Ivan Maisel's favorite traditions
Updated: Wednesday August 08, 2001 11:02 AM
If anyone is qualified to appraise college football's top traditions, it's Sports Illustrated's Ivan Maisel, having grown up in the heart of SEC country (Alabama), attended school in the Pac-10 (Stanford) and lived in the land of the old Southwest Conference (Dallas). Below he offers his 10 best current and lost traditions.
Ten traditions that will never die
1. Live mascots: My five favorite -- Ralphie the Buffalo (Colorado), Traveler the white stallion (USC), the "War" Eagle (Auburn), all the Uga bulldogs (Georgia) and Lee Corso.
2. Coachspeak: "I know that State Tech is 0-8 and hasn't scored a touchdown since the first Bush Administration, but let me tell you we have the utmost respect for that team. If our players don't come ready to hit somebody on Saturday, we'll get beat simple as that. We just have to take what the defense gives us and you just have to take this pabulum I'm spoon-feeding you because if I told you what I really think, I might say something interesting."
3. Tailgating: Set up a candelabra on a white tablecloth in the Grove at Ole Miss. Dive into a bucket of fried chicken and a 12-pack at (name your campus). Arrive by boat at Washington or Tennessee (all hail the Volunteer Navy). Alumni greet one another, little kids play touch football while dodging cars and building memories that last a lifetime.
4. Fight songs: There are the great ones (Michigan, Wisconsin, USC) and the rest that all sound alike. No matter -- bring on the horn section and the marching tempo. Speaking of which ...
5. Halftime band shows: Although their charm has always been lost on me, somebody must like them. I'd rather see a show as put on by Stanford, Duke or one of the other smart-ass bands out there. There's a reason they call it sophomoric humor. It's created by sophomores -- and it's funny.
6. Notre Dame: If Gerry Faust didn't kill it in the 1980s, if Joe Kuharich didn't kill it in the 1960s, then the importance of the Fighting Irish on fall Saturday afternoons will never die. It has been 13 seasons since Notre Dame finished No. 1 and that's too long. No one is neutral about the Irish, which is why the sport needs them to be good again. Notre Dame stirs passion, and college football without passion would be the NFL.
7. Cheerleaders: They used to be chosen merely for their looks. Now they have to be gymnasts worthy of an Olympic trials invitation. I'll take the loss of glamor for the athleticism any day. I'm just not so sure that the fans pay that much attention to them anymore.
8. Keith Jackson: Heck, he retired and kept working. I'm willing to bet he'll be on ABC for 10 years after his funeral.
9. Cheating: As long as being No. 1 triggers incentive clauses in coaches' contracts, boosts enrollment, spikes T-shirt sales and royalties and brings a tear to an alum's eye, as long as they insist on keeping score and winning remains not everything but the only thing, there will be cheating. You can't outlaw it anymore than you can outlaw human nature.
10. Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M: Passion is never stronger than in College Station or wherever it is that two Aggies congregate. The yell leaders (please, not cheerleaders) have all sorts of secret hand signals and other gyrations and they wear pristine white uniforms that make them look like nursing home orderlies. All of it promotes insularity and a feeling of oneness that makes A&M the campus with the most spirit (as opposed to Florida, which is the campus with the most spirits, usually served in a go cup with a Coke chaser).
Ten great lost traditions
1. Letter sweaters: They looked as good on Chip Hilton 50 years ago. They would look good today. Even with the swoosh.
2. National championships decided on New Year's Day: Remember when Jan. 1 belonged to college football? The sport owned the day the same way that the NFL owns the last Sunday in January. The networks had a captive, snowbound, hungover audience. They fed the nation a curative of four bowl games that meant something. Now we get eight games that mean nothing. More, in this case, is way less.
3. Rivalries: How's that again? Sure, rivalries are the lifeblood of the sport. But think about some of the great rivalries of 40 years ago, even 20 years ago. Many of the best ones have been killed by conference expansion. Nebraska and Oklahoma don't even play every year any longer. I can't think of Pittsburgh and Penn State without seeing steam rising from Hugh Green's shoulder pads. Those teams have no games currently scheduled. Same goes most years for Auburn-Tennessee, Alabama-Georgia Tech, LSU-Tulane and Texas-SMU. Kids, ask Grandpa about Doak Walker and Bobby Layne and the great 'Horns-Mustangs games of the mid-century.
4. Hokey publicity: So much for the great old black-and-white photos where linemen leapt over the camera and backs put out stiff arms so rigid that if they attempted them in games some linebacker would rip the arm right out of the socket. Notre Dame PR man Roger Valdiserri convinced Joe THEESMAN to change the pronunciation of his last name to THIGHSMAN so that it would rhyme with Heisman. Nowadays, Heisman campaigns consist of videotapes, CD-ROMs and getting Chris Fowler to mention your name on TV. Booooooore-ing.
5. Indian mascots: They're hanging on at Illinois and Florida State, where the tribes in question like representing the schools. Dartmouth, Stanford, Central Michigan, Marquette and several others have ditched their Indian mascots. They did so for the right reason. However, I'm still waiting for Notre Dame to quit discriminating against the Irish.
6. Athletic dorms: Gen. Robert Neyland started athletic dorms at Tennessee in the late 1930s when he housed his players at the stadium. By the 1980s, many schools had built dorms that would have qualified for the Four Seasons hotel chain. The NCAA ended the practice during its reform movement of the early 1990s. You know what? The players are happier now because they occasionally run across people of their own age who don't play sports.
7. Junior Varsity games: It used to be that you could see tomorrow's stars today. NCAA scholarship reductions killed JV teams. Players leaving early for the NFL has all but killed redshirting. Progress? I'm not so sure.
8. Coaches shows that people watched: In the days before cable TV, when only one or two games per week were shown on national television, coaches shows and other Sunday replay programs were a school's best way to reach the most alumni at once. I can still hear Lindsay Nelson on Sunday morning saying, "After an exchange of punts, we move to further action in the third quarter ..." Pardon me, I'm getting emotional.
9. Schedule decals: In the Southeast and Southwest, fans showed their allegiance to their teams by sticking a schedule decal on the inside of the windshield. They were usually sponsored by a gasoline company or another sponsor of State U. They were also hell to scrape off a window, thanks to an adhesive that rivaled super glue, or maybe day-old gravy, in its ability to hold.
10. Funny bumper stickers: They represented passion and a good sense of humor. No one sells them anymore. I suppose it's easier to get on the Internet and tell your joke in a chat room, which is quicker but does little for the public discourse. "Punt Bama Punt" rubbed in Auburn's 1972 upset of Alabama for years because no Tiger fan dared remove it from his vehicle. That may be because the Crimson Tide won the next nine games in the rivalry.