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The 10 Best College Sports Pranks

Posted: Thursday July 19, 2007 4:11PM; Updated: Thursday July 19, 2007 4:22PM
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By Chris Lesinski

Pranks are as much a part of college as tailgating before a big game or pretending to listen to your professor while you're really IM'ing with your friends. But what are the best pranks of all-time? Here is SIOC's Top 10.

10. The Bush/Ivy League

Sorry Harvard students, but there's no other way to describe you after Yale pranked you into spelling this self-effacing comment.
Sorry Harvard students, but there's no other way to describe you after Yale pranked you into spelling this self-effacing comment.
Photo courtesy of Yale Daily News

School: Harvard
Year: 2004

During the 2004 Yale-Harvard football game, a group of Yale students posed as the non-existent "Harvard Pep Squad" by wearing custom-designed T-shirts, painting their faces and toting fake student IDs. They convinced the opposing cheering section to hold up colored placards to create a mosaic that supposedly displayed, "GO HARVARD." In fact, the letters spelled "WE SUCK."

Many Harvardites didn't even know they were pranked. The hoax organizers started a website that touts a video, pictures and an online store that sells shirts and posters. Alas, the best pranks usually deflate such arrogance ... if only Harvard retaliated. In spite of its gratuitous message and arrogant PR policy, the "Harvard sucks" prank should be commended for its creative execution and as a bold effort in today's hypersensitive, lawsuit-ridden era.

9. The Freshman Face-Off

School: Air Force
Year: 1956

Typically, stealing another team's mascot is a meticulously calculated covert operation. Things are different at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where the mascot kidnappings are customarily blatant: Notre Dame's leprechaun ended up with a bloody nose in 1987 -- during the game and right in the middle of the field. Once the mascot is disabled, cadets pass him up through the stands, la involuntary "crowd surfing." The practical joke from which the tradition originates is quite compelling.

Apparently, the quickest way from the bottom of Falcon Stadium to the top is through the stands. Just ask Wayne Waterhouse, a freshman in 1956, whose rite of passage was a malfunctioning prank-explosive that literally caused him to "loose face." It was meant to detonate during a halftime skit before he was near. The fastest way to a medic was up and over the student section.

8. Operation Dung Drop

School: USC
Year: 1958

The ancient USC-UCLA rivalry is speckled with tall tales; some are fact, some fiction. What's for sure: the Tommy Trojan statue on USC's campus is the most defaced statuary in college history. Typically, UCLA pranksters conspire to paint him blue and gold -- thwarted now by a condom of duct tape that covers him during rivalry week. His bronze sword has been removed so many times (once, it was welded into the middle of his back) that the school began replacing it with a wooden one to cut-costs. Attempts have been made at his head, limbs and even the whole statue.

But the most elaborate of them all was a failed attempt at averting the stonewall of all-night student guards and 24-hour camera surveillance. Perhaps inspired by competitive hot air ballooning, the crew planned to toss a few hundred pounds of manure out the door of a rented helicopter, splattering on the target below. To their dismay, it backfired -- literally. The volatile winds of the helicopter blades sucked the debris upward and back into their faces. An unknown amount of the manure probably made it to the icon, far from triumph -- at least according to the real story.

7. Still Undefeated

School: Plainfield Teachers College (sorta)
Year: 1941

In the early 1940's, the New York Times published the scores for a legendary college football team, the Plainfield Teachers College Comets. They starred Johnny Chung, a Herculean Hawaiian quarterback, whose only weakness was ... his nonexistence. The Comets were a mythical team counterfeited by Morris Newburger, who wasn't even a college student; Newburger was only a stockbroker and a sports fan with a sense of humor, mocking the obscure teams that appeared in Sunday papers. The ruse held up for six weeks, due in part to his keen attention to detail: the Hawaiian leader downed a bowl of rice between halves for extra energy and the team's matchless "W" formation (which required the ends to face the backfield) preserved their perfect record.

6. The Birth of a Dynasty

School: Miami (Ohio)
Year: 1867

The earliest debauchery in this prank rank is from 1867, long before the NCAA, when beanie copters were still funny. Though not an actual "sports prank" per se, it changed the face of college football as we know it.

Ohio legislature passed a bill to establish an agricultural school and Miami University (Ohio) petitioned enthusiastically to make this new college a part of ye olde domain. The students did anything but mind their Ps & Qs. They staged a full farmstead inside the school's beloved chapel, including: a haystack, a harrow, a cow, two horses and several ducks, pigs, and chickens. The statesmen caught word of the wicked blasphemy and established the school elsewhere. It was dubbed "The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College," which is just an old-fashioned name for Ohio State University.

5. The (overruled) Play

School: UC Berkeley
Year: 1982

During 1982's Bay Area rivalry game between Stanford and UC Berkeley, Cal returned a kickoff to win in the final moments, making five laterals and trampling over the Stanford Band in the process. The disputed touchdown became known as "The Play," and within four days of "The Big Game," Stanford got its revenge by replacing The Daily Californian with thousands of phony reproductions. The mock front-page explained how the NCAA overruled the officials and scored the game 20-19, a victory for Stanford. "I've watched that replay a thousand times and if that guy wasn't downed my first name isn't Richard," an NCAA officer was quoted. Below the fold, a story detailed the Cal coach's teary-eyed breakdown upon hearing the news. The counterfeit newspaper gag is an old one, but the tension and controversy surrounding "The Play" makes its prank just as legendary.

4. Balloon Animals

School: Harvard
Year: 1982

Using a vacuum, a 1967 Mustang, a weather balloon, a handful of marbles and some talcum powder, a group of students lampooned the 1982 Yale-Harvard football game by inflating a latex bubble at the 46-yard line. The balloon erupted from beneath the turf and grew to about a six-foot diameter before it exploded. The startled crowd of bulldog-haters and anti-Harvardites united in confusion for just a moment, until they realized that the atypical balloon was not donned with "Happy Birthday" or the Easter Bunny -- it was covered in the letters: MIT. After the game, MIT school president Paul Gray wrote the Harvard president asking for the contraband techno-lark that caused pandemonium at the rivalry football game. He wanted to put it on display.

3. Victoria's Secret

School: UC Berkeley
Year: 2006

The New York Times compared this prank to a "military-style psychological operation" and named it one of the most notable ideas of 2006 -- though, I doubt the UC Rally Committee referred to The Art of War or took notes during History 101's Genghis Khan lecture.

When USC's star basketball player, Gabe Pruitt, hit the floor for a crucial game against U.C. Berkeley last year, he brought more baggage than he even knew. In the fashion of Dateline's "To Catch a Predator," Cal fans had posed as an internet-honey from UCLA, aptly named Victoria, who Pruitt agreed to meet once he returned to L.A. -- or so we can assume from Pruitt's words: "I want to c u so bad." Like many online relationships, this one didn't go well: Cal fans broke the bad news mid-game, chanting "Victoria" and reciting his digits throughout the game. Pruitt shot 3 for 13 and USC lost by 11 points.

2. The Georgia Tech Train Wreck


In the early days of college football, the preferred mode of transportation to away games matched the brawn of its athletes: the iron horse. For about a century, it became Auburn University's mission to reduce this brawn every time Georgia Tech came to town. Students ran grease across the tracks before and after the station platform the night before the game. Catching a greased pig is hard. Catching a greased locomotive is harder. The train flew past the stop year after year, leaving the Auburn opponents with a hefty warm-up as they trekked several miles back to the station.

In 1898, the administration threatened to expel whoever attempted to continue the greasing ritual. Teachers and the like camped out and supervised the tracks until swarms of students in pajamas and bathrobes emerged from the woodwork. Expulsion became impossible -- but the students were still intimidated. The tension released in the form of a friendly impromptu pep-rally that became a yearly tradition: the "Wreck Tech Pajama Parade."

1. The Great Rose Bowl Hoax

School: Rose Bowl
Year: 1961

Today, Caltech has no official mascot, much less a football team. But until 1993, the Rose Bowl was home to the mere technical school's football squad -- as well as the culminating event of college football. In 1961, a team of 14 students decided to capitalize on the event's irony by changing the University of Washington's flip-card stunt at half time.

A student disguised himself as an eager reporter from a high school newspaper and interviewed a cheerleader to get the details. They found that by surreptitiously altering 2,232 instruction sheets, the entire Husky fan section could be duped into displaying any pattern the "Fiendish Fourteen" desired -- without the crowd realizing it. They stole the instructions, printed modified copies, and replaced them.

On game day, the college card collage played out as expected for the first 11 patterns, lulling the crowd into a sense of security and drawing the lenses of (color) national television. Subtle alterations to the 12th pattern resulted in a Husky that looked an awful lot like a beaver -- the dam-building totem of many technical schools. The 13th stunt came off as a mistake: "HUSKIES" spelled backwards. And finally, the 14th stunt spelled "CALTECH," and it all made sense, casting silence upon the stadium for a few moments. Soon, laughter set in among the crowd and panic among the Washington cheerleaders, who cancelled the final stunt, which was wisely left unadjusted by the pranksters.

I can't go without thanking Neil Steinberg, whose book If at All Possible, Involve a Cow, is the only certifiable manual on college pranks.

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