The Wildest and Wackiest College Football Traditions in the West
Few things beat Saturdays on campus when football season rolls around. From dancing superfans to majestic animals storming the fields, these 10 game-day antics make everyone rally
College football traditions prove game-day is about more than the actual game—especially in the West’s most spirited college towns. Come fall, football practically becomes a lifestyle on Saturdays when the players perform time-honored rituals; epic tailgates abound; superfans go to all lengths to prove their devotion; and schools pony up to create major productions before, during, and after the games. It’s camaraderie and competition at its best, and these 10 teams give us a taste of what’s to come when the season kicks off this month.
Hawaii’s Warrior Dance
In Honolulu, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors pre-game with the Ha’a dance routine inspired by the Māori hakas men performed to intimidate their opponents in battle. But UH’s college football tradition includes a version that’s all the team’s own, with lyrics and moves that pull from ancient Hawaiian legends and hula dance. Before kickoff, the players chant and stomp on the field. They’ll stick out their tongues, bulge their eyes, and slap their chests. It’s theatrical for sure, but there’s meaning behind every word and move. One part says: “Here we are, fearless Hawai‘i warriors // Drenched in the red Tuahine rain //Upright cliff of Pu’u Ohi’a.” That Hawaiian pride gets the team and fans even more amped up.
Oregon’s Ducky Ways
To do an Oregon Ducks football game right, you gotta walk like a duck and talk like a duck. First, join the sea of green and yellow as fans waddle to the stadium on the Autzen Walk. The massive march gets progressively larger on the journey from Franklin Boulevard part of campus onto the Dave and Lynn Frohnmayer Bridge (a.k.a. Autzen Footbridge). Once there, prepare to make a lot of noise. Ducks pride themselves in having one of the loudest stadiums in the game. Be prepared to join in on the third quarter rendition of “Shout,” inspired by the cult-favorite Animal House movie, filmed in Eugene. Nike—who also provides the team’s snazzy get-ups—created a parody video for the song that gets played during the game.
Washington State’s Infamous Flag
College football traditions are all about dedication. Since 2003, Cougars have made sure there’s a Washington State flag flying in the background of the popular College GameDay show. Members of Ol’ Crimson Booster Club, who lead the effort, coordinate with fans around the country to ship the flag to the show’s on-campus locales. Though it’s become a symbol of fans’ loyalty, the tradition began on a cougfan.com thread as an idea to lure the show to film at WSU. Last year, GameDay finally went to the Pullman, WA campus. Cougs showed up in droves to cheer with signs and flags, and though Ol’Crimson finally succeeded in drawing the show to town, they promise the flag will continue to fly during during every Saturday episode.
Colorado’s Roaming Buffalo
Many schools unleash animals before the game as one of their college football traditions, but the Colorado Buffs may just have the most magnificent opener. Before each half of home games, a team of trained handlers runs Ralphie the Buffalo—the team’s 1,200-pound mascot—around the football field in a horseshoe pattern. Though the animal has been a part of Colorado lore since the ’30s, the buffalo became a permanent fixture in 1967. The five-foot Queen of the Flatirons (yes, Ralphie is a gal) is the fifth real Buff to lead the players onto the field as the energy at Folsom Stadium roars to a start.
Washington Huskies fans take their tailgates to the next level. Sure, there’s plenty of boozin’ and grillin’ happening in the parking lots and around campus, but the best parties happen on the water. Taking advantage of its location near Lake Washington, the school takes up the unique tradition of “sailgating.” Boats fill up Union Bay to rally. If you don’t have a friend with a boat, several cruise operators—like Argosy Cruises, Soundview Cruises, and Dreamboat Seattle—host pre-parties and shuttle service to the stadium.
USC’s Lucky Pole
Before the season officially starts, new students get a primer on the myriad of USC Trojan traditions during the Spirit Rally. Newcomers learn about the Friday night pep rally, the moment when the drum major stabs a sword into the field before a game, the march to the Coliseum, the famous Trojan horse mascot named Traveler—and the kicking of the flagpole. On their way to the stadium, fans (including every member of the band) kicks the USC flagpole on Trousdale Parkway near Exposition Boulevard. Legend has it that one upset fan kicked the pole when he left a particularly devastating game. About that same time, the team pulled a 180. There’s no way to verify whether this is true, but why risk it?
Stanford’s Wild Band
The controversy-prone Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band has been overthrowing the idea of traditional anything since the 1960s when they began to grow the “World’s Largest Rock and Roll Band.” A list of top-10 antics includes the time in 1982 when the band preemptively ran on the field to celebrate Stanford’s win and allowed the opponents to squeeze in one last game-winning touchdown (ouch), the time when the drum major dressed as a nun during a Notre Dame game, and the time when the band had a dancing cow as part of its skit at an Iowa Rose Bowl game. These kinds of shenanigans have gotten the group banned from more than a few stadiums—including its own. After a 2017 incident, LSJUMB was appointed a director (an intermediary of sorts) for the first time in decades. He’s there to help keep things PG-rated, but the wacky costumes, painted instruments, rock tunes, redwood tree mascot, and humorous skits continue.
Montana Grizz’s Big Boom
In Missoula, the University of Montana’s ROTC team introduced a cannon to fire before and during the games in 1989, and the sound has become a defining part of the game-day spirit. The Boom Crew—still ROTC cadets—now mans the action of this college football tradition. Every time the team scores a touchdown, the crew fires off a loud explosion, then they all hit the deck to do push-ups in support for the Grizzlies’ score.
The Wildcat Walk
Two hours before kickoff, Arizona Wildcat players strut their way to the stadium with the Pride of Arizona marching band, cheerleaders, and mascots leading the procession. Fans, who show up early to tailgate at the Mall, hype up the players with cheers and high-fives as they make their way to the locker rooms to gear up. Arizona might not be the only team with a pre-game red carpet welcome, but it certainly has a wild walk.
Utah’s Crazy Lady
Many of the best college football traditions start with the fans. Terri Jackson, a Utah alum lovingly nicknamed “Crazy Lady,” has been dancing and cheering at every Salt Lake City home game for more than 20 years. You’ll spot her in an official Pac-12 Ute jersey dancing during tailgates and the third quarter when Ute fans summon her by chanting “Craa-zy!” Clap-Clap. “Laa-dy!” She took over the role in 2000 when the former hype lady “Bubbles” left the scene. Fans threw a fit when the school considered replacing Jackson’s routine in 2011. Crazy Lady is here to stay.