10 Best Traditions in College Football
In the spirit of the offseason—a truly desolate time for college football fans—it's customary to look back at all the things we love and miss about this game.
And what makes the game so unique are its traditions. Every school has a personality, something that differentiates itself from others. With months to go before real football is played again, now is as good a time as any to look back at what makes this game so special.
For this piece, we're grouping traditions into categories. Why? We could go on and on about what makes each college football program unique and still miss something, so instead we'll compartmentalize for efficiency and coverage.
There aren't many rules—we look at everything from in-game entrances to pre- and postgame activities—but the older and more unique the tradition, the better.
What's your favorite college football tradition? Sound off in the comments section below.
Marching bands are one of college football's best traditions. Of all the differentiating factors between college and the pros, bands are up near the top.
The more unique the pregame performance, the better. West Virginia's band, for example, makes an outline of the state—which, knowing what West Virginia looks like, is an impressive feat. Or, if living out Animal House is more your style, Stanford and Rice have marching bands more interested in acting out mildly offensive, but undeniably clever skits.
But there isn't a cooler marching band tradition than Ohio State's Best Damn Band in the Land dotting the "i" in Script Ohio. The process started in 1936, according to Ohio State, which adds "to be eligible to dot the 'i' a sousaphone player must be at least a fourth-year band member."
The history coupled with the selectiveness with which Ohio State takes this honor makes it one of the best traditions anywhere in the game.
Look, you can run onto the field. Or you can run on to the field with Metallica blasting through the stereo of Lane Stadium.
Virginia Tech simply does it right with "Enter Sandman." It's enough to give you goosebumps or even bring a tear to your eye. Either way, and despite having no athletic ability yourself, you're ready to strap on the pads and run through a wall.
Not to be outdone, however, ACC foe Clemson enters Memorial Stadium before each game by rubbing Howard's Rock and running down the hill, which ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger called “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football."
The Tennessee Volunteers run through the "T" at the start of every home game. Notre Dame tells its players to "Play Like a Champion Today." (Or was it Oklahoma?) Miami (FL) runs through the smoke—a tradition that sent chills down your spine in the old Orange Bowl. What all of these entrances have in common is they get the fans in the respective stadiums pumped like no other atmospheres in college football.
Sing Your Song
Anybody can sing an alma mater. It's another thing entirely to adopt a song and make it your own. But that's what West Virginia did with John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver himself actually sang the song at the opening of Mountaineer Field in 1980. The song is now sung by Mountaineer fans after each home victory.
If you're looking for an equally powerful, and mildly dizzying, in-game song, don't miss Texas A&M fans singing the "Aggie War Hymn," in which the PA announcer says "Please do not be alarmed, as the press box will move."
Then, of course, there's the singing of the alma maters after the Army-Navy game. Per Military.com, "The two teams join together and sing the losing team's alma mater as a sign of respect. The two teams then move to stand in front of the winning team's student body and serenade them with their alma mater.
Looking for a dramatically underrated pregame tradition? Look no further than The Baylor Line.
Now that the Bears garner more national attention, more non-Baylor fans are aware of the Line than ever before. Established in 1970, the Line is made up "entirely of new incoming students."
"Prior to each home football game, the Line gathers at one end of McLane Stadium and, led by the cheers of alumni and fans, runs onto the field and creates an enormous human tunnel to welcome the football team...After each player and coach has entered the stadium, The Line takes their seats in an exclusive Baylor Line section behind the opponent's bench."
And on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, we have Wisconsin and House of Pain's "Jump Around." Played between the third and fourth quarters of Badger home games, "Jump Around" is more about the literal activity than singing. Still, this video accurately portrays the beautiful marriage of a jumping and signing crowd losing its ever freakin' mind. Even opposing teams can't help but get in on the action.
Whether you're a Mississippi State fan ringing the cowbells to near-deafening levels or calling the Hogs at Arkansas, home-field advantages are huge thanks in part to fans taking the game into their own hands.
The game may be over, but the party doesn't have to stop. Auburn fans take this to heart with the rolling of Toomer's Corner after each win—and just about any other major athletic event one can think of. According to Auburn athletics, "The tradition of rolling Toomer's Corner is said to have begun when Toomer's Drugs had the only telegraph in the city. During away football games, when employees of the local drug store received news of a win, they would throw the ticker tape from the telegraph onto the power lines."
Though Alabama fan Harvey Updyke Jr. poisoned the old oak trees in 2010, new trees were planted in 2010.
If you're looking for pregame festivities, Texas A&M believes the night before is a good time to start. The Midnight Yell practice is held the night before all home games at Kyle Field, per A&M. The activity began in 1913, but with the renovation of Kyle Field for 2015, the Aggies took the pep rally on steroids to an entirely new level, as documented by Sam Strong of ESPN.com.
Animals Running Wild
We've already touched on pregame entrances, but let's be honest, nobody comes close to Colorado. This isn't up for argument, because no one else has a giant, wild beast sprinting across a football field with a group of hopeless students holding on for dear life.
Buffaloes football may not be what it was, but the tradition, started in 1967 according to Colorado, is more than worth a trip to Boulder to see.
If you're looking for something smaller—much, much smaller, with zero ability to trample you into the ground—Auburn's War Eagle battle cry before home games and major postseason games features a majestic* bald eagle.
(*Unless said bald eagle goes crashing into the press box windows.)
From Texas' Bevo to LSU's Mike the Tiger, wild animals with no business being anywhere near human beings are royalty. And we wouldn't want it any other way.
Famous Hand Signs
Any fanbase can show their school pride through school colors. If you really want want to separate yourself from other programs, get an awesome hand sign.
Texas takes the cake here with its Hook 'em Horns sign, which began in the 1950s, per ESPN.com. When you have multiple rivals either giving the "horns down" or singing a song to "saw varsity's horns off," you know you're ticking off the right people.
Outside of Texas, Miami (FL) has one of the most recognizable hand signs, "The U." It's the universal symbol for the entire program, from the helmet to the attitude of the 1980s and 1990s.
Oregon likes to throw up the "O," which also made its way on to Nike gloves and represents the program's close ties to the company. Florida fans do the Gator Chomp whenever possible while Florida State fans do the Seminole war chant.
The Untouched Uniforms
There's a touch of irony in doing a post about college football traditions because it's a sport that increasingly loses sight of them. Still, there are programs who wouldn't dare make extreme alterations to their classic uniforms.
Alabama and Penn State, we salute you.
Sure, both programs have lightly modified some things here and there. Former Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien introduced names on the backs of jerseys a few years ago. But, by and large, those classic threads have remained the same.
Similarly, the college football helmet sticker remains one of the cooler traditions the sport has to offer. From the Buckeye leaves for Ohio State to the tomahawks for Florida State, these stickers are all about honoring individual effort. These players pour in countless hours of sweat and blood into their craft, and helmet stickers are a fun way to let fans know who's putting out the most effort week in and week out.
By itself, tailgating isn't a tradition exclusive to college football. However, some do it better than others. Way better.
It's impossible to talk about tailgating without immediately mentioning two SEC schools: LSU and Ole Miss. Rebels fans do their tailgating at The Grove, a 10-acre piece of paradise that routinely ranks at or near the top of every tailgating list out there. (USA Today, for example, ranked Ole Miss as the best tailgating scene in 2015.)
But LSU isn't far behind with its wide variety of Cajun foods. However, when you have a casket full of beer as part of your tailgate set-up, you know you're doing something right.
Baylor, Tennessee and Washington are the most famous programs for "sail-gating," a more nautical version of its on-land, pregame counterpart.
The truth is there's no wrong way to tailgate, but college football fanbases have figured out the absolute best ways to do it.
Rivalries make college football great. They're also a dying breed thanks to conference expansion/realignment. What we're trying to say is cherish the longstanding hatred while you can. There's a chance it might not be there in 10-20 years because of the ever-shifting landscape of the game.
Few rivalries can pull off the neutral-site location like Oklahoma-Texas, Army-Navy and Florida-Georgia. The Red River Shootout (or Rivalry...or Showdown) has the unique backdrop of the Texas State Fair to add some color. The old-timer Cotton Bowl is split right down the middle: half the stadium in filled with burnt orange, the other half in crimson.
Though Florida-Georgia (still unofficially known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party) doesn't have the same surrounding environment, the Jacksonville-based game provides a unique atmosphere that promotes even more intensity in an already intense rivalry. (For example: Neither side can agree on the overall record of the series.)
And then there's Army-Navy. It's a game—an experience—unlike anything else in sports. It's now designated to its own weekend in December after the rest of the regular season has finished. Though the site of the game has bounced around over the years, it remains one of the most fascinating games transcending any sport. It's fueled by deep-rooted disdain, but also by respect. And in a day and age where college football looks more like a big-time business, it brings fans a sense of a nostalgia and to an age long lost.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.