Friday September 3, 2004
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Beyond the White and Gold

College football has tradition unlike any other

By Clark Nelson Staff Writer

College football kicked off last weekend with the USC Trojans defeating the Virginia Tech Hokies 24-13 in the BCA Classic.

Southern Cal has a storied tradition, which was revived by a return to national prominence over the last two years, and including their eighth national title last season.

Traditions abound, not only at USC, but also on college campuses nationwide. The NFL may have its star players, glamor and money, but college football has traditions they can never buy.

The beginning of September is one of my favorite times of the year. The buzz in the air, no pun intended, is like few other times of the year. Bands are practicing on campuses around the country, whistles are blown and drills run.

From the rivalries of Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-Florida St. and Army-Navy to the colorful mascots such as Bevo, the Texas Longhorn, Ralphie, the Colorado Buffalo and the Stanford Tree, college football reeks of a tradition all its own.

Teams like Michigan, Ohio St., Texas, Oklahoma and Florida St. are traditionally at the top of college football year in and year out. While Tech may not be as dominant as it was under legendary coach Bobby Dodd, the Jackets have been to seven straight bowl games. Only eight other schools can currently say this.

Every school has its own individual traditions, and Tech is no different. The Yellow Jackets have won four national titles, currently hold the highest winning percentage in bowl games, and play in the oldest stadium in Division I-A.

Tech starts its 112th season of football this Saturday against Samford. The team will be led onto the field by our unique mascot, the Ramblin’ Wreck, a mint-condition 1930 Ford Model-T.

Sometimes, schools are identified by former or current coaches. When you think of Notre Dame, Knute Rockne and his “Win one for the Gipper” speech almost immediately comes to mind. If you are from Alabama, you have most certainly heard of Paul Bryant, better known as “The Bear.”

Currently, two legends are nearing retirement in Joe Paterno of Penn St. and Bobby Bowden of Florida St. They hold two of the top five places for all-time wins. Paterno is so identified with Penn State that when he retires the school should put his likeness on its unadorned helmets.

People also make up an important part of the Yellow Jackets’ tradition. Two former coaches have two of the most prestigious awards in college football named for them. The Bobby Dodd Award and The Heisman Trophy are named for the top coach and player of the year respectively.

Bobby Dodd and John Heisman both roamed the sidelines at Tech, accumulating 267 wins between them. Additionally, the award for the top assistant coach in the country is named for Frank Broyles, a player under Dodd.

Traditions manifest themselves in many other ways. The Michigan Wolverines have a unique helmet logo, which came about so the quarterback could see his receivers down the field better. Clemson players rub Howard’s Rock, a rock given to former coach Frank Howard, and, as a team, run down the hill entering the stadium. The last NFL game I went to had players introduced individually, and choreographed dances were numerous.

The music in college football mostly consists of fight songs played for team triumph and inspiration. Some schools melodies are very recognizable; Notre Dame’s “Wake up the Echoes”, Michigan’s “Hail to the Victors” and “Ramblin’ Wreck from Tech” are a few. How many of you know your favorite NFL team’s fight song, if they have one at all?

Another difference in the college game is that the name on the front of the jersey matters most, not the name on the back. Players come and go, but certain things do not change.

Within the last half century the Oakland Raiders became the Los Angeles Raiders and back to the Oakland Raiders. Tech has been playing in its current stadium, named for Bobby Dodd, since 1913.

One the most important aspects of college football tradition is the fan. In 2003 over 46 million fans attended college football games. Stadiums at Michigan, Tennessee, Penn St., and Ohio St. regularly pack in over 100,000 fans to watch a game.

The fans of South Carolina are regarded as some of the most loyal in the country, selling out almost every home game despite mostly unsuccessful teams. The Gamecocks have won only 3 bowls in over 110 years of football and have an all-time losing record.

College stadiums are named for former coaches, athletic directors, and presidents of the school; not the company who put up the most money. Nicknames are commonly used for college stadiums like “The Swamp” at Florida or “The Big House” at Michigan. Lambeau Field in Green Bay is one of the last holdouts from corporations.

Before entering the stadiums, pre-game activities are almost as enjoyable for fans as the game itself. The party does not have to begin on game day. Fans begin showing up mid-week to prepare for the following weekend. They arrive by all sorts of transportation methods-RV, truck, car, and in boats, in the case for some followers of Tennessee and the University of Washington.

Another unmatched tradition of college football is the rivalries existing throughout the nation, many with highly justifiable nicknames. The colorfully named “Backyard Brawl” pits West Virginia against Pittsburgh, and the “Iron Bowl” plays to bitter rivalries Auburn and Alabama.

The Ducks of Oregon and Beavers of Oregon State clash in the “Civil War”. A name we may be more familiar with is the very appropriate “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate”, which is our annual match with Georgia.

The NFL does have the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but some trophies in college mean just as much to the teams involved. The Paul Bunyan Axe is given to the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game.

Last year, with the score tied at 34, Minnesota’s Glen Mason sent his kicker into the game to kick the winning field goal, reminding him not to forget the axe. The kick sailed through the uprights as time expired sending the team into a sprint to claim the axe. The Gophers’ exuberance was for a regular season game, not for a championship.

One of the most captivating traditions in college football belongs to Texas A&M. The Aggie students consider themselves the 12th man at games because of their vocal support.

This tradition carries over to the field, where a walk-on player wearing the number 12 is on the kickoff coverage team, representing the student body of Texas A&M. The NFL has players who hold out or demand trades because they are on the kickoff team, instead of holding a starring role.

To add to the list of traditions on the Flats, Tech students should strive this season to become the Yellow Jackets’ “12th man” by showing our presence at games, voicing our support, and upholding the traditions that make Saturdays in the fall so great.