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. From Death Valley in Baton Rouge to Sailgating on Lake Washington in Seattle and every college town in between, there is no other sport in the nation like college football.
Here are some of Athlon Sports' favorites (in the sake of fairness, no rivalry "game" is included except for one...)
If there is one sporting event every person — not every fan, but every human — should attend, it would be the annual meeting of the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy. It has been played 113 times since 1890 and Navy leads the all-time series 59-47-7. This game stands above all games in sports and there are no words to describe how much more is on the line than a simply a football game.
2. 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.
3. 12th Man
Born in January 1922, the phrase and tradition stemmed from one particular game with the nation’s top team at the time, Centre College. Because the team was so battered and injured, head coach Dana Bible had to call for E. King Gill, a basketball player at the time, from the stands to join the team. Texas A&M went on to win 22-14 and although Gill never made it into the game, he was the last and only man standing on the sideline. He answered the call to help his team and no one has ever forgotten about it.
4. Death Valley, La.
There is no singular way to describe a night home game in Tiger Stadium. The variety and flavor of an LSU tailgate is second to none with a wide-ranging menu from some of the best chefs in college football. And the stadium is arguably the loudest in the nation, especially when the Bayou Bengal fans have had all day to marinate. Who else makes the visiting team run out of the tunnel in the face of a 600-pound man-eater named "Mike"?
5. Song Girls
What isn’t to like about arguably the most famous cheerleading squad in college football? The USC Song Girls' squad was first formed in 1967 when seven students began the tradition in the L.A. Coliseum. Now the size of the team has grown to 12 but the trademark white sweaters and skirts haven’t changed in more than four decades. Few cheerleading squads in the nation have the talent pool to pull from like Southern California.
6. Howard's Rock and The Hill
Legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard was given a massive rock from Death Valley, Calif., back in the early 1960s. It sat in Howard's office for years until IPTAY executive director Gene Willimon placed it atop a pedestal in 1966 at the top of the east end zone on the "hill" that the team runs down before entering Memorial Stadium each home game — the legend says Howard actually asked Willimon to throw the rock away. The next year, the team started rubbing the rock for good luck in the season opener and have been doing it ever since. The crowd comes to a rolling boil before each game while the Tigers players gather atop the hill waiting for the word to charge the gridiron. Many have called it the most exciting 25 seconds in sports — and this guy proves it.
7. The Rose Bowl
Not many football teams play 45 minutes from campus, so this venue is just as much college football's as it is the UCLA Bruins. But not many teams play in the most historic venue in the nation. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena might be the most prestigious venue in all of college football. The connection Pac-12 and Big Ten fans have tied directly to "The Granddaddy of them all" — the sports' oldest bowl game — is virtually undefinable.
8. The Grove
It just might be the best place on Earth. This beautiful collection of oak, elm and magnolia trees surrounds a 10-acre plot adjacent to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. The party in The Grove has been going on since football began at Ole Miss, but became the Holy Grail of Tailgating by the 1950s. The gorgeous, um, scenery is second to none and the setting is historic. Everyone is undefeated in The Grove.
9. 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.
10. War Eagle Flight
Possibly the best pregame, live mascot ritual in all of college football, Auburn’s Golden Eagle “Nova” performs the War Eagle Flight down through the rabid home crowd and onto its perch. Nova is officially the eighth such bird to grace Jordan-Hare Stadium as War Eagle I is said to have started the timeless tradition in 1892.
11. The Blackshirts
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.
12. Sooner Schooner
White ponies named Boomer and Sooner pull the famous replica Conestoga wagon onto the field at every Oklahoma home game. It is managed and steered by the RUF/NEKS, the university’s all-male spirit squad. Every time the Sooners score, the RUF/NEKS drive the Schooner out onto the field in a large arc that tops out near mid-field. The Sooner Schooner debuted in 1964 and officially became the school’s mascot in 1980.
13. Ralphie’s Run
One of the best live mascots in college football, Ralphie the Buffalo makes two big horseshoe runs around Colorado’s Folsom Field at the start of each half of each home game. It takes five “Ralphie Handlers” to make the sprint possible as she — yes, Ralphie is a girl — can reach upwards of 25 miles per hour if not restrained. The tradition began in 1934 when students used a bison as their mascot until Ralphie I made her debut in '66 when she was donated to the university by a student’s father.
14. South Bend, Ind.
There is no other way to describe a football game at Notre Dame Stadium than simply "South Bend." Touchdown Jesus, The Grotto, historic rivals and the College Football Hall of Fame are just the headliners. There are just a handful of fan bases, college towns, rivalry games and traditions that can match the experience in South Bend. It's a cathedral of college football — almost literally.
15. The LSJUMB
The tall tales about the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, or LSJUMB, are endless and mostly hysterical. It was founded in 1893 and has been picking on opposing teams, fans, coaches as well as societal injustices, with hilarious political satire and finely tuned musical prowess ever since. This is easily the most entertaining band website in history (trust me, check it out) and the LSJUMB’s latest victim was the Wisconsin Badgers. The “Ode to Cheese” during last year’s Rose Bowl tested the sense of humor of many frigid Madison natives and upset many boring media members.
16. Toomer’s Corner
May it rest in peace… for now. The Harvey Updyke saga is one of the most bizarre tales of fandom gone wrong in history. At the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street in front of 130-year-old Toomer’s Drug store, Auburn fans have rolled the two massive southern live oaks for roughly six decades. While those trees have been poisoned and subsequently cut down, there is no reason to believe that those in charge on The Plains won’t rebuild some sort of replacement that will allow fans to start a new tradition.
17. Chief Osceola and Renegade
The planting of the spear at Doak Campbell Stadium is one of college football's finest traditions. Chief Osceola and his Appaloosa horse Renegade are the official symbols of the Florida State Seminoles, and they both ride out to midfield before each home game to slam a burning spear into the 50-yard line logo. With the support of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Osceola has been making this pre-game journey since 1978.
18. 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.
19. Midnight Yell
Originally an impromptu post-dinner get-together to “learn heartily the old time pep,” Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M didn’t officially start until 1931. Today, the tradition is held on Friday nights before home games at Kyle Field and Thursday before road games at The Arches. It is a fairly self-explanatory tradition as fans and cadets gather to practice cheering for the Aggies — and making out some too.
20. 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 "The Victors" and each player jumps to slap the banner as he enters the gridiron. The tradition began way back in 1962.
Each fall Saturday in Seattle, Husky Harbor on Lake Washington is filled with a University of Washington fan flotilla. Fans show up in every possible type of floating vessel and set up shop in the shadows of Husky Stadium to sailgate for the big U of W contest to come later in the day. This practice has been going on since shortly after the stadium opened in 1920 and is often imitated, but rarely duplicated. With the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Olympic Mountains to the west, the crystal-clear blue water provides one of the most picturesque tailgating settings in the nation. Don't believe us, check out this New York Times slideshow.
22. The Hokie Slab and "Enter Sandman"
There is little history or tradition with the "Enter Sandman" entrance theme for the Virginia Tech Hokies. In 2000 after playing the BCS title game the year before, Virginia Tech put up a massive new video screen and outsourced the pre-game video production. However, the powers that be in Blacksburg had to pick the song and, clearly, they chose wisely. Besides the signature entrance music, the players also gather in a long tunnel from the lockers to the field and slap a slab of signature Hokie Stone before emerging into a frenzied Lane Stadium.
23. Tightwad Hill
Officially known as Charter Hill, Tightwad rises to the east of Cal’s Memorial Stadium and was formed from the dirt that was excavated during stadium construction. It offers a unique view of the action on the field should a game sellout or poor college students don’t feel like paying for tickets. Fans have been attending games on this hill since 1924 and most take the opportunity to enjoy many recreational activities high in the trees of Tightwad Hill (sorry, couldn’t resist).
24. War Chant/The Chomp
There are various historical takes on when, where and how the Florida State tradition began, but many point to a big game against Auburn in 1984. The band played the traditional cheer but the student section continued chanting after the band finished and it stuck. By the next season, it was a stadium-wide phenomenon that birthed the now-historic tomahawk chop. The Gator Chomp stemmed from Mississippi State’s band’s version of "Jaws" in 1981, some Florida band members modified the tune slightly and added the famous vertical chomping motion. It eventually spread across the stadium and is now synonymous with Gators football.
25. "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk
It may not have a sexy beginning — the science club came up with the rousing cheer in 1886 — but it might be the most famous cheer in all of college sports. The phrase “Rock Chalk” stems from chalk rock, which is a type of limestone prevalent in middle and western parts of Kansas.
Best of the Rest:
Nine different English Bulldogs have stood on the Georgia sideline dating back to 1956 with Uga I. However, this pup gets the royal treatment between the hedges, residing in his own air-conditioned dog house (situated on top of an ice bag most of the time). The marble mausoleum near the entrance of the Southwest corner of Sanford Stadium is the resting place for Ugas of yesteryear.
Cougars' Gameday Flag
Leave it to message boards to come up with stuff like flying a Washington State Cougars flag on College Gameday’s TV set every weekend for nearly a decade. No, it doesn’t always happen in the Pac-12 (obviously) but the Cougars' flag has made an appearance on the extremely popular Saturday morning program every week since the Red River Shootout on October 3, 2003 — which is more than 131 consecutive shows.
It might be the most recognizable fight song in the nation. Yes, visiting teams and fans get tired of the jingle after the 30th or 40th rendition on any given Saturday but Big Orange Nation never tires of the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song written back in 1967.
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
The Ramblin' Wreck
When that 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe comes peeling across Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Grant Field, the Yellow Jackets faithful go berserk. Bearing the same name as the student body population, The Ramblin' Wreck has been leading the football team into home games since 1961. With cheerleaders draped all over the sides and crisp, whitewall tires, the car is not only an amazing college football tradition but also a work of art.
The Smoke Tunnel
Using plumes of billowing smoke isn't some new or unique tradition reserved for Miami alone. However, the U is one of the originals, as the Hurricanes have been charging the field before home games through a cloud of smoke since the 1950s. Led by Sebastian the Ibis, powerhouse teams in South Florida have been demoralizing opponents by simply running out onto the field.
Woo Pig Sooie
There isn’t a clear story as to when or how this one came about but since at least the 1920s, Arkansas fans have been Calling the Hogs. The high-pitched chant echoes throughout the hills of Arkansas over and over and over again every Saturday.
The most loved fixture at West Virginia sporting events, the Mountaineer first showed up in 1936. Each year The Mountaineer is selected by “The Mountain,” the school’s prestigious senior honorary. The customary brown leather outfit is custom tailored each year and bushy beards are strongly encouraged.
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