There are many reasons a sports fan can come to the realization that the college game is a better product than the professional version. Some of that has to do with charming, sleepy college towns and the scenic tailgating. The college game has bigger stadiums filled with more dedicated fans, historic bands and student sections. The offenses are more innovative and the rivalries are drenched in decades of bitterness.
Last but certainly not least, are the college traditions.
Important locations, songs, items and activities give a deeper meaning and create a connection among fans and the teams they love. And to each other as well. The sense of community at a great college game is stronger than in any other major American sport. The Big Ten is one of the first conferences ever assembled back before the 1900s and therefore is steeped in all sorts of rich traditions. Bands, stadiums, uniforms, rivalries and more make the Big Ten one of the most historic leagues in college football.
Here are some of Athlon Sports' favorites:
Dotting the I
The culmination of "Script Ohio" during the pre-game festivities at Ohio State is a sight to behold. Once the word is spelled out by the marching band, the celebration comes to an end when one lucky sousaphone player dots the “I.” The crowd erupts and the lucky “dotter” puts on quite the show en route to their sacred position.
Beaver Stadium White Out
Black outs and blue outs and red outs are cool. But nothing makes a crowd standout like a white out. And when white is one of your primary colors and 110,000 people agree to wear the same color, the result is a stunning visual experience unlike any other in sports. Very few spectators rooting for Penn State will fail to comply with the dress code and the sheer size of the crowd is as intimidating as any in the nation. While other colors actually make the crowd look sparser, a good white out will make your crowd look much bigger.
Ohio State vs. Michigan
The school up north takes on that school down south every year in what is the best rivalry in all of sports — not just college football. These two programs and fans respectfully despise each other every waking moment of the year and it concludes with the regular-season finale football showdown. Historic coaching ties and national title implications make this game one of the few must-see events of every season. The Mirror Lake Jump in Columbus — where tons of Ohio State students jump into the frigid waters of Mirror Lake the Thursday before facing Michigan — only adds to the rivalry.
The Fifth Quarter
Win by 50 or lose by 50, home or away, any and all Wisconsin Badger supporter will celebrate the Fifth Quarter. Thousands of fans will remain in their seats working their way closer to the field until well after the game. The marching band will put on an impromptu show unlike any other, complete with the alma mater "Varsity," the "Beer Barrel Polka" and the "Bud Song." When you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all.
Nebraska has had a long-standing tradition of rewarding its defensive players for earning a starting spot. Since the 1960s, the starting 11, and maybe a few lucky other contributors on defense for the Big Red have donned black practice jerseys with pride. Midway through 2007, the defensive players and coaches voted to give up the uniforms due to subpar performance. They earned them back roughly a month later. The Cornhuskers also have a handful of other outstanding traditions, including the release of red balloons after their first score, and the tunnel walk as Nebraska gets ready to enter the field.
The student section at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium between the third and fourth quarters is a rare sight. The well-known number by House of Pain hits the speakers and the entire section bounces up and down for the entire song. Not only do opposing fans and players get involved in the jumping, but Camp Randall Stadium also has been known to shake on occasion. It’s a sight to behold.
Touching the Banner
The Michigan Wolverines take the field in style at every home game by running out of the oddly placed (midfield) team tunnel. The players pour onto the field and underneath a historic and massive banner that reads “Go Blue: M Club Supports You.” The band plays "Hail to the Victors" and each player jumps to slap the banner as he enters the gridiron. The tradition began way back in 1962.
Kinnick’s Heisman Speech
Nile Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy for Iowa back in 1939 during World War II. His acceptance speech was a thing of historic beauty and to honor the great Hawkeye athlete, Iowa replays it on the jumbotron. The memorable speech ends with Kinnick professing that “I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not the battlefields of Europe.” Chills run wild through Kinnick Stadium.
College Football’s Oldest Rivalry
No two teams in college football have played more times than Wisconsin and Minnesota. The rivalry began in 1890, the two have met 122 times and the winner claims the history and massive — six feet long — Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Pink Locker Rooms
The Iowa Hawkeyes are willing to do whatever it takes to gain an edge on the football field. Even if it means playing mind games with the visiting team by housing them in locker rooms painted pink. Former coach Hayden Fry was a psychology major at Baylor and immediately had the opposing locker rooms painted pink in an effort to calm the opposition.
Best of the Rest:
"Hail! to the Victors"
It might be the most recognizable, most well-known fight song in all of college football.
"We are. Penn State."
A call and response that matches up with the best in the nation, the student section (normally) begins by screaming "We Are…" and the rest of Beaver Stadium responds emphatically with "Penn State!"
Third Quarter Drumline
After the third quarter, the Michigan State drumline heads to the southeast corner of Spartan Stadium and brings the crowd to its feet with electric and complicated drum beats.
Block I Stunts
Since 1926, the Illinois student section has been a fixture at Memorial Stadium. The Block I is the most famous and recognizable of all the Illini card stunts.
Defend The Rock
Terry Hoeppner did a lot to bring tradition to Indiana and the three-ton limestone boulder near the IU locker room is one of them. Defending The Rock is a rallying cry for the team.
The local chant takes place throughout the game at all big plays and scores and is accompanied by a loud train whistle.
At any time and any place in the world, if you hear someone say "O-H" you will undoubtedly hear someone else call back "I-O." It never fails.
As far as beer and brats go, there is no better pre-game tailgate in the nation than Regents Street outside Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium on Saturdays. State Street is no joke either.
Big Bass Drum
Purdue is home to the instrument known as the world’s largest drum. It is the focal point of the Boilermakers band and is handled by four people and played by two.
After each home game, the players and coaches join the students and band to sing the school's alma mater and state hymn, "Hail! Minnesota."
"In Heaven, There is No Beer"
After each Iowa home game, the marching band performs this famous and very original Hawkeye number.
Two hours before the game, the marching band performs near Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena surrounded by activities for all ages — including, that’s right, free beer for the adults.
Chief Illiniwek’s Halftime Performance
No, sadly The Chief isn’t performing at halftime of Illinois football games any longer, but it still ranks as one of the best in-game rituals in the Big Ten.
Laking the Posts
Northwestern fans used to tear down the goal posts for every win, pass them through Ryan Field and out onto Central Street where they would toss them into Lake Michigan.
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