College Football's 21 Best in-Stadium Traditions
College football is rife with tradition.
No other sport anywhere in the world can match the pomp and pageantry that takes place on a weekly basis on autumn Saturdays here in America.
While each college program has traditions of its own that are held dear, there are a select few that have transcended the confines of their programs to become traditions every football fan recognizes.
Here, we'll take a look at the 21 best traditions that take place in college football stadiums.
We begin our trip towards the best in-stadium college football tradition with our first of two stops in Columbus.
“Carmen Ohio” was written in 1902 by an Ohio State freshman as he traveled back to Columbus from Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines had just beaten Ohio State, 86-0.
Or so the story goes.
The music itself is not original. It is known by many names, including "Spanish Hymn" and "Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Sky."
After gaining popularity about a decade after it was written, it has been sung at the conclusion of every home football game, win or lose.
A discordant rendition of the Westminster Chimes by the Ohio State University Marching Band begins the current version of the song.
Penn State Whiteout
Many teams have tried it, with varying colors and varying success.
But without question, Penn State has the coolest gimmick around when it comes to everyone wearing the same color.
There's nothing quite like you and 105,000 of your closest friends all showing up to a party wearing the exact same thing.
Play Like a Champion Today
As Notre Dame players walk down a flight of stairs from the locker room to the tunnel leading to the field, they pass a sign that reads “Play Like a Champion Today.”
As each Irish player passes, they tap the sign.
Although many people believe the sign has been around for eons (it appeared in the movie Rudy, which was set in the mid-1970s), the truth is that the first sign went up at the request of Lou Holtz—who came to Notre Dame in 1986—and that's where the modern tradition of touching the sign en route to the field begins.
In fact, this ESPN featurette sums up the whole tradition nicely.
Here's a Toast to Dear Old Penn
The Ivy League is home to so many great traditions. One of our favorites is “Here's a toast to dear old Penn.”
Between the third and fourth quarters of home games, Penn fans sing “Drink a Highball.” The final line is, “Here's a toast to dear old Penn.”
As if on cue, the crowd then hurls pieces of toast from the stands onto the field.
Calling the Hogs
No one knows for sure how this tradition got started, but the legend is that a group of farmers in the stands used the hog call in the 1920s to try and encourage the team.
According to the Razorbacks website, the cheer caught on instantly and has been a staple of Arkansas home games ever since.
Duck on a Harley
The Oregon Duck is known for quite a few things, including pushups and beating the tar out of unsuspecting opposing mascots on national television.
But one of the coolest things the Duck does is ride into the stadium on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
You don't get any more tough than that.
The Golden Domers
Notre Dame's golden dome over the Main Administration Building has become a symbol of the university known around the world.
But the football players take the field with their very own version of a golden dome.
Before each game, the helmets are disassembled and repainted. The paint actually contains gold flakes, making the helmets more than just the color gold.
Recently, Notre Dame has returned to a more reflective gold and just like the old days, hard hits are accompanied by a small shower of gold flakes.
Spinning the “S”
The Michigan State Spartan Marching Band is easily one of the greatest marching bands in the nation.
In addition to their great musical skill, the Spartan Marching Band has one of the more intriguing and unique marching formations you'll find anywhere in the nation.
Before each game, as the band plays the break strain of the MSU fight song, the band moves from nine lines into groups of four to eight members, each group making a maximum of four 90-degree turns.
After the third turn, the formation remains a mystery, and doesn't appear to make much sense. It isn't until the fourth and final turn is completed that the familiar Michigan State block “S” appears.
The band then marches down the field in formation, playing the chorus of the fight song.
It's a little hard to call something that's been around for just over a decade a tradition, but “Enter Sandman” is quickly becoming a favorite of football fans who witness it firsthand.
When Virginia Tech installed a new video board at Lane Stadium in 2000, the Metallica song “Enter Sandman” was chosen to accompany the team's entrance.
It was an instant hit and has been used ever since.
Add in one of the noisiest crowds in the nation jumping up and down, and you have yourself one heckuva entrance.
The Tomahawk Chop
When the NCAA embarked on its holier-than-thou, ultra-PC crusade of ridding the college sports world of anything even the most overly sensitive person might object to, it was an attempt to ban such things as nicknames like “Seminoles,” imagery like Chief Osceola and traditions like the Tomahawk Chop.
Indeed, many programs actually were forced to change their mascots, nicknames, fight songs and traditions.
But at Florida State, the NCAA's well-laid plans backfired.
The Seminole tribe of Florida quickly came to the rescue of FSU, stating that the tribe wished Florida State to continue to use its name and maintain its traditions.
Thankfully, through the not-so-thin-skinned-after-all members of the Seminole tribe, the college football world was able to retain this great—and intimidating—tradition in Tallahassee.
Since 1890, the football teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis have met 111 times.
Navy leads the series 55-49-7, thanks in large part to the Midshipmen's recent string of 10 straight victories and winning 13 of the last 15 meetings.
But the greatest tradition of these games has also become one of the great traditions of college football: The Cadet March.
Before the game, the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen enter the stadium in formation and are presented to the crowd along with assembled military and civilian leaders before taking their seats.
Any true red-blooded American watching this amazing scene fights to hold back tears of pride.
The Gator Chomp
The Swamp is a difficult venue for visiting teams under the most benign circumstances.
But Florida Gators fans do their best to make the circumstances anything but benign.
One of the most easily recognizable traditions of any team in the nation is the Gator Chomp.
Simplistic in its execution, this simple gesture speaks volumes to opponents.
The Florida Gators have emerged as an SEC powerhouse and any team who enters the Swamp at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium risks becoming Gator bait.
Notre Dame, Our Mother
The traditions of tradition-rich Notre Dame make a third appearance on our list with one of the great alma maters in college football: “Notre Dame, Our Mother.”
After every game, the players, coaches, band and fans gather in front of the student section to sing the alma mater of the University of Notre Dame. Students and players stand shoulder-to-shoulder with arms around one another and sway rhythmically to this great hymn.
What makes this tradition so special is that during certain rivalry games, particularly against Navy, the opposing team will come and stand respectfully behind the Irish players.
The Irish then reciprocate when the visitors' alma mater is played.
Script Ohio is easily one of the neatest marching band formations in the entire world.
The great Ohio State University Marching Band spells out the word “Ohio” in a floating formation, that ends with the climactic “dotting the I.”
There is one slight problem with Script Ohio that no Buckeyes fan ever wants to acknowledge—it is completely based on a formation performed by the University of Michigan Marching Band three years prior to Ohio State's first usage of it in 1935.
So while it ranks as one of the coolest visual spectacles in the game today, Script Ohio is going to lose of a few points because it's not only copied from something another marching band did, but that marching band just happened to be from Ohio State's biggest rival.
That and the fact that Ohio State forgot the second word of the name of their school—unless the Ohio Bobcats are invited to play.
Georgia Tech is one of only a very small collection of colleges with an anthropomorphic mascot and a mechanical mascot.
In 1926, Dean Floyd Field decided to have his 1914 Ford Model T overhauled by students at Georgia Tech, as it had become a regular sight around campus. In the late 1920s, the old Model T had seen its last miles and Field bought a new Ford Model A.
But it wasn't until 1960 when Dean of Students Jim Dull purchased a classic 1930 Ford Model A that the car became a mascot for the school in an official sense.
The car has been renovated a few times, but it is kept in street-legal working condition by Tech students.
It even has an official Georgia license plate: No. 563 (historic vehicle plate).
This is the pep rally to end all pep rallies.
There's no group of students anywhere in the nation so dedicated to their program as to show up just prior to midnight on Friday night to practice yelling.
But at Texas A&M, it's become a grand tradition.
Perhaps all this practice is what makes Kyle Field the “Home of the 12th Man.”
In the 1960s, Samuel Jones brought a rock to Clemson, South Carolina from Death Valley, California.
The Clemson alumnus gave that rock to head football coach Frank Howard.
Howard was so unmoved by the gift that he asked for it to be discarded after a few years of simply taking up space in his office.
But rather than being thrown away, the rock was placed behind the east end zone at Memorial Stadium. Clemson mounted a legendary 18-point comeback in the next game and the rock become part of Tigers lore.
Today, sitting atop a pedestal, “Howard's Rock” is touched by each player before they run down the hill to take the field.
Camp Randall Stadium is home to one of the best college football crowds in the nation.
Anyone who has spent much time in the state of Wisconsin knows that it can get mighty cold there when the sun goes down in the late fall. Not only have Badgers fans found an innovative way to keep warm, they've also created one of the greatest and most exciting late-game traditions in the entire country.
As the House of Pain song "Jump Around" begins to play, the students begin jumping in unison to the beat.
On the occasions that the entire crowd gets into the act, those sitting in the upper bowl should grab a hold of something; the stadium isn't about to shake—it's about to literally rock.
Auburn's War Eagle
There are many stories about where “War Eagle” originated and most of these legends are just that: legends.
The most popular myth was created in 1960 by the editor of The Auburn Plainsman.
The fiction now taken for fact by Auburn fans (who to this day swear the story is true) is that a lone Confederate soldier survived the Battle for the Wilderness. As he stumbled away from the battle field, he found a young eaglet, which the soldier nursed back to health.
The soldier eventually returned to his alma mater, Auburn, to become a professor and brought the eagle with him.
During the first football game of the 1892 season, the bird—apocryphally named “War Eagle I”—got away from his soldier/professor companion and circled the stadium, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
As the final seconds ticked off in the Auburn victory, the bird fell dead to the ground, having helped Auburn to victory.
Today, “War Eagle VII” serves as the continuation of a tradition at Auburn. Although War Eagle is not the official mascot of Auburn (Aubie the Tiger is the actual mascot), War Eagle is perhaps just as, if not more, connected to Auburn football than any Tiger could be.
Hail to the Victors
The fight song of the University of Michigan, "The Victors," is easily one of the greatest and most recognizable fight songs in the nation.
Unlike other fight songs, "The Victors" is sung in the past tense, lauding a Michigan team that is returning home victorious.
The song was written by a UM student following a last-second victory over the University of Chicago that clinched the Western Conference title (hence the wording “champions of the West” in the song).
Despite briefly falling out of use when Michigan left the Western Conference from 1907-1916, the song is used today at every opportunity on football Saturdays in Ann Arbor.
What makes this fight song part of a great in-stadium tradition in the performance by the band and the maize-and-blue-clad fans.
During the song, 114,000-plus rabid Michigan fans thrust their victorious fists into the air each time they hear the word “hail," making for quite a sight.
Our pick as the greatest in-stadium tradition is one that almost was done away with by the PC Police at the NCAA.
A few years ago, we all recall the warpath the folks in Indianapolis, Indiana went on by trying to abolish any reference to Native Americans. Despite no widespread complaints made to the NCAA, the association took it upon themselves to force schools to change their team nicknames, logos and even traditions.
Some programs, like the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, have fought the NCAA at every turn with legal action (including a state law passed in North Dakota ordering the school to continue to use the nickname and Indian head logo, and a ballot measure putting the issue directly to the people of North Dakota). The NCAA has since told North Dakota it risks forfeiting any postseason games in which the word “Sioux” appears, and North Dakota will not be allowed to host NCAA-sponsored events (such as postseason games).
Thankfully, the Seminole tribe's government in Florida passed a resolution supporting the usage of “Seminoles” in Florida State's traditions.
Because of the historic and praiseworthy vote of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, we still have the coolest, most fearsome tradition in college football today.
Before each game, Chief Osceola—the mascot of Florida State—rides out onto the field with the traditional weapon of a Seminole: a spear (not a tomahawk). Chief Osceola rides to the center of the field and plunges his flaming spear into the field as the crowd howls its approval.
What could possibly be cooler than that?
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