Southern Football Traditions
These seven things best embody the sublime psychosis that is college football in the South.
Clemson Tigers refuse to run down The Hill above Memorial Stadium until they’ve rubbed Howard’s Rock, the mojo-giving stone placed there a half-century ago by legendary coach Frank Howard. “Give me 110%,” he told his team, “or keep your filthy hands off my rock!” Coach Hootie Ingram once stopped the tradition, but, after losing 9 of his next 15 home games, brought it back.
Neyland Stadium, on the Tennessee River, is one of two college football venues accessible by boat. Taking advantage of this in 1962 was ex-Volunteers broadcaster George Mooney, who piloted his runabout to Neyland. He inspired today’s “Vol Navy,” a flotilla of some 200 vessels tricked out with hot tubs and waterslides. Some fans go ashore to the game; others watch it on TV from their boats.
Hiding in plain sight in midtown Atlanta, two miles from the Georgia Dome, is this colorful 97-year-old urban treasure. Designed and built by the school’s students in 1913, this Fenway-esque old bowl exists in a different dimension, like Hogwarts or Middle-earth. One of the most irresistibly charming vignettes in college ball remains the gold and white, OOGHA-ing Rambling Wreck—1930 Ford Cabriolet Sport Coupe—making its quaint dash across the field before every home game.
The bawdiness and license on The Landing the day before the Florida-Georgia tilt evinces a college rivalry so bitter it must be held at a neutral site in Jacksonville (EverBank Field, formerly called Alltel Stadium). The SEC has asked media outlets to stop referring to the game as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Now it is “The Bacchanalia That Dare Not Speak its Name.”
Before the coin toss, fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium are whipped into a frenzy by the “flight of the eagle.” As they roar “W-a-a-a-r,” and opponents look on in trepedation, a trained raptor pounces on a leather falconry lure at midfield as the crowd booms: “EAGLE!” If Auburn wins, look out for the “rolling” of Toomer’s Corner: Fans wielding rolls of Charmin and Scott cover the ancient oaks lording over that intersection with bath tissue, transforming downtown into a mystical, two-ply microclimate.
On game days at LSU, opposing players must walk past an actual caged tiger (these days, a Bengal-Siberian mix named Mike VI). A generous donor gave money to build the mascot a beautiful habitat, hard by Tiger Stadium, where Mike lolls in luxury, behind clear walls, between games.
On home game days, Oxford’s storied, 10-acre greensward turns into a tableau of antebellum civility and manners: tables set with lace and fine china, chandeliers suspended from the boughs of the elms and magnolias. To see the cocktail dresses on display in The Grove is to be reminded that not all the talent is on the field.