, and Woody thought he seemed a little out of control. Wayne worked as a bouncer and at Costco and a security guard, while he spent his free time in the studio rapping, and Woody suggested they do a song together. They halted their plans during the Washington Football Team’s two seasons and resumed them in the spring of 2022. What happened next Wayne could only describe as “God’s plan.”
“I never thought there was another level of it,” Woody said. “I was just so happy with where I was. I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
At the commander’s facility, Coach Ron Rivera said he had never heard the song. Running back, Antonio Gibson said he heard from a teammate that “it sucks”. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin said he had seen social media posts from “the two guys” but was only vaguely familiar with the song, though he knew it contained the line “Left hand something”.
“That b—- goes fast,” safety Kam Curl said approvingly, and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste nodded. Curl pointed out that the song was “much” better than a song a group of fans were using the day of the rebrand, which replaced “Commanders” in the Farmers Insurance jingle. Recently, when the wife of Charles Leno Jr. left tackle showed him the song, he laughed.
“It’s cheesy, but I love it,” he said. “Left hand up!”