Tradition, tradition, tradition
When folks ask me about my passion for College ball, usually the first question I am asked is what’s the attraction?
I guess there are many reasons but almost certainly the biggest reason for me is the sheer diversity of culture and the rivalries which manifests in one major way……tradition.
College ball has been played in the US since the 1860’s making the NFL the young pup of football. With over 150 years behind them, rivalries and traditions have built over a long time. I can’t do these justice in print, so I urge you to Youtube some of these or even better go see it in person. There are so many I can’t cover them all but here are my highlights….
Much like soccer and far less like NFL, the fans are integral to the game in College. Mostly this is because the majority of the crowd (but not all) is made up of students.
It is far more of a social scene. It is the weekend.
So, no surprise that the good ol’ singalong features much on gameday. Most songs originate via the student sections which means that there is no shortage of imagination.
Penn state. The Nittany Lions play at Beaver Stadium in front of 106,000 fans very other Saturday. Once per season the stadium holds its White Out, where everyone dresses head to toe in white. During the 4th quarter Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline becomes a mass karaoke of epic proportions.
Wisconsin. OK, full disclosure this is my favourite. It’s clearly not 100’s of years old but when the whole crowd at Camp Randall in Madison, Wisconsin sings along to House of Pain’s Jump around and jumps (jump, jump. jump) it’s as cool an experience as there is in sports.
Virgina Tech. This is one that gives you goosebumps on goosebumps. The walk from the Hokies locker room to the field is long. Very long. The fans get to see the team exit the locker room on the Jumbotron whilst simultaneously the PA starts to play the opening chords of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. By the time the Hokies (eventually) make it onto the field the stadium is a rockin’. This is one where I feel sorry for the opposition. It takes so long to get on to the field and the build-up so raucous even the hardest of hard ass’s will be quaking in their cleats.
Southern Carolina Sandstorm. This is a relatively new tradition. Sandstorm starts, the student section produces their white towels and madness ensues. Google it and tell me you wouldn’t want to be a part of that.
West Virgina Country Roads. So far we’ve talked Metallica, House of Pain and even some Finnish trance (didn’t think you would read that on a sports blog did you!). But 60,000 Mountaineers singing “take me home, to the place I belong, country roads, West Virgina”. Is surely the finest and only place to sing John Denver’s country classic en masse.
Animals, like Fight songs feature with an alarming frequency in FBS.
The Oregon Duck. The Duck mascot bears an uncanny resemblance to the world’s most famous Duck, Donald. This is no coincidence. The only place that any character is licensed by Disney to a third party is Oregon. Therefore, the mascot’s name is in fact Donald. Oh, and Donald rides a motor bike, a jet ski and parachutes. He is the King of Ducks.
Auburn. The Tiger’s battle cry is somewhat confusingly War Eagle. At the start of games, a Golden eagle is let loose on the crowd flying just above fans heads until it returns to its owner on the centre spot. Much screaming and whooping leads to one of the coolest and scariest pre-game traditions.
North Dakota state. The first but not the last time that a Bison or Buffalo features on this page. Eagles fans amongst you know that Carson Wentz played his college football at the Fargo Dome (is there a better name for a stadium in the whole of sports?). Fargo is North. So North they speak Canadian. And it’s cold. So, a bison for a mascot seems just about right. Despite not being a Division One team, College Gameday, ESPN’s pre game show made its first visit to Fargo in 2013. It was such a success they returned the following year where the programme’s legendary pundit Lee Corso had the newest addition to the Bison family a “little” bison calf named Corso after him.
Just Plain ol’ crazy
Colorado. OK, this should come under the “Animals” section but anyone who tries to take a full size Bison on a trot around the stadium needs some serious questions asked. When Ralphie the Buffalo is let loose she (yes Ralphie is a lady) needs five handlers to escort her around the horse shoe course that she runs at the start of each half. Although its Ralphie that does the escorting which has on occasion resembled something akin to the keystone cops meets rodeo clowns meets the Pamplona bull run. Now that’s entertainment.
Oklahoma Sooners. The Sooner Schooner is a covered wagon which careers around the field post any home score. Careering doesn’t do it justice. It’s like a rally car on 4 large wagon wheels steered by two very large horses. Until the 1980’s it was customary for the driver to stand all the way around until the very moment that the Schooner goes back in to the tunnel, ducking at the last minute to the gasp of the crowd. Thankfully sense and health & safety has since prevailed, and the threat of a decapitated driver is no longer likely. Phew. In 1985 the Schooner was the subject of an unsportsmanlike penalty but that is a story for another time.
Toomer’s corner, Auburn. We are talking about students here, but whoever thought about throwing a loo roll at an old oak tree (as opposed to the more traditional yellow ribbon) following an Auburn win had something special in their lemonade that day. And one led to hundreds of loo rolls. Like a giant confetti laden tree. A ticker tape parade all of its own. Since then, Toomer’s corner has been the centre of post game celebrations in Auburn. Aside from 2011 that is. In 2011 the Old Oak Tree was poisoned and as a result an Alabama fan (arch rivals of the Tigers) was imprisoned. Yes, Alabama is one crazy place. A new tree was planted and the old tradition reinstated. I visited Auburn in 2015 and missed the celebration. I was strangely disappointed not to see a single loo roll thrown in anger. But go to Toomer’s drug store on the corner and they will talk all day about it.
Mississippi State. To me the worst tradition you can imagine on the best named campus, Stark-Vegas. Cow bells and thousands of them. Think the South African World cup and those damn vuvuzelas on steroids. How anyone can think during that racket. Oh wait. That’s the point.
Clemson. Howard’s Rock was brought to Death Valley, South Carolina from Death Valley, California. The players touch Howard’s Rock for good luck at the start of each game. Then, somewhat frighteningly the players, in cleats, run down a 45 degree slope to get to the pitch. I have watched this happen in pouring rain and marvel as to how a broken ankle hasn’t yet happened.
Tallahassee Flaming Spear. Where else but Tallahassee, Florida do you get to see a native American (as approved by the Seminole people) on the back of a speckled pony drive a flaming spear in to the centre spot. I mean c’mon, which self-respecting football programme wouldn’t want this.
New versus the Old
Iowa. Probably the youngest but perhaps the best and easily the most lump in throat tradition now happens at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa. In 2017, the University opened the Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital right across the road from the Kinnick Stadium. Last season the team wanted to include the kids staying at the hospital on gameday. So, for each game the kids go to the top floor of the hospital to watch the game (best seats in the house). At the end of the first quarter the team and 70,000 fans turn towards the hospital and wave to the kids. The kids wave back. During night games the crowd wave their cell phones. This is special.
Army v Navy. One of the oldest traditions. The crowd is made up of Army and Navy recruits from their respective academies. Dressed in their finest regalia. At the end both teams retreat (if that is the right word) to their fans end of the pitch to sing their respective fight songs. Winners honour of course.
Oxford, Mississippi. I need to mention the Grove in Oxford. It may be the best tail gate in the US. But not your ordinary tail-gate. Oh no. Think Gone with the Wind meets football. Men and Boys in bow ties and Women and Girls in evening wear. Eating finger lickin’ chicken and drinkin’ beer. It is a sight to behold. But it’s Down South y’all.
One week to kick off. I can hardly wait for golden eagles, loo rolls, bow ties and some John Denver. Can you?
Photo credit : the sports fan journal