Saturdays Down South: SEC Football Traditions
Cheers and mascots run the gamut in a region that goes crazy for the sport.
Years ago, before I came to my senses, I attended a posh private East Coast college. When the money ran out, a good friend at LSU invited me to tour the campus. When we paused at the massive “Death Valley” stadium, he shared in detail the Tiger Band’s pregame show from the moment they left the band room, descended the hill, marched onto the field and played “Hold Them Tigers.”
To this day, I can remember the chills. The only thing better was standing in those stands as an LSU student, watching that band take the field.
You may be familiar with the Hotty Toddy and the cowbell, but there are numerous football traditions and superstitions raging throughout the Southeastern Conference. And most of them rival the Tiger Band in intensity and inciting emotions before the South’s most beloved sport.
University of Arkansas
There’s one mean animal roaming the hills of Arkansas, so it’s only natural that the University of Arkansas would claim it as their mascot. The official mascot, however, is not any razorback but a Russian boar by the name of Tusk V. He’s one in a long line of honored pigs who lives on a farm in Dardanelle, Ark., and roams around a 9,000-square-foot arena when summer gets too hot or in an almost equally spacious outdoor area.
On game days Tusk heads to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville where fans turn into hogs by cheering what is known as the “Calling of the Hogs.” Fans wiggle their fingers and raise their hands over their heads for about six seconds as they say “Woooo.” They then bring their hands down as they call out “Pig, Sooie.” Razorback fans do this three times and on the final cheer call out “Razorbacks.”
University of Georgia
Arkansas may be hogs, but Georgia has gone to the dogs. Heading into the country’s 10th largest stadium, students at the University of Georgia offer up a song for “Calling the Dawgs,” one that ends with a woof. Their mascot is a bit cuter than Arkansas’, an adorable English bulldog named Uga who lives a life that’s anything but for the dogs. There’s even a Dawg Walk, where thousands greet the players and coaches at the main entrance to Sanford Stadium while the Georgia Redcoat Band plays.
If the football team wins, fans head to the Chapel Bell on the North Campus and ring it into the night. The bell has been used to signal classes beginning and ending and was once a World War II air raid signal. On the superstitious side, the black iron arch on the North Campus, built in the late 1850s, mirror the Georgia flag by representing justice, moderation and wisdom. Undergraduates are warned not to walk under the arch until after commencement for fear of not graduating.
University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee and its football stadium rest beside the Tennessee River, making it one of only two U.S. college football stadiums accessible by water. Fans in their boats park outside the stadium and tailgate on the water, watching the game by TV if they weren’t able to nab tickets on dry land. This “Vol Navy” can attract around 200 boats per football game.
University of Alabama
Many people wonder why Alabama chose an elephant as its mascot and the reference to the team as the “Crimson Tide.” Both are far apart from Tuscaloosa, an inland north Alabama town. When Alabama played in the 1927 Rose Bowl, the Rosenberger's Birmingham Trunk Company outfitted them with luggage sporting the company’s elephant trademark. Another story has it that Atlanta Journal sportswriter Everett Strupper wrote, “At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.”
As for the Crimson Tide, the original team was known as the “Crimson White.” When the team played Auburn in white jerseys in the 1907 Iron Bowl, Birmingham Age-Herald sportswriter Hugh Roberts remarked how the game turned to a sea of red due to the state’s red mud on the field. This is why you’ll hear fans chanting, “Roll Tide, Roll.”
It’s legend that when you move to Alabama, people demand to know if you’re a Bama fan or an Auburn fan. It’s a long-standing rivalry of immense proportions.
In 1937, Alabama State Sen. Sheldon Toomer planted a grove of oak trees in a part of campus now known as “Toomer’s Corner.” Fans would don the trees with toilet paper after winning games, turning them into what looked like a winter wonderland. After the 2010 Iron Bowl — the annual gridiron battle between Auburn and Alabama — the famed oak trees were poisoned by an Alabama fan and after attempts to heal the trees failed, were cut down. The perpetrator was discovered and is no means a representative of his school, but the outpouring of support for the school’s beloved trees was impressive.
New trees have been planted to replace the ones that died, but fans must wait until the trees acclimate before the rolling can resume.
University of South Carolina
Another famous rivalry exists between South Carolina and Clemson and before the two teams meet, South Carolina holds a “Tiger Burn” in which a massive papier-mache tiger is burned to the ground, surrounded by cheering fans.
The Gamecocks offers a unique form of tailgating in which cabooses line a railroad track outside Williams-Brice Stadium to form a Cockaboose. Each railroad car is privately owned and outfitted for tailgating in style. There are annual dues and a few rules, most notably to not alter the red exterior with the words, “South Carolina Cockaboose Railroad.”
Texas A&M is new to the SEC Conference and one that’s chock-full of traditions. Students say “Howdy” to others they meet, an act encouraged as the official A&M greeting. Many say goodbye in a unique way as well, spouting out “Gig ’em!” This tradition hails back to a 1930 football game against Texas Christian University, known as the Horned Frogs. A&M graduate Pinky Downs wanted to incite a crowd gathered for a midnight yell practice and asked, “What are we going to do to those Horned Frogs?” The answer was “Gig ‘em,” referring to what Southerners do to frogs when hunting them. Downs gave them the thumbs up while holding a fist and this hand gesture became the first of its kind in the Southwest Conference. You can hear the crowds chanting this now during A&M football kickoffs.
University of Mississippi
Want to incite the crowd at Ole Miss games? Simply ask one question. Here’s what you receive in crowd noise when you shout out: “Are you ready?”
Hell yes! Damn Right! Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty Who the hell are we? Hey! Flim Flam, Bim Bam Ole Miss, By Damn!
Called the Hotty Toddy, its origins are unclear, but Bleachreport.com claims it may have started as the “Heighty! Tighty!, which appeared in a Nov. 19, 1926, issue of the student newspaper, The Mississippian:
Gosh A Mighty!
Who in the h--l are we?
Rim! Ram! Flim! Flam!
Ole Miss, by D--m
However it came to be, it’s something to see — and instigate. Here’s Burt Reynolds doing the Hotty Toddy.
University of Missouri
Mizzou had traditions for students coming and going. Incoming freshmen paint the 90-feet-wide by 95-feet-high “M” on the side of the stadium, a tradition that dates back to 1927 when students formed the symbol. It’s also a tradition, although not an easy one to do, for outgoing Mizzou seniors to kiss the 50-yard line.
A naval horn was launched on top of the press box of Vanderbilt Stadium in 1993, used by Vanderbilt’s Navy ROTC to call fans to pre-game activities and when the football team arrives on the field. Known as “The Admiral” and named by Bob Redd, a fan who won the naming contest in 2011, the horn is also sounded after every Commodore score.
It's said that a Jersey cow made its way onto Davis Wade Stadium during a victorious game and the students deemed it a good luck charm. Since then they have incorporated the cowbell into their athletic events. But don't get the notion that cows are the mascot. Mississippi State has a bulldog as well. This English bulldog is named "Bully." (We borrowed a photo from the Mississippi State Alumni Association to give you a visual.)
University of Florida
George Edmondson didn’t like the University of Florida fans booing the team so he jumped up in 1949 and started a cheer that’s become legend at the school's football games. Edmondson was called Mr. Two Bits and at every Gator home football game you’ll hear the “Two-bits, Four-bits, Six-bits, a dollar. All for the Gators, Stand up and holler!” And between the third and the fourth quarter all fans stand up, lock arms and sing “We Are The Boys.”
The University of Kentucky took their mascot when a former university official told a group of students that the team had “fought like Wildcats.” On game day, fans begin the game with a “Call to the Post,” mirroring when horses are called to the post for the Kentucky Derby. And if you’re tailgating in Lexington, you’d better be toting some good ole Kentucky bourbon.
The LSU Tiger Marching Band, also called The Golden Band from Tigerland, leaves the band room and marches to Tiger Stadium down what is known as Victory Hill. Thousands line the side of the road to watch the band pass by and perform "Tiger Rag." Then, 15 minutes before kickoff, the band silently marches onto the field of Death Valley, spreading out and pausing in front of the student section. Only the sound of drumsticks can be heard for the entire 92,000-plus fans stand and watch in silence. At the right moment, band members flip their instruments, point toward the stands and begin “Tiger Rag” and the crowd roars its approval. After the band turns toward every section of Tiger Stadium, and those sections respond, it spells out LSU.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by LSU graduate Cheré Dastugue Coen who always gets chills when she watches the Golden Band from Tigerland take the field.