Ranking the Top 10 College Football Traditions

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2017

Ranking the Top 10 College Football Traditions

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The pageantry of college football is one of the main things that separates it from most other sports.

    While what happens between the sidelines on the gridiron is the main reason we all love to watch, a college football game is far from just a game—it's an event.

    From pregame festivities to the before-the-kickoff hype to postgame chants, songs and celebrations, there are countless reasons it's the greatest version of the greatest sport.

    For some programs, it starts with your unique mode of transportation to the game. After songs or chants, the excitement crescendos with the home team presenting itself to its fans, often by running into some sort of production, such as touching Howard's Rock at Clemson.

    Afterward, while some teams sing their songs, others celebrate by doing wild things such as covering trees with toilet paper like they do at Auburn. It's wild, it's tradition and it's completely awesome. The uniqueness makes it special. For other programs, the teams getting together at all is a tradition in itself.

    College football is full of things on the periphery that contribute to its greatness. Let's rank the top 10 traditions in the sport.

10. The Ramblin' Wreck (Georgia Tech)

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    Brett Davis/Associated Press

    The tradition: Before every Georgia Tech home, game, a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe is driven onto the field ahead of the Yellow Jackets football team and is a staple at many Tech sporting events. It has been leading the team onto the field since 1961 and represents the entire student body at a school famous for engineering.

    Why it's great: You've got to like it any time a beautiful, old car is incorporated into football. That's something any fan can appreciate. It's not uncommon for non-human objects to lead teams onto the field in college football, but this unique official mascot of the student body is the only car that does so. It's pretty cool to see it in person, too.

    Why it's here: This is ahead of a lot of songs that could have been on the list like Wisconsin screaming "Jump Around," West Virginia's fans singing John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Road" after wins and Alabama's unique "Rammer Jammer." Why? Tech gets style points for such a beautiful vehicle, a one-of-a-kind intro and the fact that everybody who attends the school relates to the Wreck.

9. Ralphie's Run (Colorado)

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The tradition: Live bison have made appearances at Colorado's home football games since the 1930s, but Ralphie I was the first full-time, live bison mascot for CU in 1966. Now, the Buffaloes are up to Ralphie V, and she is a sight to behold, leading the team out of the tunnel...when she feels like it. If she's unusually nervous or something, the "Ralphie Handlers" don't force the issue.

    Why it's great: Ralphie is one of the most recognizable sights in all of college football, sporting her custom-made banner that reads "Go CU" on one side and "Beat [insert opponent here]" on the other. Another fun fact is she was born on one of television mogul Ted Turner's ranches and was donated to the school, just like her predecessor.

    Why it's here: The car at Georgia Tech is cool and all, but we're talking about a 2,000-pound live, endangered species here. It just doesn't get neater than that. Plus, the "Ralphie Program" is fully funded by donations from fans, meaning they keep her fed and taken care of and are, therefore, directly tied to her livelihood.

8. The 12th Man (Texas A&M)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The tradition: "The 12th Man" refers to the Kyle Field crowd at Texas A&M, but it's deeper than that. It dates back to a 1922 game against Centre College and a stunning 22-14 upset by an injury-riddled A&M team with one man standing on the sideline prepared to play if needed, E. King Gill. It trickled down throughout the years and now is personified by a white-clad "Aggie Yell Leader" leading the crowd in chants and cheers. It's hard to explain, but it's cool to experience.

    Why it's great: You're talking about nearly 103,000 fans singing and swaying to the same beat, chanting in unison. You seriously have to see it to believe it. The entire stadium, press box and rafters of Kyle Field move with the crowd. This is a concrete structure. It's amazing.

    Why it's here: College football is about the fans and the students, and there's nowhere in the nation that has as dedicated fans as College Station. They're super friendly (unless you're wearing burnt orange) and they're, respectfully, almost cultish in their following of the Aggies. At no time do they march to the same drum as when they're being led in the Aggie Yell.

7. The Sooner Schooner (Oklahoma)

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    The tradition: Since 1964, the "Sooner Schooner" appeared at Oklahoma football games, becoming the school's official mascot in 1980. It's a replica of the Conestoga wagon used by settlers of the Oklahoma Territory around the turn of the 20th century, and it's pulled by two white ponies named Boomer and Sooner, leading the Sooners out of the tunnel before games.

    Why it's great: Obviously, we're suckers for things leading teams out of the tunnel, if you haven't figured it out by now. But the Schooner is a cool little contraption straight out of the Oregon Trail computer game. The covered wagon harks back to the origins of the state, which is cool. Plus, it's become a college football treasure.

    Why it's here: First, we had a vehicle in Atlanta. Then, over in Boulder, we incorporated live animals. Somewhere in between, in Norman, Oklahoma, they combine the two for an ideal pregame showcase. But it doesn't just happen before games. The Schooner makes an appearance out of the northeast end zone when OU scores, and that's happened a lot in 50 years.

6. Howard's Rock (Clemson)

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    The tradition: Prior to games at defending national champion Clemson's Memorial Stadium, Clemson's players touch "Howard's Rock," a large piece of quartz, prior to running down the hill in the east end zone. It was a gift to former coach Frank Howard after being found in Death Valley. The coach used it as a doorstop until 1966 when it was placed on a pedestal in the end zone by a booster.

    Why it's great: The scene at "Death Valley" as a roaring sea of purple and orange gets delirious when its Tigers touch the rock and come storming down the hill is a great tradition. Also, for the two-and-a-half seasons when they changed things up in 1970-72, the Tigers had a losing record. Don't screw with tradition.

    Why it's here: Well, it obviously works. The Tigers won the national championship, after all. It really must have mystical powers, as it's playfully said to have. According to Clemson's official site, legendary coach Howard told his players they'd have to give 110 percent for the privilege to rub the rock. Though a lot of teams have pregame rituals like Notre Dame touching the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign, this is one the fans actually get to witness. That's a glimpse into tradition each game.

5. Osceola's Spear Plant (Florida State)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The tradition: Osceola is a symbol for Florida State, and so is the Appaloosa horse he rides, Renegade. The warrior represents the great Seminole leader by the same name, and he leads Renegade to the center of Doak S. Campbell Stadium before every home game with a burning spear, planting it into the ground at the 50-yard line.

    Why it's great: In today's world of political correctness, the mascot is tasteful, and though it's still controversial to some, it's embraced by the Seminole leaders of the state. Much like playing football, it's also a privilege at FSU. Students portraying the warrior must endure a two-year apprenticeship and maintain a 3.0 grade-point average, among other criteria.

    Why it's here: Um, we're talking about chucking weaponry that is engulfed in flames before a game where men hurtle themselves into one another at rapid speeds. Any questions? Also, much like the Sooner Schooner, it helps that a lot of victories have accompanied this tradition since it started in 1978. The Seminoles are good, and that makes Osceola and Renegade recognizable.

4. Dotting the "I" (Ohio State)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The tradition: Nothing says college football pregame and halftime shows like the school band. Perhaps no band in the country has a more recognizable tradition than Ohio State—The "Pride of the Buckeyes," aka "The Best Damn Band in the Land." They've innovated bands with such things as the script "Ohio" spelled prior to games starting in 1936 while playing Robert Planquette's "Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse."

    Why it's great: Spelling out the word "Ohio" in script lettering was once considered revolutionary for marching bands, but the cool thing is what the tradition of "dotting the 'I'" in the word has become. Not just anybody is allowed to do it. That's an honor for a select few such as golf legend Jack Nicklaus, former coach Woody Hayes and astronaut John Glenn, according to ElevenWarriors.com's Eric Seger.

    Why it's here: Dotting the "I" is college football's equivalent of retiring a jersey. This isn't something that just anybody gets to do, and it's taken extremely seriously. The script is referred to at OSU as the "signature of college football." It's been going on a long time, and one of the most ironic things is the first time it ever occurred, it was by rival Michigan's band, according to Sports Illustrated's Giustino Bovenzi.

3. Rolling Toomer's Corner (Auburn)

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    Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

    The tradition: According to Auburn's official site, the tradition of rolling the trees at Toomer's Corner supposedly began when Toomer's Drugs had the only telegraph in town. "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," the site says. Over time, rolling the trees became tradition to celebrate wins.

    Why it's great: Even an Alabama fan poisoning the trees can't kill this tradition. The trees didn't survive, but AU brought in 35-foot trees, replanting them in 2015, and the rolling tradition continues. This is a celebration where anybody can participate, and there's nothing like it in college football. It's just a time for everybody to get together, party, experience fellowship and celebrate wins.

    Why it's here: The combination of uniqueness, creativity and it being one that any casual, visiting football fan can experience makes it special. At Auburn, the fans and players trumpet a family atmosphere, and there's nothing that personifies that more than the celebratory scene at the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue. If you can ever be at the loveliest village on the plains after an Iron Bowl victory, consider yourself a fortunate fan of the sport.

2. The Vol Navy (Tennessee)

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    The tradition: According to Southern Living, "Neyland Stadium is one of two college football venues accessible by boat" (along with Washington's Husky Stadium). Beginning in 1962, former UT broadcaster George Mooney steered his boat to Neyland, and he gets credit for starting the flotilla of approximately 200 boats that float up or down the river and dock right outside the stadium on game weeks in Knoxville.

    Why it's great: There are many terrific traditions at Tennessee such as "Running through the 'T'" and the pregame Vol Walk, singing "Rocky Top" and the "Tennessee Waltz," but none is cooler than the Vol Navy. It's such a unique method to get to games, it's a great party scene, and it should be on everybody's college football bucket list.

    Why it's here: First of all, it's lack of exclusivity makes it something that a lot of people can identify with. Rather than drive to the game and pay to park, folks can hop in a boat, party all the way up or down the Tennessee River, dock right outside the Neyland Stadium walls and live it up right up till game time. It's a floating "sail-gate" party. Or, you could be like Coy Caldwell and just live on the water during the season. It's something that can be appreciated by Vols and opposing fans alike.

1. Army-Navy Game

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The tradition: The Black Knights and Midshipmen don't need a specific part of their yearly meeting to be considered a tradition. The game itself suffices. It's been nationally televised since 1945, and the rivalry has seen 117 meetings dating back to 1890. Everything about the game is special, and it's one where anybody who is a fan of the sport watches.

    Why it's great: Presidents stop what they're doing to come watch this game regularly. It's been played all over the country. And though it's referred to as a Civil War, these men team together to protect us from enemy forces all over the globe. Hours before kickoff, the ceremony begins with the "march on" as the cadets and midshipmen march onto the field in their blue and gray. At the end of the game, the teams get together and sing each other's alma mater as a display that this is just a game, and there are more important things. It's just all truly great.

    Why it's here: If you love your country and you love football, what could be better than the Army-Navy game? This is one where you never care about the records; you watch it because it's Army-Navy. You watch it because it means so much to so many. You watch it because these men who live to play may die next year fighting for us. It's a game steeped in tradition, but the pageantry around it goes deeper than football.


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