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 games' traditions. Important locations, songs, items and activities give a deeper meaning and create a deeper 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 SEC has dominated all aspects of college football from the national headlines to attendance totals and the BCS National Championship Game. So it should come as no surprise that it dominates in the historic traditions department as well.
Here are some of Athlon Sports' favorites:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since 1990, 22 immovable cabooses have sat dormant on an unused railroad track behind the south end of Williams-Brice Stadium. Each caboose is privately owned and features running water, restrooms, working television, air condition and heat. The set-up offers a perfect way to tailgate in style before each Gamecocks home game and provides a cool resting spot afterwards while traffic clears out.
It isn’t nearly as picturesque as Sailgating on Lake Washington, but Tennessee has its own fan flotilla every Saturday. The tradition of floating to the game instead of driving actually began when former broadcaster George Mooney didn’t want to sit in traffic and instead traveled by boat down the Tennessee River to Neyland Stadium.
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.
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.
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.
Supposedly, the origin of Ole Miss’ famous chant remains unknown only adding to its mystique. Some claim it was taken from Virginia Tech’s “Highty Tighties,” which was an old World War II cheer about, appropriately, an alcoholic beverage.
Combine The Rammer-Jammer, the University of Alabama's student newspaper and a Yellowhammer, the state bird, and you get this unique and signature cry, which dates back to the '20s. And generally speaking, it is at its best at the end of the game when Bama just “beat the hell out of you!”
Like many of the older SEC traditions, no one is quite sure when or why or how Mississippi State started bringing cowbells to football games. However they got there, the cowbells were so effective that the SEC had to ban artificial noisemakers in 1974 — before reversing course on the decision in 2010.
Stemming 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.
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.
Smokey the Dog
Dating back to 1953, the Tennessee Vols have played with Smokey the Blue Tick Hound at their side. The Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity cares for him and currently Smokey X, who is set to make his debut this fall, will be standing on the sidelines in Neyland Stadium each Saturday.
Mike the Tiger
In 1934 some LSU powers that be decided they wanted a live Bengal tiger on the field in Death Valley. Conveniently placed near the visitors’ entrance to the field, Mike the Tiger has been striking fear into opposing players and coaches for over nearly 80 years. Few mascots embody their school like Mike does.
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. The marble mausoleum near the entrance of the Southwest corner of Sanford Stadium is the resting place for Ugas of yesteryear.
The “First Lady of Aggieland” is the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets, as she is technically a Five-Star General. She showed up at games in 1931 for the first time and the full-blooded Collie is cared for by Company E-2.
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party
This rivalry is so great that these two SEC East powers won’t even agree on how many times they have played. Georgia claims 91 meetings while Florida claims 90 (1904) and all but two since 1933 — when the SEC was created — have come in Jacksonville, Fla. When thousands of fans from both teams pour onto St. Simon’s Island East Beach the Friday before the game, the term Outdoor Cocktail Party comes to life.
The Iron Bowl
The State of Alabama is the most territorial in the nation when it comes to college football. Just ask Paul Finebaum or Mr. Updyke. And many times, the in-state season finale carries great importance in the SEC standings. The name stems from Birmingham’s historic role in the steel industry, as up until the mid-90s the state's biggest game hosted the game.
The Egg Bowl
It may not carry the national importance of other famous rivalries but this Magnolia State showdown is as heated as any in the land. Mississippi State and Ole Miss have met 108 times dating back to 1901 and this annual meeting hasn’t been played earlier than November 19 since 1925.
The Third Saturday In October
Each year on the third weekend in October, Alabama and Tennessee get together one more time. These two have met 95 times and Alabama holds the edge 50-37-8.
Deep South's Oldest Rivalry
Georgia and Auburn began playing in 1892 and have met 116 times with the series standing at a dead stalemate 54-54-8.
Best of the Rest:
Made popular by legendary coach Bear Bryant, his signature houndstooth hat has morphed into everything from purses to shoes to wallpaper.
Be careful driving around Oxford as all of the campus speed limits are exactly 18 miles per hour — in honor of Ole Miss legend Archie Manning’s jersey number.
Two long rows of privet hedges run down the sidelines in Georgia’s Sanford Stadium creating a playing field that is literally “between the hedges.”
Running Through the T
Before each Tennessee home game the Pride of the Southland Marching Band forms a signature Power T for the players and coaches to enter the stadium.
Checkerboard End Zones
The signature end zones in Neyland Stadium were removed in 1968 only to return in '89. It might be the most recognizable end zone in all of football.
Space Odyssey 2001
South Carolina’s entrance each home game isn’t steeped in tradition but it sure is exciting.
Related College Football Content
SEC Predictions for 2013
SEC's 2013 All-Conference Team
SEC's Top Heisman Trophy Contenders for 2013
Getting to Know the SEC's New Coaches for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Impact Transfers for 2013
Unit Rankings: 2013 SEC Offensive Lines
College Football's All-Freshman Team for 2013
Hugh Freeze Has the Ole Miss Rebels on the Rise