College football traditions run the gamut from sacred to crazy
When I tuned into the Rose Bowl, I wanted to watch Urban Meyer lead the Buckeyes onto the field one last time. It is tradition at many colleges for the head coach to be the first one out of the tunnel.
While I was wondering what was running through his head, I also wondered about the concept of college football traditions. So I did a little research on the subject and I found a treasure trove of information. You will likely be familiar with some of these long running practices, maybe not so much with others.
Since it was the Buckeyes entrance in Pasadena that was the impetus for this column, let’s begin with the traditions of taking the field.
GEORGIA TECH. The Yellow Jackets are led onto the field by a gold and white 1930 Ford Model A Sports Coupe known as the Rambling Wreck. With cheerleaders riding in and perched on the running boards of the classic car, this tradition truly gets fans revved up.
OKLAHOMA. Horses named “Boomer and Sooner” pulling a Conestoga wagon race onto the playing surface in Norman. The team is handled by the RUF/NEKS, an all-male pep squad. I once saw the wagon roll over as the horses turned after sprinting down the field. Fortunately no one was hurt.
NOTRE DAME. Many teams run out through tunnels made by their marching bands, but in South Bend the band is actually led onto the field by a group called the Irish Guards. If you are willing to wear a kilt this might be for you.
To get in this elite group however there are a few requirements. You must be male and at tryouts they have one of those amusement park signs that tell you how tall you must be to participate. If you are not 6-foot-2, forget about it!
CLEMSON. Howard’s Rock sits at the top of a hill at one end of the stadium. In 1960 then-head coach Frank Howard was given the rock by a friend as a good luck charm. It sat in his office for a while, but soon was relocated to the hill that leads to the playing field. Players rub the rock before sprinting down the hill to take the field. If it was me, I would rub Howard’s Rock wishing not to get hurt as I hurtled down the slope!
Live mascots are a part of many university football programs. If you watched the Sugar Bowl you likely saw Bevo, the Texas Longhorn, charge at Uga, the Georgia Bulldog. Bevo didn’t reach the pooch, but a lady did go airborne. Gives a little different meaning to “Hook ‘Em Horns,” don’t you think?
YALE. With all due respect to Uga, many would argue that Yale’s bulldog, Handsome Dan, is really more famous. The live bulldog mascot dates back to 1889 in New Haven. There have been 16 live bulldogs patrol the sidelines at Yale over the years.
I’m not sure about the name, though. I love dogs, but bulldogs aren’t the cutest of canines.
USC. In 1961 the Trojans settled on their current mascot Traveler. The pure white horse is ridden onto the field by a Trojan warrior. The beautiful steed was spotted in the Rose Bowl Parade and was chosen as the mascot to replace a series of dogs all called George Tirebiter. I can’t make that up!
FLORIDA STATE. The Seminoles have a horse named Renegade ridden by Osceola, a famed chief of the tribe. Carrying a flaming spear, Osceola plants it at midfield and the Florida State faithful go wild.
I seem to remember Baker Mayfield try to do something similar in the Shoe, with a flag and without a horse, of course!
GEORGIA. Since 1956 an English bulldog named Uga has worn a Georgia sweater while sitting on a bag of ice in his custom doghouse between the hedges in Athens. When one Uga retires he “passes the bone” to the next one in an elaborate pre-game ceremony.
COLORADO. Here’s one that fits both categories. Beginning in 1967 a live buffalo named Ralphie –being held on to by handlers — charges on to the field in Boulder. This seems a bit scary to me, but no on field incidents have been reported.
However, Ralphie was once kidnapped by the Air Force Academy and he was elected homecoming queen by Colorado’s student body!
Here’s a few more. To attract TV to come to Pullman for a Washington State football game, fans kept waving a WSU flag on College Gameday. Eventually they got their wish, but now it has become a tradition to see their flag on TV. So someone will take the flag to each broadcast wherever in the country that may be.
The Seattle Seahawks did not invent the 12th Man as it likes to call its fans. That distinction goes to Texas A&M which started it by asking a basketball player to suit up just in case as the Aggie football teams numbers were low. He was the only player left on the sidelines by the end of the game.
One unique feature of the 12th Man at A&M is that the student body stands for the entire game. That makes me tired just thinking about it.
ARMY-NAVY. The game between the two service academies is a tradition in and of itself, but one part is very interesting. At the start of the game the two schools’ students march into the stadium. At midfield they have what has been dubbed as a prisoner swap.
A cadet had spent the previous semester in Annapolis and a midshipman did the same at West Point. The “exchange” signals the students return to their respective campuses.
There are more and here’s a tease: Do you know which university has painted its visiting locker room pink to take the fight out of its opponents? If you do, you are one serious fan of college football. If not …
I’ll let you know next week.
Al Stephenson is a sports columnist for The A-T.
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