College football’s unmatched tradition and pageantry make game days uniquely romanticized cultural events in addition to thrilling athletic contests. And while every campus and stadium throughout the country holds dear its own proud rituals that enhance the game’s aura, these traditions rise above the rest as the most time-honored, thrilling, and sacred.
The 12th Man: Texas A&M
Dating back to 1922, Texas A&M students stand the entire game at Kyle Field, symbolizing that they’re ready for duty should the 11 Aggies on the field need assistance. The display is a moving scene of solidarity, service, support, and school spirit.
Script Ohio (Dotting The “i”): Ohio State
Beginning in 1936, Script Ohio is the Ohio State marching band’s iconic field performance, featuring a formation spelling out the word “Ohio” with a revolving “O” and dotting of the “i” with the sousaphone player. The tradition was born when the Ohio Stadium grounds crew forgot to paint the field before a game and band members heroically volunteered to physically create the formation at midfield and hold it the entire game. Sixteen band members were trampled and hospitalized that day and 1,037 have been maimed or fatally gored since.
A noble white horse appearing at all USC home games with a regal Trojan warrior astride, Traveler is one of college football’s most famous mascots. Traveler first appeared at a USC game in 1961. Asked by a radio broadcaster what the Trojans must do to overcome their 14-0 halftime deficit against Georgia Tech, USC coach John McKay said, “We just need more horsepower and weapons.” A lifelong USC fan, Traveler heard the request in the stands and summoned the sword-wielding warrior sitting beside him to join the Trojans as they returned to the field for the third quarter. USC rallied to a 17-14 victory, led by a 50-yard field goal by Traveler and a clinching defensive stand in which the Trojan warrior used his sword to deflate Georgia Tech’s ball before the final play.
Ramblin’ Wreck: Georgia Tech
Incensed by his team’s loss to USC and inspired by Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride during the Yellow Jackets’ post-game Disneyland visit, Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd drunkenly drove the team bus back to Atlanta, smashing into cars and trees along the way. As the ravaged bus chugged back to campus, Georgia Tech’s athletic director remarked, “Look at that ramblin’ wreck.” The term was immediately coined and the bus was subsequently converted into the 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe present at games today.
Chief Osceola: Florida State
Legendary Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden was inspired by the Native American costumes worn by young female festival goers while partying at Coachella during spring break 2002. This led Bowden on a months-long, mushroom-induced vision quest where he pondered how Florida State could similarly appropriate Native American culture while honoring Tallahassee’s tribal roots. His solution was a Native American man named Chief Osceola who rides a horse named Renegade to midfield before games and plants a burning spear in the turf while Bowden spins house music from a DJ booth atop the press box.
Ralphie’s Run: Colorado
Ralphie is a 2,000-pound buffalo that leads Colorado onto Folsom Field before games. Ralphie has no idea what football is, nor that he’s a buffalo. He thinks 53,000 people are there just to watch him run like a fucking boss. Fame has gone to his 500-pound buffalo head and he’s kind of a dick, especially since he joined a frat.
Howard’s Rock: Clemson
Desperately grasping for motivational words before his struggling team’s 1964 season finale against rival South Carolina, Clemson coach Frank Howard fished a pesky pebble out of his shoe, held it aloft, and told the Tigers their best chance to upset the Gamecocks was simply annoying and distracting them as much as possible. Clemson tormented South Carolina all game with finger pokes, tummy tickles, and excessively loud throat clearing. The Gamecocks became unnerved, the Tigers emerged victorious, and a Clemson tradition was born.
Calling The Hogs: Arkansas
This four-part fan cry (“Woo!” “Pig!” Sooie!” “Razorbacks!” ) dates back to the 1920s when Arkansas’ offensive linemen ordered massive platters of bacon and sausage just hours before kickoff at a Fayetteville IHOP. The pork-engorged Razorbacks won that game, crediting their swine-laden breakfast for giving them the strength to finish the fourth quarter. Sausage patties are still called “the breakfast of champions” throughout Arkansas and bacon bits are sold in cereal boxes at supermarkets.
Losing The Game: Vanderbilt
One of America’s top universities, Vanderbilt plays in the perennially grueling Southeastern Conference. Since the Commodores know competing for championships isn’t realistic, they’ve embraced the tradition of “Losing The Game” where they line up each Saturday to get pummeled by the SEC’s dominant football factories. Vanderbilt has won just 24% of its SEC games in history, which the smarty-pants Commodores know is an F for performance but an A for effort.
Bro-ing The Bros: Arizona State
Arizona State’s tight, tanned student body is 62% female, but the men on campus more than compensate by being the bro-iest bros to ever bro. The Sun Devils get stoked for every game by running onto the field through a tunnel of shirtless bros while giant Axe canisters douse them in body spray. The bare-chested bros then head to their special seating section in Sun Devil Stadium dubbed “The Brodeo,” where they chant “HELLA BRO! HELLA BRO!” after every play, inspiring the Sun Devils to bro-handle their bro-ponents.