Now that college football is in full swing, it would be remiss of me to not discuss my favorite traditions and rivalries, after previously going over my favorite fight songs and mascots.
College football would not be college football without the rivalries and traditions that are such a huge part of the game. It is a big reason why I prefer the Saturday gridiron over their pro counterparts. It's what makes the whole experience special.
As with the mascots and fight tunes I had previously written about, these are not necessarily the best or most known or beloved school traditions and rivalries, though some of them certainly are.
OK, let me list my favorite traditions of the college game, starting with:
DOTTING THE "I", OHIO STATE
I'm not even a Buckeye fan; I personally prefer Michigan, but the tuba dotting the I in the Ohio State band does bring some chills. When UCLA played the Buckeyes at the Rose Bowl in 2001, just a few days after the 9-11 attacks, I was most disappointed that Ohio State didn't bring their band and deprived me and all of Bruin Nation of seeing the I being dotted. I'm still a bit miffed at them because of it.
RALPHIE RUNNING OUT OF THE TUNNEL, COLORADO
I've always thought that was a cool sight, seeing that buffalo running out onto Folsom Field before Colorado's games. If I was a Buffalo fan or alum, it would certainly get me pumped up.
RENEGADE AND THE FLAMING SPEAR, FLORIDA STATE
In my book, one of the most awe-inspiring, crowd-exciting sights in college football, if not THE most awe-inspiring. I have always loved seeing Chief Seminole on TV rear up on Renegade with his spear blazing and stick it into the ground, ready for battle. Plus, if the Seminole tribe's OK with it, then it must be cool!
TWELFTH MAN, TEXAS A&M
Three levels of about 20 or 30,000 students standing up for the whole game, that's a pretty incredible sight; especially when they sway to their "War Hymn" before their fourth quarter. Plus with kissing their dates after every score and building that huge bonfire before they play Texas, how could I not mention those Aggies?
BATTLE OF THE BANDS, SOUTHERN AND GRAMBLING
A main staple of the black college football experience is the bands; they are considered more important than the football team.
The bands at these two schools are not only seen as among the best in the HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), but in the country. When I saw those two bands battle it out on TV in 1991, I never looked at marching bands the same way again. It's a pronounced shame that the rest America generally hasn't gotten a chance to see this part of college football until recently; Thank God for the movie "Drumline"!
I know that my choice for favorite tradition will be seen by many as biased, since I am an alum at one of the two schools and know so much about it. But, I honestly see this as my favorite tradition:
THE VICTORY BELL, UCLA-USC
Given to the winner of the annual "Crosstown Showdown", this bell has been a source of pride and bragging rights since 1942. That was the year that the student presidents of UCLA and USC signed an agreement saying that the winner of this Southern Pacific Railroad Bell keeps it for a year and gets to paint it in their school colors.
When I got to ring the bell about a year ago, I felt such a surge of Bruin pride. I know that there are other trophies that are older, such as the Little Brown Jug and the Old Oaken Bucket, but the Victory Bell does it for me. Especially when it's painted blue.
Now that the traditions are out of the way, let me get on with my favorite rivalries.
MICHIGAN - OHIO STATE
If I had to pick the top rivalry in college football this decade, this would be the one. It has often decided a berth in the National Championship game, and the game in Columbus a few years ago, when the two teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, was an epic one.
Put it this way: HBO did a documentary about this rivalry earlier this year—that should say something.
HARVARD - YALE
The original football rivalry in my view. Let's go down the checklist: The rivalry has been going on for over 120 years, many of the games have been classics, Ivy League championships often being decided on the outcome.
Plus, these are two of the top schools in America. I know they aren't on a national scale anymore, but I couldn't mention rivalries without mentioning these two.
ARMY - NAVY
This is called "The Nation's Rivalry". The only one where attendance of the game is mandatory for all students.
Besides, how many other games have the President in attendance? Where both student bodies march out in formation on the field? Where both teams listen to both schools' alma maters at the end? And where the seniors know that they are about to serve their country and are extremely emotional, win or lose?
I'm sorry, but there's nothing like this game.
TEXAS - OKLAHOMA
For control of the Red River; I love the way the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (the halfway point between the two campuses) is divided down the 50-yard line for this one, with crimson on one side and burnt orange on the other.
I also like the fact that it's the culminating event of the Texas State Fair every year, and that national championship implications have depended on the outcome in recent years. Not to mention the emotion involved.
GRAMBLING - SOUTHERN
This Bayou Classic is the number one rivalry among the HBCUs in my opinion, part of college football's best kept secret (that's starting to cease being one, thank goodness).
Held in New Orleans over Thanksgiving weekend, football is just one part of the whole thing. It's a battle among the Greeks, seeing who can step the best, and especially the bands; the halftime show is considered as important as the game, if not more.
Check out the game on TV sometime—NBC has televised it since 1991—and you'll see what I mean.
NOTRE DAME - USC
It is impossible to make a list of college football rivalries and not mention this one. These two schools are arguably the top two college football programs of all-time, with 22 national championships and 14 Heisman Trophies between them.
I acknowledge this despite me being a UCLA Bruin alumnus and supporter. Growing up watching this game on TV, it has truly had some classic moments, to be sure, like that big comeback by USC in 1974, or that Reggie Bush push in 2005 (which was cheating and should have been a penalty).
It's a real pity that it has been one-sided as of late.
CALIFORNIA - STANFORD
There's really one reason this rivalry is on this list—"The Play". That multi-lateraled run back for a touchdown that Cal did in 1982 at Berkeley, knocking down that Stanford band member in the process.
To this day, Stanford disputes the touchdown, and because of that play, John Elway, Stanford's Quarterback at that time and their greatest athlete ever, never got to play in a bowl game. And that play remains perhaps the most famous single moment in college football history.
OK, my choice for favorite rivalry will no doubt upset some people; I can hear the "Bias!" screams now. Being a former student of one of these schools, I can understand that. However, like the traditions, I honestly feel that this is my favorite rivalry, and there ARE some legitimate reasons for it.
UCLA - USC
Some rivalries are merely in the same state, like Alabama and Auburn or Texas and Texas A&M. Others are in different states several hundred miles apart, like Michigan and Ohio State or Florida and Georgia.
That means students, fans, and alums can go 364 days without having to interact with each other. That is NOT the case with this rivalry.
These two institutions, both alike in prestige and fame, are a mere ten miles from each other. TEN MILES!
Students, alums, and fans of the two schools interact with each other constantly, mostly in respectful terms, but not always. When the two schools meet, it is a Civil War for that day and the week leading up to it, much like the Montagues and the Capulets.
Los Angeles is turned into a blue-and gold/cardinal-and-gold Verona during that time.
The fact that many of the games are epic affairs only adds to the spectacle. UCLA's 48-41 double overtime win in 1996 and the 13-9 win in 2006, knocking the Trojans out of the BCS Championship game, were two of the happiest moments of my life.
I know that people will dispute this list, that their rivalry should be on it. That's perfectly understandable.
Actually, that's part of what makes college football great, the debate over who's number one, which is the best fight song, who's got the best traditions, which rivalry is the best.
The debating and disputes over this list will no doubt come, whether it is voiced among the comments or privately among the readers.
And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.