Leadership / 09.06.23
INTIX’s Top 10 College Football Traditions
Warm up those pipes, Michael Stipe. For many college football fans, the season that just began is the end of the world as they know it. And that is not an exaggeration. A total of 14 schools are playing in new leagues this season: four in the Big 12, four in Conference USA and a half-dozen in the American Athletic Conference. Next season, super conferences arrive with the Big Ten expanding to 18 and the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference each growing to 16 schools. The College Football Playoff remains a four-team event, but it will triple in size next year.
With such radical changes, there is no doubt that 2023 has a real end-of-an-era feel. But amid such upheaval, fans still have a lot of traditions, rituals and customs to take comfort in. Below is INTIX’s list of the Top 10 College Football Traditions. Each of these is definitely worth the price of a ticket to see and experience in person. We start with:
1. The Army-Navy Game: There really is no greater tradition in college football or in sports, in general, than the annual Army-Navy football game. There’s the stirring arrival of the Corps and the Brigade; the awesome, pre-game flyovers; and, of course, the prisoner exchange. The annual showdown is pretty much the most tradition-rich contest there is. And if you’re not moved at the end when the two sides come together and sing each service academy’s beautiful fight songs, “Alma Mater” for West Point and “Navy Blue and Gold” for the Midshipmen … I’m sorry, you may want to check your pulse.
2. Running With Ralphie in Colorado: The University of Colorado has arguably the best live mascot in the nation … and one of the best traditions in Ralphie the Buffalo's pre-game sprint. Before the coin toss and first snap, Ralphie is typically led by as many as five handlers in a horseshoe pattern around the field, reportedly reaching speeds as fast as 25 miles per hour. To date, the most successful mascot has been Ralphie III, who ran from Sept. 26, 1987, to Nov. 28, 1997 — a stretch during which the Buffaloes went 55-16-2 in games when she ran.
3. Tennessee’s Vol Navy: Almost every stadium has car, truck and SUV tailgating. The University of Tennessee has tailgating by … boat! Call it “sailgating.” Neyland Stadium’s location near the bank of the Tennessee River has long featured one of college football’s most unique pre-game atmospheres. The Vol Navy, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, was made popular when team announcer George Mooney began traveling to games via boat to avoid traffic congestion. The spectacle has since grown to include more than 200 vessels that start docking as early as Thursdays before Saturday home games.
4. The Sooner Schooner: Among the most charming and beloved traditions in college football is this replica of the Studebaker Conestoga wagon — the symbol of the University of Oklahoma — and the rides around the field it takes each time the home team scores. The Sooner Schooner is powered by two ponies named Boomer and Sooner and first appeared at an Oklahoma home football game in 1964.
5. Enter Sandman, Enter Virginia Tech: Since 2000, the Virginia Tech Hokies have been making their entrance to Metallica’s heavy-metal classic, “Enter Sandman.” If you know the song, you know the slow guitar and percussion build-up, and you can imagine the level of crowd intensity those opening notes can conjure. The importance of this tradition was never more apparent than in 2021, when the Hokies hosted one of the first nationally televised college football games with a full stadium after the COVID-19 crisis. The roar from the crowd actually registered on the seismograph in the university’s geology department!
6. Jump Around in Wisconsin: OK, we can’t include Virginia Tech’s “Enter Sandman” spectacle and not also feature the University of Wisconsin’s “Jump Around” team entrance. This video showcases the sheer crowd energy that is generated from House of Pain’s classic hip-hop anthem as the university’s marching band leads the crowd in some pre-game leaping about.
7. The Iowa Hawkeye Wave: It’s one of the newer traditions on this list, having debuted in 2017 following the opening of the University of Iowa's Stead Family Children's Hospital, but it’s certainly one of the more emotional. The hospital overlooks Kinnick Stadium where the Hawkeyes play their home games. At the end of each game’s first quarter, fans and players from both teams turn and wave to the pediatric-care patients and their families watching the game from the hospital's upper floors. There may be no crying in baseball, but at college football games in Iowa City…
8. Dotting the “I” at Ohio State Games: At each Ohio State University home football game, the self-proclaimed Best Damn Band in the Land performs the famous Script Ohio formation, spelling out the word “Ohio.” This tradition started back in 1936 when band director Eugene Weigel first installed the formation. "I" dotting (start watching at the 7:00 mark of the linked video) has become an honor over the years, with such famous folk as entertainer Bob Hope, golfer Jack Nicklaus, and astronaut John Glenn serving as honorary, on-field “I”-dotters.
9. Auburn’s War Eagle: “War Eagle” is one of the best-known chants in all of college sports. At Auburn University home football games, the cheer is augmented by the pre-game flight of an eagle swooping over Jordan-Hare Stadium. That’s when it gets really loud!
10. Penn State’s White Out Game: Each season since 2004, Penn State has designated one home game as its annual "White Out" game, where all the Nittany Lion fans are called on to dress in white. The matchup is usually reserved for the biggest home game on the team’s schedule. Indeed, just four White Out opponents were unranked when arriving in Happy Valley.
Of course, there are a ton of other college football traditions that will still be in place no matter how much the different conferences are realigned, rivalries are scuttled, and the power structures are altered. Everything from Notre Dame players’ tapping of the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign before hitting the field to Tommy Trojan riding Traveler around the stadium at University of Southern California home games to the University of Florida’s Gator Chomp (the college football equivalent of the Tomahawk Chop). Let’s hope some things never change!
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Tags: Leadership , College Football