The 10 Strangest College Football Traditions In America

One of the big differences between college and pro football (besides the NCAA sidelining players for charging a buck for autographs) are the traditions and superstitions that have grown up around the big game. Teams and fans have all sorts of rituals that supposedly bring them luck or just get them hyped, from touching rocks to facing down wild beasts to just yelling really, really, really loud. Today, we’re going to look at ten examples of game-day college football traditions and whether or not charging out of a cloud of dry ice really helps you win.

FLORIDA STATE: THE SOD CEMETERY

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If your team’s hosting FSU and you think you’ve got a shot at winning the game, keep an eye out for Seminoles with shovels. Ever since a surprise 1962 victory against the Bulldogs, Florida State has been nipping chunks of sod from rival stadiums where FSU is considered the underdog, then burying them in a weird little cemetery if they win. The tradition eventually expanded to all bowl games, all ACC championship games, and any road games against the University of Florida, but as more and more stadiums switched to expensive artificial turf, the Seminoles were politely asked to stop tearing up other teams’ million-dollar fields and find something else to take and bury. Maybe that’s why Jameis Winston stole those frozen crab legs.

OHIO STATE: THE MIRROR LAKE JUMP

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Since 1969, Buckeye fans have celebrated the game against Michigan’s rival Wolverines by jumping into a freezing-cold oversized pond on the OSU campus, and since 1970 OSU has been trying to stop them. After the tradition blew up in 1990, the university took steps to curb the tradition (estimated to cost the school $20k in cleanup costs annually): it’s officially discouraged, cops are present (though they rarely make arrests), and the negative effects of jumping into icy water polluted by hundreds of drunk college students’ piss are heavily publicized. OSU gave up in 2013 and made the event semi-official, requiring wristbands, supervision, and hopefully less piss-based diseases.

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: THE FOURTH YEAR FIFTH

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UVA’s leaders and administrators would very much like you to believe that the tradition before Virginia’s last home game of the season is the Fourth-Year 5K, a five-kilometer run open to students of all years and local residents. In fact, the tradition is and likely always will be the Fourth Year Fifth, where seniors down an entire fifth of their choice of booze and try to avoid being arrested, winding up in the hospital, dying, or some combination of all three. Some students excuse themselves from the tradition on the grounds that they would actually like to remember the last home game of their college career, but there’s always going to be people out there with more vodka than sense.

UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: THE VOL NAVY

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For the last decade or so the Volunteers’ best-known tradition has been sucking in hilarious ways (check the recent loss to Oklahoma, where the Vols played exactly one half of a great game before just sort of losing interest) but the Vol Navy has been around since 1962, when former Tennessee announcer George Mooney found an ingenious solution to Knoxville’s nightmarishly bad gameday traffic: simply boat down the Tennessee River to Volunteer Landing and walk five or so blocks to Neyland Stadium. Today, the Vol Navy boasts 200 vessels, many of which are fancy luxo-yachts whose owners choose to watch the game on ship and avoid contact with the drunken hipsters and penniless bloggers that infest Knoxville’s Fort Sanders neighborhood.

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY: HOWARD’S ROCK

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Clemson’s Memorial Field has long been known as “Death Valley” after a coach from rival Presbyterian College referred to it as a place his teams go each year to die (nice pep talk, Coach!), so a Clemson alumnus traveling in California thought it would be a neat gift if he got a rock from the actual Death Valley and gave it to legendary coach Frank Howard. Howard did not actually think the big ugly piece of flint was a cool gift, and used it as a doorstop until instructing the head of the school’s booster club to “take this rock and throw it over the fence, or out in the ditch – do something with it, but get it out of my office!” The cheeky student instead put it on a pedestal on a hill above the east end zone, and the day it was officially unveiled the Tigers managed an amazing come-from-behind victory against Virginia. After that, Coach Howard reconsidered his feelings for his former doorstop, telling players that unless they were going to give 110% they should “keep their filthy hands off of it.”

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: RALPHIE THE BUFFALO

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One good way to intimidate the opposing team is to show up on the field with a huge dangerous animal just barely under your control. That’s what Colorado’s been doing since 1934, with a succession of buffaloes that eventually were named “Ralphie” for the noise they made while running. Ralphies are all female buffalo, which are smaller and generally more controllable, at least in theory: the two Ralphies currently on duty have both famously come close to getting loose, with Ralphie IV once seriously injuring a handler and running over a Wildcat (the Kansas State variety).

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: THE SMOKE

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Miami’s famous entrance tradition came from one man with a dream and a lot of fire extinguishers. In his spare time, Miami’s director of transportation Bob Nalette built an elaborate system of pipes, lights and stereos, playing recorded sounds of hurricane-force winds and flashes of lightning as the Hurricanes emerged from a cloud of extinguisher-created fog. Fairly soon the effect was changed to use dry ice instead of fire extinguishers, resulting in much less of a chance players would be asphyxiated, and now rival teams are greeted by the terrifying sight of a crowd of athletes charging out of the mist led by a man dressed as an ibis. (Yeah, he’s supposed to be an ibis. It’s like a stork…it’s a long story.)

MISSISSIPPI STATE: CLANGA

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There aren’t many gameday traditions that the SEC has specifically tried to outlaw, but MSU’s cacophonous cowbell “Clanga” clan was basically the reason behind the 1977 decision to ban “artificial noisemakers” at games. So many Bulldog fans smuggled their big jangly bells into games that in 2009 the SEC finally backed down and allowed more cowbell. MSU took advantage of this on September 10th’s home game, earning a deafening Guinness World Record for 5748 cowbells ringing at once.

UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: THE MUSS

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It started in 2002 but is one of the most well-known college football traditions today. U of U’s Mighty Utah Student Section is a testament to Utahns unsettling skill at acting like a single hive-mind entity. Derived from a lyric in the school’s old-timey fight song (“No other gang of college men dare meet us in the muss”), MUSSers wear customized red t-shirts, stand throughout the entire game, and most famously perform the Third Down Jump to distract and intimidate the other team on crucial third down plays. The MUSS is so good at what it does that they keep a running tally of false starts committed by the other team; in 2011 alone they racked up 25 five-yard penalties.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON: UNIFORM CHANGES

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Besides being a Pac-12 powerhouse and high-tech Nike research lab, the University of Oregon is also weirdly fashion conscious, rarely playing in the same combination of jerseys, pants, and helmet designs twice. The tradition came about as a way of showing off the Ducks’ rebirth as a competitive team, and the attention-grabbing designs are said to be surprisingly useful in recruiting. Plus, having forty different jersey designs to sell to fans instead of just two can be pretty lucrative.