Vanderbilt Traditions


Vanderbilt University, founded in 1873, has a rich academic history but little to show in the way of athletic success.   Recently, however, the baseball team and women’s tennis team have won national championships.

One of Vanderbilt’s traditions is the use of the star V logo. The logo surfaced on the football helmets in the 1960s. Although many versions exist, the general logo is a black star with a white “V” in the middle. Two other Vanderbilt traditions are the Commodore nickname and the anchor.

The Commodore nickname comes from the school’s founder Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Mr. Vanderbilt amassed his fortune largely through the shipping industry—both on water via steamships and on land via railroads. He acquired the nickname of Commodore after his success with steamship transportation of goods and materials. The school adopted the nickname with the advent of its earliest athletic teams. In the 19th century, the United States navy called a leader of a task force of ships a commodore, and Vanderbilt adopted this connotation of the word for its mascot, Mr. C, who wears a 19th century naval uniform complete with hat and cutlass.

In 2004, head football coach Bobby Johnson began using an anchor as a symbol of strength and unity. Ships use an anchor to prevent further movement while on the water, and an anchor can also be a person who can be depended upon for support, stability or security. Football coach James Franklin had a special display case built for the anchor in 2011 and placed it in the football locker room. At each home game, the anchor is taken from its case and transported onto the field by two selected players. It also accompanies the team on all road games.

Vanderbilt, like all colleges, has its own athletic traditions. The star V logo, the Commodore nickname and the anchor are unique in college athletics and immediately identifiable with Vanderbilt sports teams. So cheer those who yell “Anchor Down” and “Go “Dores.”




The Story of LSU’s Mike I

               Courtesy of Mark Pellegrini

The Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers have had a live tiger as a mascot since 1936. However, LSU was not the first school to own a large feline as a mascot. Columbia University acquired a real lion in the 1920s to serve as its mascot and Princeton University followed suit with a tiger in the early 1930s. Interestingly, the Columbia lion appears as the roaring lion on the beginning of MGM films. LSU and the University of Memphis are the only schools currently with a live tiger as a mascot. Mike I, the first LSU tiger, came about because of a suggestion from one of the school’s athletic trainers, Mike Chambers.

Chambers made the suggestion publicly and the student body united in its efforts to obtain a real tiger. Chambers found that three tiger cubs had been born in 1935 at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas. Once this news reached campus, first-year law student Eddie Laborde led the charge to bring one of the young tigers to the school.

Laborde organized a fundraiser and asked each student to contribute a quarter towards the costs necessary to acquire the tiger. Within an hour, the students had raised about $750. Laborde with the help of football player Ken Kavanaugh made the arrangements for the purchase of the young tiger and its transportation to the LSU campus.

In October, 1936, the student body declared the day of the tiger’s arrival to Baton Rouge a holiday (the actual day could not be verified, but it was October 21 or 23), and the cadet corps turned away professors and students with books trying to enter the campus gates early that morning. The six-foot tiger arrived by train to throngs of adoring students and Chambers immediately placed him in a wheeled cage. Chambers had actual experience handling animals with Ringling Brothers circus and knew how to handle the tiger. Because of Chamber’s circus experience and his popularity with the students, the tiger became evermore known as “Mike.”

With Mike I in his cage, handlers led him in front of a parade down Third Street the wrong way–celebrating up this street the wrong way is how joyous events at the school are commemorated. While Mike rested in his cage at some undocumented place on campus, the students celebrated into the night with dances and bonfires. Several days later, Laborde and others took Mike to Shreveport for the annual game with the University of Arkansas. Along the way, they stopped at various schools to show off Mike and to collect donations for the 19 pounds of meat he ate every day. Mike proved to be a lucky charm as the football Tigers beat Arkansas, 19-7.

One the way back to Baton Rouge, Mike and his handlers took a ferry boat across the Mississippi River and ran into Louisiana Governor Richard W. Leche. Leche asked the handlers where they were going to put the big cat and who was going to care for him. Laborde and an unofficial human mascot named Eddie (a.k.a., Porter Bryant) stated they would care for the cat and were hoping to board him at the zoo in Baton Rouge. Leche decided that while the tiger would be in good hands, he needed an appropriate cage. With the help of President Franklin Roosevelt and a Works Progress Administration grant, a cage worthy of a tiger was built. The cage was officially dedicated on April 13, 1937, and was adjoined to a 12-by-15 foot stone building. In all, Mike had about 600 square feet of living quarters. The stone portion of the cage is part of the current tiger home. As one would imagine, Mike’s abode is a major attraction for campus visitors.

While Mike I became an LSU icon, Laborde’s law school days came to an abrupt end. After a two-week absence from school because of his involvement with Mike I, Laborde was called into the law dean’s office. The dean told Laborde that he had missed too many classes, would be unable to make up the work, and was thereby expelled from the law school. Apparently, school spirit did not carry much weight at the law school!

Mike I passed away on June 28, 1956 of an acute kidney infection. The LSU faithful had him stuffed, and he is now on exhibit on campus in Foster Hall. Within months, Mike II took the helm as the school’s live mascot.  The tradition lives on today.  However, Mike VI passed away in October, 2016 and the university is currently searching for his replacement, Mike VII.

Duke University Traditions


The Blue Devil nickname and the Cameron Crazies can only be associated with one school—Duke University. These two traditions give immediate recognition to the school and add to the color and pageantry of college athletics. Let’s take a look at the origins of the nickname and the student group.

After World War I, the school was known as Trinity College (became Duke University in 1924) and intercollegiate football, after about a 25 year hiatus, began play again in 1920. Trinity fielded a team in the late 1880s coached by school president John Franklin Crowell, a graduate of then-football power Yale University. However, the Trinity leaders banned the sport in the 1890s because of its brutality, eligibility disputes, scheduling problems, money, its improper role on the Methodist-sponsored campus, and a power struggle between Crowell and the leaders.

With the popularity of football growing in the South, Trinity students felt passionately that a proper nickname needed to be established for the football team and the other athletic programs. In 1921, the student newspaper, the Trinity Chronicle urged the student body to offer potential nicknames for the school. Some of the names submitted were the Catamounts, the Grizzlies, the Badgers, and the Dreadnaughts. Unsatisfied with the initial round of nominations, the editors of the paper urged the students to think of appropriate names associated with the school colors of dark blue and white. The editors offered suggestions such as the Blue Titans, Blue Eagles, Blue Warriors, and Blue Devils. Again, none of the names inspired public passion and the football season passed without one.

The seniors of the Class of 1923 took it upon themselves to pick a school moniker. Many of them had fought during World War I and remembered a well-trained and courageous French unit known as “les Diables Bleus,” the Blue Devils. They wore distinctive blue uniforms with flowing capes and a blue beret. The editors of the Chronicle began referring to the athletic teams during the 1922-1923 academic year as the Blue Devils. While the rest of the college press and the cheerleaders declined to use the name that year, they did not oppose its use by the Chronicle. Not even the Methodist college administration put up any resistance. The Chronicle continued to use the Blue Devil nickname for the teams and eventually the name became accepted as the official moniker for Duke sports.

On the other hand, the Cameron Crazies are a more recent phenomenon. The term Cameron Crazies took root in 1986 to describe the raucous and entertaining behavior of the Duke students during the school’s home basketball games at Cameron Indoor Arena. No one knows for certain the origin of the name. In the early 1980s, the students berated opposing players and coaches using obscenities and other outrageous methods. This prompted Duke president Terry Sanford to write a letter to the students expressing his dissatisfaction with their methods, “Resorting to the use of obscenities in cheers and chants at ball games indicates a lack of vocabulary, a lack of cleverness, a lack of ideas, a lack of class and a lack of respect for other people.” He urged the students to “think of something clever but clean, devastating but decent, mean but wholesome, witty and forceful but G-rated for television, and fix it for the next game.”

Not long after Sanford’s letter, the students began to achieve fame for their cleverness and wit. They invented the term “air ball,” an errant shot that hits nothing but air. When University of North Carolina guard Jeff Hale, who had suffered from a collapsed lung, came to Cameron, the students regaled him with “In-Hale, Ex-Hale” the whole game. Current UNC coach Roy Williams left the University of Kansas to coach the Tar Heels in 2003. When he came to Cameron for the first time in 2004, he found much of the Crazies dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz movie and a temporary yellow brick road outside his team’s locker room to give him the not so subtle message that he was no longer in Kansas.

The Crazies took aim at a skinny player on the Lehigh basketball team who wore knee-high socks and goggles. He was known for two hours as “Urkel,” a character from a popular television show in the 1990s. Smaller players would hear “Webster” yelled at them the whole game. Webster was another television character from a popular television show that ran in the 1980s. Maybe one of the wittier chants involved a diminutive player from the Australian National team. The Crazies yelled “Shrimp on the Barbee” every time he touched the ball.

Duke University is consistently recognized as one of the best academic institutions in the country. Its Blue Devil nickname and famous Cameron Crazies resonate with those enthralled with college athletics, and these two traditions are two more reasons why college sports rank at the top of entertainment sources.


Kentucky Traditions



Picture yourself sitting in a stadium or arena with fans clad in blue and white outfits raucously cheering for their beloved Wildcats. Unmistakably, you are watching one of the University of Kentucky’s athletic teams. Let’s examine the origin of the blue and white colors and the wildcat nickname.

Some Kentucky students in 1891 originally believed the school colors should have been blue and light yellow. However, blue and white became the official colors in 1892. The story goes that a student one day that year asked what shade of blue should serve as the official color and without hesitation football player Richard C. Stoll took off his necktie and held it up. Royal blue has been one of the school’s colors ever since.

The wildcat nickname has an interesting tale tied to it. Commander Philip Carbusier, head of the military department at the school in 1909, witnessed Kentucky’s 6-2 victory over the University of Illinois in Illinois in October. Later, in a chapel service, he told a group of students that the football team “fought like wildcats.” In subsequent years, as the name became more and more popular with Kentucky fans and the media, the university officially adopted the nickname.

The Wildcat moniker and the blue and white colors are synonymous with one of the great institutions of the Southeastern Conference, the University of Kentucky. Cheers to Mr. Stoll and Commander Carbusier!


Florida State Traditions

Chief_Osceola_on_Renegade_FSU Courtesy of CHolder68

You are surrounded by thousands of people singing some kind of war chant while their arms are moving back and forth in unison.  Suddenly, a Native American man on horseback appears out of nowhere and throws a flaming spear into the middle of a large, green field.  Are you witnessing a late 1800s pre-battle Native American ritual?  Well–yes and no.  You’re actually witnessing a pre-game ritual before the Florida State University Seminoles football team battles an opponent in Doak Campbell stadium.  Let’s take a look at some of the FSU traditions–Osceola, the war chant, and  the Unconquered Statue.

The Native American on horseback is a student dressed in authentic regalia portraying famous Seminole leader Osceola.  The horse is an Appaloosa named Renegade.  The original idea of Osceola and Renegade came from student Bill Durham in 1962.  Durham did not get support for his idea until Bobby Bowden became head coach in the 1970s.  Bowden encouraged Durham to begin the Osceola/ Renegade pre-game ritual but only after the Seminole Tribe of Florida approved of it.  Not only did the tribe approve of the ritual but agreed  to design the regalia for Osceola.  Osceola and Renegade first appeared before games in 1978.

The war chant has existed in some form since the 1960s but began its current popularity at the 1984 FSU-Auburn football game.  The band performed the cheer that had existed since the 1960s.  But this time, after the band stopped, some students behind the band continued the war chant portion of the cheer.  Other fans in the stadium started the popular chopping motion symbolizing a tomahawk swinging down.  The chant and chop continued in the student section during the 1985 season and became a stadium-wide tradition in 1986.

The newest FSU symbol and tradition is the Unconquered Statue arising 31 feet outside the south entrance to Doak Campbell stadium.  Unveiled in 2004, the statue depicts a spear-brandishing Seminole astride a rearing horse.  The statue celebrates the indomitable human spirit.  At sunset before each home game, the spear is ignited and allowed to burn until sunrise the morning after the game.

Florida State traditions help make college football the great game that it is.  Go ‘Noles!

Miami Traditions

Courtesy of User B

You look out over the field and see players adorned in orange and green with a U on the side of their helmets. On the sideline dances some odd looking bird-like figure. We must be at a Disney Show, right? Not exactly, we’re at a Miami football game.   Let’s take a look at some of the traditions of the University of Miami– the origins of the school colors, the nickname, the U, and the mascot.

Orange, green, and white represent the official school colors. The colors were selected in 1926 to symbolize the Florida orange tree. The orange represents the color of the fruit, the green symbolizes the leaves, and the white represents the blossoms.

As for the origin of the Hurricane nickname, a couple of stories exist. The first story involves the 1927 football team. The players voted for the nickname because they were hoping to sweep away the opposition like the hurricane of 1926 did to the city of Miami. The second story details a conversation between Miami News columnist Jack Bell and Porter Norris of the 1926 team. Bell asked Norris what he thought of University officials and local dignitaries wanting to name the team after some local plant or animal. Norris replied that the team would not stand for such a thing and countered with the name Hurricanes because one had postponed the opening game for the season.

Miami designer Bill Bodenheimer designed the original U logo in 1973. It served as the basis for such slogans as “U gotta believe” and “U is great.” The current U, as seen on the helmets, is actually the meteorological sign for a hurricane.

The bird-like costumed figure on the sidelines is an ibis named Sebastian. The ibis is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane and the first to reappear after the storm.

That’s a little history behind the Miami traditions.  Go ‘Canes!


Clemson Traditions


Death Valley, Orange Tiger Paws, and Howard’s Rock. No doubt about it…we’re on the campus of Clemson University. In another installment of college traditions, we’ll explore the origins of the Tiger nickname, Death Valley, and Howard’s Rock.

Clemson fielded its first football team in 1896. Coach Walter Merritt Riggs brought the Tiger nickname and purple and orange colors from his alma mater Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, now known as Auburn University. Riggs began the Clemson program with old equipment from Auburn. The nickname and colors stuck and the first Tiger mascot began entertaining fans in 1954 when a student dressed in a costume tiger suit began parading around the sidelines and mocking the opposition and referees while sitting in a lawn chair in the end zone.

The Tiger mascot began a tradition in 1978 that takes place all around the nation today. After each score at a football game, the mascot performed push ups equal to the total points Clemson had scored during the game. The game record is 465 push ups completed in a 1981 contest against Wake Forest. During a particularly explosive day for the Clemson offense, the mascot wearing a 45 pound Tiger costume can lose 10 to 12 pounds a game!

Clemson Memorial Stadium became known as Death Valley in 1948 after the football coach from Presbyterian College told sports writers that his team had to go play Clemson in Death Valley where his teams rarely scored. The name took off in the 1950s when Clemson coach Frank Howard repeatedly referred to the stadium as Death Valley.

In the early 1960s, Howard received a rock from Death Valley, California from a Clemson alumnus. Howard used it as a doorstop until 1966 when a Clemson employee placed the rock on a pedestal at the top of the east end zone hill that the team ran down to get to the field. The players ran by the rock for the first time on September 24, 1966 before beating Virginia, but the tradition of players rubbing the rock before each game began on September 23, 1967 before a victory against Wake Forest. Howard realized the motivational aspect of the rock and told his players that if they gave 110 percent they could receive the privilege of rubbing the rock. Now, every Tiger player rubs the rock on his way down the hill before thousands of screaming Clemson fans.

The rock receives special attention the 24 hours before the South Carolina game. ROTC cadets stand guard over it and maintain a steady drum cadence that can be heard across campus. Just goes to show that you can never trust your arch rivals!

From the Death Valley mystique, to Howard’ s Rock, to the Tiger mascot, Clemson boasts several timeless traditions that help make college football the exciting sport that it is.  Go Tigers!

Notre Dame Nickname


Knute Rockne, the leprechaun, and Touchdown Jesus can only be associated with one school–the University of Notre Dame.  The school has won over 850 football games and has 13 national championships.  They are known as the Fighting Irish.  Before that name took hold, the school was known as the Catholics then the Ramblers.  No one knows for sure how the Fighting Irish nickname came to be, but several stories do exist.

The first story involves the Northwestern game in Evanston, Illinois in 1899.  At the end of halftime, Northwestern fans began to chant–“Kill the Fighting Irish, kill the Fighting Irish,” and purportedly, Notre Dame officials deemed the moniker appropriate.

The next story involves halftime of the Michigan game in 1909.  Many of the Notre Dame players had Irish surnames such as Kelly, Duffy, and Ryan.  With Notre Dame trailing, one of the players reportedly yelled to his teammates, “What’s the matter with you guys?  You’re all Irish and you’re not fighting worth a lick.”  Notre Dame came back to win the game and reporters who overhead the remarks wrote that the Fighting Irish were victorious.

And finally, the Notre Dame Scholastic in a 1929 edition wrote:

The term Fighting Irish has been applied to Notre Dame teams for years… at the time the title the Fighting Irish held no glory or prestige…the years passed swiftly and the school began to take a place in the sports world…Fighting Irish took on a new meaning…the team has become our heritage…so truly does it represent us that we are unwilling to part with it.

No one knows the true story, so take your pick.  What is certain is that the Fighting Irish is one of the most recognizable names in college sports.  So cheer, cheer for Ole Notre Dame!

War Eagle


Courtesy J. Glover-Atlanta, GA

Over 80,000 people gather at Jordan-Hare Stadium every Auburn University home football game to experience Southeastern Conference (SEC) football in one of the nation’s great on-campus venues. About 15-20 minutes before kickoff, the marching band plays the fight song on the field and the electricity and energy in the stands rises. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a live eagle begins to glide around the inside of the stadium, slowly descending until landing near midfield. As the Auburn football team readies to enter the field, the Auburn faithful by the thousands regale the area with one of the more famous chants in college football, “War Eagle.” Besides yelling the chant at athletic events, fans may employ the chant as a form of endearment, a greeting, or salutation among other Auburn fans. The chant and the eagle mascot have been Auburn traditions for years and the following hopes to enlighten those unfamiliar with the stories behind the traditions.

Outside the Auburn fan base, very few people know the origin of the chant.  The true Auburn fan will offer you four possible stories.

One involves a veteran of the Civil War watching Auburn’s first football game in 1892 with his pet eagle found on a battlefield during the war.  According to witnesses, the eagle broke free of the veteran and began circling the playing field at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park as Auburn drove for the winning score against Georgia.  As the Auburn fans watched their team drive down the field with the eagle circling above, they began to yell “War Eagle.”  At the end of the Auburn victory, the eagle crashed to the ground and died.

A second story comes from Auburn’s 1914 game against the Carlisle Indians.  The Indians’ best player was named Bald Eagle.  Auburn ran play after play right at him in hopes of wearing him down.  Without huddling, the Auburn quarterback yelled Bald Eagle to start each play.  Auburn fans thought the quarterback was yelling War Eagle and began shouting the name before every play.  When an Auburn player scored the winning touchdown, he supposedly yelled War Eagle and the cry became a tradition.

Story number three comes from a pep rally before a game in 1913.  A cheerleader yelled out that for Auburn to win the game “they would have to go out there and fight, because this means war.” At that very moment an eagle emblem fell off of a student’s hat.  Asked what it was, the student replied “It’s a War Eagle.”

The final story has its links to the Saxon Warriors.  When buzzards circled the battlefield after a Saxon victory, the warriors yelled “War Eagles” as their victory cry.

The live eagle mascot is called War Eagle. The eagle, real or contrived, from the 1892 Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama (now Auburn)-Georgia game receives credit as War Eagle I. According to legend, during the Battle of The Wilderness in Virginia, a former AMCA student from Alabama was the sole Confederate survivor. As he struggled to cross the battlefield, he happened upon a young, wounded eagle. The soldier gathered the young bird and nursed him back to health. The young man eventually joined the Auburn faculty and brought the eagle with him. The eagle became a well-known figure on the Auburn campus. In1892, the eagle and the old soldier attended Auburn’s first football game against Georgia. The eagle broke away from the man, flew around the field, and crashed to his death upon the Auburn victory. Whether the legend is true is open to debate, but it does make for a great story.

War Eagle II came to Auburn in 1930. A golden eagle became entangled in some vines while hunting its prey on a farm southwest of Auburn. As the story goes, the farmer sold the eagle to some people for $10 and it ended up in the care of two Auburn cheerleaders. The cheerleaders put the bird in a wire cage and took it to Columbus, GA for the South Carolina game. Auburn had not won a Southern Conference game in four years but vanquished the Gamecocks that day, 25-7. The student body concluded the eagle brought victory that day and should remain a part of Auburn tradition. The eagle remained in a cage on campus attended to by the cheerleaders. No one knows for certain the rest of War Eagle II’s story.

The next eagle in the War Eagle line, War Eagle III, arrived on campus in 1960. A Talladega County farmer found the bird caught between two rows of cotton, gave it to authorities, who then gave it to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. The Alpha Phi Omega fraternity built a cage for the eagle and began a run of about 40 years as caretaker of the eagle mascots. Unfortunately, War Eagle III escaped his leash during the Tennessee game in Birmingham in 1964 and was found shot to death in a wooded area near Birmingham.

The Birmingham Downtown Action Committee located another golden eagle at the zoo in Jackson, MS and presented it to Auburn in October 1964. War Eagle IV lived on campus in a large aviary. The aviary, the second largest single-bird cage in the country, stood until razed in 2003. A new tradition began when War Eagle IV received the nickname of “Tiger.” The 22-year old golden eagle served Auburn for 16 years before dying of natural causes.

War Eagle V came from Wyoming in 1981 under the stewardship of the United States government under the stipulations of the Endangered Species Act and was on loan to the Auburn University Veterinary School. The bird also took the nickname of “Tiger.” Tiger served for five years before dying from a ruptured spleen at the age of eight.

War Eagle VI came to Auburn on loan under the same government arrangement as War Eagle V. During the 2000 season, War Eagle VI became the first of the line to perform the pre-game ritual around the inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Auburn took over care of War Eagle VI and all other eagles beginning in 2000. War Eagle VI gained international fame when the golden eagle flew around Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT as part of the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The school retired the eagle on November 11, 2006, and she lived to be 34 years old before dying in 2014.

The current eagle mascot, War Eagle VII, came to Auburn six months after birth at the Montgomery Zoo in 1999. The golden eagle immediately took over for War Eagle VI and currently shares the traditional pre-game flight with two more eagles, another golden eagle and a bald eagle.

War Eagle embodies two of the great Auburn traditions. The chant and the eagle have not only captured the hearts and souls of the Auburn faithful but have earned the honor of two of the most famous and recognizable traditions in college athletics.


Tennessee Traditions


Courtesy of TN66/CC-BY-SA-3.0

When you hear the words “University of Tennessee football,” what comes to mind?  Maybe an image of an orange-clad team with a “T” on the side of the helmet that plays in a big stadium with the song “Rocky Top” seemingly played every five minutes.  But how many of you know how the school decided on orange as their main color, or the nickname “Volunteers” or the Rocky Top song?

Charles Moore, a member of the 1891 football team, thought the colors of orange and white would be suitable.  These were the colors of the American daisy that grew in abundance on the Tennessee campus.  The student body voted to approve the  nomination of the colors at a later date.  Interestingly, the first orange jerseys were not worn until the 1922 season.

The school gets its nickname from the state motto. Tennessee acquired the name “Volunteer State” during the War of 1812 after General Andrew Jackson led a group of about 1500 volunteers to fight against the British at the Battle of New Orleans.  Several decades later Tennessee sent 30 thousand volunteers to Texas to aid in its fight against Mexico.  So the Volunteers seemed an appropriate nickname for the school.  At all athletic events, UT’s color guard wears 1840s dragoon uniforms similar to those worn during the fight against Mexico.

The song “Rocky Top” was first played at halftime of the 1972 Tennessee-Alabama football game as part of a country music show.  The Tennessee faithful immediately embraced the song and the UT band made it part of its game music repertoire soon after.

The University of Tennessee has a proud athletic tradition.   The school’s “Volunteer” nickname, orange uniforms, and classic song give the school instant recognition among college sports enthusiasts.