Besides the school colors and face paint that usually come to mind when you think of “football fanhood,” there are tons of college football gameday rituals that are much more unique, and that have much longer histories than you may initially believe. While families across the US create their own little rituals surrounding college football gamedays, the teams that they love have gameday rituals of their own—ones that solidify their identities, and bring more festivity to their colleges’ gamedays.
Family Gameday Rituals
For many families, their association as fans of a specific college football team is integral to their identity. Gamedays are not just times to watch football on TV—They are times when families get together and bond, while they watch their favorite players battle it out against another team. Gamedays are a kind of glue that brings them all together; they can even become kinds of rituals.
ESPN’s College Gameday
One of these rituals could be watching ESPN’s College Gameday: a TV program in which Tim Brando, Lee Corso, and Beano Cook (Lee Corso is the only remaining member of those original three, and he is now accompanied by Kirk Herbstreit and Rece Davis) comment on updates within college football. ESPN’s College Gameday first aired in 1987, and since then, it has aired each Saturday morning during college football season, before the games kick off at noon.
Many people can attest to the memories they have of their fathers or grandfathers turning on ESPN’s College Gameday—And to this day, ask any fan of college football, and they’ll tell you this is where their gameday rituals began.
College Gameday Rituals
Many schools themselves have their own rituals around gamedays, uniting the University and its team through tradition. Here’s a list of a few college football gameday rituals.
Penn State White Out
The Penn State White Out game started in 2004 in a game against Purdue University, when the student section of the stadium wore all white. In 2007, the entire stadium started wearing white, and since then, except for 2010, a “white out” game has been scheduled each season, to keep this fun experience alive and this tradition passed on.
There is something very moving about seeing an entire stadium wearing white. It brings a kind of togetherness into a game meant to pit one half of the stadium against the other. The Penn State White Out is a good example of some of the powerful moments sports can bring into our lives. An added bonus—the white aesthetic also looks pretty fantastic on Penn State Nittany Lions gear.
USC’s Tommy Trojan Field Stabbing
University of Southern California’s football team has a rather original tradition, known as the Tommy Trojan field stabbing. At the end of USC’s marching band’s performance, the drum major—who is appointed months before in a practice meant only to pick Tommy Trojan—will stab the opposing team’s side of the field with the sword that they use to command the band.
USC’s marching band is known as “The Spirit of Troy,” because they have one of the most well-known collegiate marching band programs.
Additionally, the night before gameday, there’s another tradition to “protect Tommy.” In the 1920s and 1930s, USC built a bronze Trojan statue, depicting USC greats. In 1941, UCLA students painted over the statue the night before gameday, and thus the tradition of “protecting Tommy”—or camping out around the statue—began.
At the University of Washington, students and fans take advantage of Union Bay outside of Husky Stadium, and have their own version of tailgating, which they call “sailgating.” On gameday, Argosy cruise vessels dock in the harbor outside of Husky Stadium for drinks, snacks, and celebration. They also have a boat that takes people from where they can park their cars to the stadium.
Sailgating not only allows you to worry less about traffic and enjoy the views from the water, but there’s practically unlimited food and drink—and since the University of Washington is in Seattle, you can bet there’s some pretty amazing seafood aboard that boat.
Oklahoma’s Sooner Schooner
University of Oklahoma has an age-old tradition in which two horses, named Boomer and Sooner, lead a Studebaker wagon (the “Sooner Schooner”) onto the field. Tongue-Twisting name, but long-standing tradition. The ritual gets its name from the groups of people who snuck onto the territory that would later become Oklahoma—as they came too soon. On gamedays, the university’s male spirit squad rides the Sooner Schooner onto the field before beginning their performance.
Colorado’s Running with Ralphie
The University of Colorado Buffaloes have a live mascot named Ralphie—a real Buffalo! On gameday, Ralphie is always accompanied by five “Ralphie Handlers,” who are varsity athletes at the university that run Ralphie around the field in a horseshoe pattern, before each game—that is, unless her handlers decide she’s too anxious or upset to do so.
This tradition got its start in 1934, when a newspaper decided the school mascot would be the buffalo. At the end of the season in 1934, a group of students pooled together $25 to rent a buffalo calf, to stand at the sidelines. After that, a real buffalo attended each game on and off until the 1940s, when the school decided to keep a baby buffalo, named Mr. Chips, on campus, specifically for the football games.
Auburn’s War Eagle
At Auburn University in Alabama, the “war eagle” is a few things: First, it’s a greeting between staff, students and alumni; second, it’s the name of the university’s fight song; and third, it’s the name of the university’s golden eagle.
War Eagle (the animal) is not Auburn’s mascot, as you might initially believe. Since 1930, the university has kept a golden eagle on campus. Since 2001, the university has also had a “War Eagle Flight” on gameday before any of the festivities and plays begin, in which they’ll let the golden eagle fly over the stadium as a battle cry for Auburn’s team, a signifier of their prowess, and a fun way to begin the game. This a college gameday ritual you wouldn’t want to miss.
Clemson’s Storming the Field
At Clemson University in South Carolina, it’s typical for Clemson fans to “storm the field” once the game has ended—even if Clemson’s college football team didn’t win the game! Once out on the field, they sing the Alma Mater, and get to mingle and celebrate with the football players. This is just part of tradition, so win or lose, the fans are on that field—and they welcome the opposing team’s fans to run onto the field with them.
This tradition started back in the 1950s, when fans would only be welcomed onto the field to sing the Alma Mater after the team’s victories. But as time passed, the tradition become more lax, and fans are now welcome after every game to head onto the field and join in the camaraderie.
Iowa State’s Zodiac Signs
You may have heard parts of their fight song like, “O we will fight, fight, fight for Iowa State/And may her colors ever fly…” or the song, “The Bells of Iowa State,” but there are actually a lot of myths and superstitions around Iowa State’s campus, on and around gameday.
For example, students at Iowa State follow the rule, originating in 1929, to never step on the zodiac, as an architect built the 12 zodiac signs into the floor of one of the school’s buildings. While that rule applies throughout the school year to avoid failing an exam, this rule is especially pertinent, on and the night before gameday.
Ohio State’s Buckeye Leaves and Victory Bell
In 1968, Woody Hayes and Ernie Biggs changed the look of Ohio State’s football team’s uniform, which included one “buckey” stripe across the sleeves. After that, it became tradition for players on the team to “earn” buckeye leaves for wins and their personal performance in each game.
Additionally, at the end of each game that finds the Ohio State Buckeyes victorious, the Victory Bell, located in the Southeast tower of the stadium is rung. The bell was a gift of the classes from 1943-1945, and was rung for the first time on October 2, 1954 by the Alpha Phi Omega organization.
Nobody Does Gameday like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has many gameday rituals. For example, that of the Blackshirts: In the 1960s, during a particularly rough practice, the college football team’s coach sent someone to go buy black shirts, to differentiate the defensive players from the offensive players. They returned with black pullovers instead—and after that, each Husker coach was given black pullovers to the starting defensive players.
Additionally, similar to the Penn State White Out, it’s likely that if you attend a game at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, you’ll be wondering if you were supposed to wear red. This is known as the “sea of red,” and each attendee of the games is encouraged to wear red in support of the Huskers.
At the End of the Game...
There are so many college football gameday rituals to explore, and as football season gets started this year, perhaps you and your family can create some of your own new rituals to accompany your Saturday morning and afternoon football viewings. These rituals and traditions are so important to keep people together, to keep the spirit of each team and each college alive, and they can be the doorways through which various classes of the same college can connect and relive their times away at school. There’s something to be said when the class of 1980 has similar experiences to the class of 2016, and it’s exciting when those older generations can return to a campus and find traditions still living on, after they’ve graduated and grown up.
At the end of the day, football is a game, but it provides a chance for everyone to come together and spend time bonding over something they all love.