Tradition is part of what makes college football appealing to sports fans nationwide. From live mascots to signature songs, traditions help define the game-day experience in specific ways for each fan base. These traditions feel even more important as teams continually change conferences and cast away longtime rivals without a second thought.
These 25 traditions rank among the best in college football:
1. Army-Navy Game: It remains one of college football's biggest rivalries. From the cadet march to the singing of both teams' alma maters at the end of the game, this rivalry is steeped in tradition. Records mean nothing. It stands as a moment each fall for the nation to collectively celebrate the players from each team who serve the nation's armed forces. Their sacrifices on the battlefield imbue special meaning into this annual rivalry game.
2. Saturday Night in Death Valley: LSU night games are the closest equivalent to a Mardi Gras celebration in college football. It offers the best tailgating food you can get anywhere. The entire team, coaches, band and Mike the Tiger march down the hill before the game and visiting fans get serenaded with chants of "Tiger Bait! Tiger Bait!" There is no atmosphere quite like it in college football.
3. Script Ohio: Nothing is more identifiable with Ohio State football than this pregame routine by the marching band that began in 1936. It starts with the band forming a revolving block "O," lengthening into a script formation of the word Ohio and the "dotting of the I" by the sousaphone player. On rare occasions, a notable alum or celebrity is chosen to dot the "I."
4. Yell Practice: Forget pep rallies. Texas A&M holds a yell practice the night before each home game at Kyle Field. Yell Leaders are elected to practice coordinating booming yells to be used during the game. They use multiple hand signals to represent various yells to guide the fans. It is one reason why Kyle Field has earned its reputation as the home of the 12th man.
5. Howard's Rock: The most exciting 25 seconds in college football, as it is known in Clemson, occur when Clemson players rub Howard's Rock and then storm down a hill and enter the playing field at Death Valley. The rock is named after former Clemson coach Frank Howard, and Tiger players ran past it the first time before a victory over Virginia in 1966.
6. Ralphie's Run: Nothing compares to seeing a live buffalo storm across a football field before kickoff. Colorado has had Ralphie lead the team onto Folsom Field to start every home game since the 1960s.
7. War Eagle: Auburn developed its well known battle cry of "War Eagle" from the release of a bald eagle before each home game. The eagle soars majestically over Jordan Hare Stadium and fires up the fans for kickoff.
8. Nebraska Blackshirts: Starting during Bob Devaney's tenure in the 1960s, black practice jerseys were given to the Nebraska defense when the unit met certain defensive goals. The right to earn these blackshirts has served as a motivator to the Cornhuskers to build a tough defensive identity in the decades since that time.
9. Rocky Top: When opposing fans enter Neyland Stadium,"Rocky Top" becomes their worst nightmare. The Tennessee band plays the song over and over again until it can't stand it any longer. It has a great psychological effect on visiting teams, too.
10. Touchdown Jesus: A mural of Jesus Christ towers over Notre Dame Stadium. On the mural, Jesus appears to be holing his hands in such a way as to signal a touchdown. For Irish fans, it is a meaningful symbol of the school's religious background and football success.
11. Go Blue: Former Michigan coach Bump Elliott started the tradition of having the Wolverines take the field at the Big House by running under a huge "Go Blue" banner. It has been done since 1962. It is 40 feet long, and each player touches it for luck as he passes by the banner.
12. Hook 'Em Horns: No hand signal is more recognized in college football. It was introduced in 1955 by Texas officials. The sign is made by holding down your middle and ring finger with your thumb and extending your index and pinky fingers in opposite directions.13. Rammer Jammer: When an Alabama victory is in the bag, the Crimson Tide band will signal the fans to begin the Rammer Jammer chant. It addresses the opposing team by name and informs them that Alabama just beat the hell out of them. It has been a favorite taunt for nearly a century.
14. Ramblin' Wreck: Since 1961, Georgia Tech has used a 1930 Ford Model A to lead the Yellow Jackets out of the tunnel before kickoff. The Model A drives right out onto the field. It is a fun sight to behold.
15. Country Roads: It's safe to say John Denver, even long after his death, is a hugely popular man in West Virginia. His single "Take Me Home, Country Roads" has been sung by Mountaineers fans before and after every home game since 1972.
16. The Sooner Schooner: A horse drawn covered wagon, the Sooner Schooner rides across the field and makes a lap after every Oklahoma field goal or touchdown. It serves as a clever reminder of the state's pioneer heritage.
17. Mississippi State Cowbells: The Bulldogs have built a tradition of ringing cowbells during big games. It dates back an Egg Bowl matchup where a cow wearing a bell wandered onto the field. Mississippi State beat Ole Miss, and MSU fans have rung cowbells to commemorate that upset ever since that time.
18. Chief Osceola: Chief Osceola rides out onto the field before the start of each Florida State home game. He then tosses a flaming spear into the middle of it to fire up the crowd. Along with the tomahawk chop and chant, it is a fun tradition that sets the Seminoles apart.19. Tunnel Smoke: Entering the field through a cloud of smoke became a tradition at Miami football games back in the 1950s. The smoke effect has remained an entrance trademark for the U ever since that time.
20. Gator Chomp: Opposing teams and fans get treated to a heavy dose of the Gator Chomp from Florida players and fans alike at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The chomp is made when a person extends their arms together vertically and claps.
21. Traveler: At USC games, Traveler the horse and the Trojan warrior ride around the stadium before the warrior dismounts. He walks to the middle of the field and plants his sword. The duo has led the USC players out since 1961.
22. Jump Around: Nothing gets Camp Randall Stadium shaking to its foundations quite like "Jump Around." A total of 80,000 screaming fans begin the fourth quarter at each home game by jumping in unison to the House of Pain song. It is louder than actual House of Pain concerts.
23. Battle of the Bands: The renowned bands between Grambling State and Southern duel to see who is best before and during each annual Bayou Classic. The two-part Battle of the Bands takes place on the Friday before the game and again during halftime of the game. It is the most well-known and highest attended among the festivities connected to the game.
24. The World's Largest Drum: Members of the Purdue band cart a Big Bass Drum around and strike a beat for the Boilermaker band. It was built in 1921 and has been in continual use since that time. The drum stands 10 feet high.25. Smurf Turf: Boise State has drawn as much national attention for the nature of its home field as its success in football. Everyone associates the Broncos with the distinctive blue turf that mirrors the school colors. Until joining the Mountain West Conference, Boise State also wore all-blue uniforms at home to blend into the Smurf turf.
John Coon is a graduate of the University of Utah and has covered the Utes in multiple sports as a sports reporter based in Salt Lake City.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- college football
- Ohio State football