Tradition is a Strange Thing...
Oct. 8, 2012
Howard's Rock at Clemson.
Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame.
Tennessee's orange-and-white checkered end zones.
The greatest aspect of college football may very well be the unique traditions living in all corners of the country. Heck, you don't even have to leave the state we're in to find tradition.
As silly as it may seem to the outsider, when Virginia scores in Charlottesville, the fans sway and sing "The Good Old Song" to the music of "Auld Lang Syne," locking arms in a sign of unity as they do. And in Blacksburg, there are few entrances that rival what happens when Metallica's "Enter Sandman" is played at Lane Stadium, where the fans go crazy.
Which bring me to this week's blog subject: When, where and how is Old Dominion's football program going to find its tradition? So far, all I can tell in three-plus years is that quite often ODU fans are like Los Angeles Dodgers fans: They arrive late and leave early.
That's a tradition that needs to stop. And maybe it will stop this Saturday.
Come Saturday, the Monarchs will host Villanova at 3:30 p.m. in a very, very important football game. For the first time, the Monarchs will enter with a 5-0 record. For the first time, they will be ranked No. 3 in the country in the Football Championship Subdivision.
So why not be in your seat for the kickoff? Heck, why not be in your seat for the introductions?
For anyone who watched the introduction of the South Carolina Gamecocks on ESPN Saturday night, that's a lesson in how it's done. Then again, there are a lot of teams that get it right, right from the start.
Down at Florida State, Chief Osceola and his spotted Appaloosa horse Renegade get it right. They ride to midfield at Doak Campbell Stadium before every game and the Chief plants a flaming spear into the turf. Now that's high drama.
And yet, it took a long time for one of college football's great traditions to take hold. A student at Florida State suggested the idea in 1962. But it didn't take hold until 1977 when a young coach named Bobby Bowden decided that alum Bill Durham, who had that light bulb idea while serving on the homecoming committee 15 years prior, might be onto something. And, dadgum, he was (and if you aren't familiar with "dadgum," it's Bowden's traditional adjective and adverb).
But there's more to FSU than the flaming spear.
The Seminoles also have the Tomahawk Chop.
If you look around the nation, there are a lot of programs that are steeped in tradition and have more than one great staple.
Notre Dame has Touchdown Jesus, those iconic golden helmets and one of the great locker room signs in all of football: "Play like a Champion today."
Southern Cal has its Song Girls, but there's also Traveler, the pure white horse that races up and down the sideline, and one of the all-time annoying fight songs, appropriately named, "Fight On."
Tennessee has its checkered end zones, everybody in the state knows the words to "Rocky Top," the Volunteer Navy makes its way to the game by way of the Tennessee River, and then there's Smokey, the live blue tick hound as mascot.
Now that's tradition.
So what does Old Dominion have? Right now, it has a long way to go. But this blog is not designed to degrade or attack. Instead, it is designed to seek answers. What is tradition? How is it born? And how will it transpire at ODU?
Actually, I've thought about this many times. And there have been many clunkers that have run through my mind while looking for that hook that will grab hold.
Then again, there are some real clunkers out there in the world of college football, too. Like West Virginia's tradition of burning couches in the streets after big wins. ODU doesn't want couches burning. And ODU doesn't want to be known for having blue Astroturf like Boise State. Nor does it want to be known for its cheapskates, like those who sit on what's known at Tightwad Hill at Cal's Memorial Stadium to watch the Golden Bears play. They do it because they can see the field without paying for a ticket.
There are also some real quirky traditions. Did you know that at University of Pennsylvania games the fans throw toast on the field at the end of the third quarter? It's their way of toasting their team, a tradition that began when fans were told they couldn't toast the team with actual alcohol. And at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, the visitors' locker room is actually painted pink to inspire passive play from the out-of-towners.
So what could ODU do that would be really cool? Remember, there are some traditions that are fairly new around the country, but have tremendous "cool" factor going for them. Oregon's Duck just recently started riding on the back of a Harley-Davidson to lead the Ducks onto the field, which seems appropriate with the speed and ferocity that Oregon's offense plays.
If you have a decent idea, ODU wants to hear it. So go to the ODU Sports Facebook Page www.facebook.com/ODUsports, like us and post an idea.
Here's what I have to offer:
Annette Finwood, the wife of ODU baseball coach Chris Finwood, offered up the idea that the fans in the stadium should sway to Flo Rida's "Good Feeling" at the song's beginning, almost like flower children dancing in the streets, then should start hopping up and down when the beat picks up, which would be the perfect time for the team to take the field.
I actually like that a lot.
Really big paw prints could be painted in the middle of 49th Street, just south of the stadium, one each to celebrate every victory the program has had. Maybe the paw could be painted by a crew whose job it is to paint the perimeter of the paw as the team marches across 49th Street on its way to the field. They could stop painting long enough to salute the team with their brushes held high in the air. Then somehow overnight, long after the game, the paw mysteriously is filled in with blue paint and the score. I like this one too.
Hey, maybe all the fans should dye their hair blue. (Remember, there are no bad ideas, just ideas that won't be acted upon). Apologies to the follicle-ly challenged.
If ODU's program continues to grow at the rate it has so far, maybe someone on Hampton Boulevard gets the crazy idea of having a real, live lion as a mascot. And before PETA jumps all over my case, I ask that they start with Colorado's Ralphie, the 1,300-pound buffalo, move on to Texas and Bevo the Longhorn Steer, then work their way to LSU and Mike the Tiger before attacking what's just a crazy idea at this point.
If the Monarchs are lucky, they will find a tradition that is as meaningful as that of Howard's Rock at Clemson. I could go on about the legend of the rock, how it came to Clemson from Death Valley. But the simple fact is that it is now rubbed by the players at the top of the hill leading into Clemson football stadium for good luck. After that, the next 25 seconds when the team takes the field are known as "the 25 most exciting seconds in college football." Believe it when I say the fans go simply bonkers as Clemson's players run toward the field.
But here's the rub on the rubbing of the rock: That rock was used as a doorstop in coach Frank Howard's office for a few years before it became a staple of college football.
You never know where, or when, or even how a great tradition will hatch.