College football is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2019, and it’s time to begin celebrating as the season draws near. Legendary plays, dramatic games and superstars of the sport have littered the college football landscape during its existence. To help celebrate, the CBS Sports college football crew got together to determine the 15 most iconic symbols in college football history.
These noteworthy elements can range from iconic headgear, unmatched traditions and unique mascots to some of the greatest sights and sounds of the game. Narrowing 150 years of symbolism down to 15 representative pieces was nearly impossible. Because of that, there are several honorable mentions at the bottom of each section because making some of these choices felt like splitting hairs.
Did your college football symbol make the list? Check out our favorites below.
Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat
The legendary coach who built Alabama into a monster was easy to spot roaming the sidelines thanks to his signature houndstooth hat. The former Alabama lineman donned the black and white fedora through stints as the coach at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama. He won six national championships and 14 SEC titles in the process, making him one of the best coaches in college football history. That hat was the foundation of a Crimson Tide clothing line that now features houndstooth shirts, dresses, purses and more.
‘Play Like a Champion Today’
When Notre Dame players exit their locker room toward Touchdown Jesus — an honorable mention on this list — they tap the even more iconic “Play Like a Champion Today” sign before hitting the field. Former Fighting Irish coach Lou Holtz is credited with installing the sign in 1986 after coming across a picture of a sign in a book about the history of the program. Since then, it has become one of the most recognizable pregame symbols in college football history. Other great locker room signs include LSU’s “WIN! bar” and Wisconsin’s “Road to the Rose Bowl.”
Clemson’s players take the bus to the other side of Death Valley before storming down a hill to take the field. Before they do it, though, they have to touch Howard’s Rock. The rock was given to legendary coach Frank Howard by a friend in the mid-1960s. That friend, Samuel Jones, found the rock in Death Valley, California. It was placed at the top of the hill prior to a game vs. Virginia on Sept. 24, 1966, which Clemson won 40-35. The tradition of rubbing the rock — and the stunning visual of the run down the hill — started the following season and has continued ever since.
Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose
The Heisman Trophy is arguably the most recognizable symbol in the game, but let’s get a little more specific with one of the most timeless images depicting the stiff arm trophy — former Michigan wide receiver and kick returner Desmond Howard doing the “Heisman pose.” In the middle of a 31-3 shellacking of rival Ohio State on Nov. 23, Howard struck the pose after scoring on a 92-yard punt return. As if it was scripted, play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson let loose a “Hellooooooo Heisman!” as Howard crossed the goal line and struck the pose. Howard would go on to win the award a couple weeks later, and players have emulated his pose ever since.
Sunset at the Rose Bowl
There’s a reason the Rose Bowl kicks off at 2 p.m. PT, and anybody who’s been in the west side of the stadium knows exactly why. Around halftime in Pasadena, California, the sun will set behind the west stands and light up the western face of the San Gabriel Mountains in an orange glow that makes you sit back in awe of Mother Nature. The game itself is one of the staples of our sport, but the view of the field while the mountains light up is one of the most breathtaking sights that you’ll ever see.
Steve Spurrier’s visor (throw)
Florida was a struggling program prior to 1990 that couldn’t find the consistency it needed to become a threat on the national stage. That changed when Gators legend and 1966 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier took over to lead the program. Spurrier, who’s most recognizable thanks to his iconic visor, won the 1996 national title, six SEC crowns and eight division titles while leading the Gators from 1990-2001. That does not mean he didn’t have his frustrations with Florida and often the officials, frustrations that led to Spurrier removing and throwing his visor in frustration. His choice of head gear is honored by younger coaches who followed him around the country, including Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Liberty’s Hugh Freeze.
Ralphie the Buffalo
Prior to each half of Colorado home games, “Ralphie Handlers” run with Ralphie — the program’s giant buffalo mascot — around Folsom Field. The five handlers are athletes on other Colorado programs, and they steer Ralphie while she takes off to a top speed of 25 mph in a horseshoe pattern. The tradition started during the final game of the 1934 season. Students paid $25 to rent a calf to be on the sidelines . Buffaloes appeared from time to time until Oct. 1, 1966, when the original Ralphie became a staple of the sidelines. One of the more interesting aspects of Ralphie is that her care and travel expenses are funded exclusively by Buffaloes fans. Honorable mention goes to other live animal mascots including Texas‘ Bevo — a close second — Georgia’s Uga, Tennessee’s Smokey, Texas A&M’s Reveille and LSU’s Mike the Tiger.
The House of Pain hit “Jump Around” didn’t hit the airwaves until 1992, but it has become synonymous with one of the rowdiest fan bases in the game. When the fourth quarter comes at Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin fans go nuts to the tune to the point that the 80,321-seat shrine to college football. It’s a relatively new tradition when compared to others in our sport. But it’s one that will send chills up the back of your neck. Honorable mention pump up songs go to Virginia Tech’s “Enter Sandman” entrance and South Carolina’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” along with other in-stadium traditions like Florida’s “We are the Boys,” the new Iowa wave, and Penn State’s White Out.
Auburn’s War Eagle flight
The flight of “Spirit” or “Nova” around Jordan-Hare Stadium prior to Auburn games is another relatively new addition to the greatest symbols of college football, but it’s one of the most breathtaking sights you’ll ever see. After the bird is released from the walkway of one of the corners of the stadiums, fans begin their famous “waaaaaaaaar” chant as it glides over the playing field. Once it hits midfield where a handler is waiting with food, fans belt out a boisterous “EAGLE, HEY!” The whole flight takes only 10 seconds or so, but it’s some of the best 10 seconds in sports.
Osceola and Renegade
Florida State can’t kickoff home games without one of the most famous rides in sports. Osceola dons his Native American-themed wardrobe approved by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and rides an appaloosa horse named Renegade to midfield. Once there, he spikes a fiery spear into the turf at Doak Campbell Stadium as the crowd erupts prior to the Seminoles taking the field. The tradition was started in 1978, and students who portray Osceola must work for two years prior to taking the field with Renegade. Other great mascots that have the human element involved include USC’s Traveler and Trojan, Notre Dame’s Leprechaun and West Virginia’s Mountaineer.
Big Ten trophies
Trophies are awarded after most rivalry games, and nobody does the rivalry trophy like the Big Ten. The winner of the Michigan-Minnesota game gets the Little Brown Jug. The Old Oaken Bucket goes to the winner of the Purdue-Indiana game. The Floyd of Rosedale is awarded to either Iowa or Minnesota. The Old Brass Spittoon goes to the winner of the winner of the Indiana-Michigan State game. And the Land Grant Trophy is awarded to either Penn State or Michigan State. Legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan has the honor of being the namesake of two trophies in the Big Ten. The Paul Bunyan Trophy is reserved for the winner of the Michigan-Michigan State game, and Paul Bunyan’s axe is given to the winner of the Wisconsin-Minnesota game. The Big Ten as spittoons, jugs, cannons, bells and axes. How great is that?
The Sooner Schooner
The covered wagon led by white ponies “Boomer” and “Sooner” speeds across Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium after every score, and it has become one of the most prominent celebrations in college football. The schooner first appeared in 1964, and it is designed to resemble the wagons that pioneers used when they settled Oklahoma Territory during the 1889 Land Run. The all-male spirit squad RUF/NEKS are in charge of driving and maintaining the wagon.
Nothing says college football spirit like costume mascots. Perhaps one of the most recognizable mascots in today’s era is Puddles, the high-flying, motorcycle riding Oregon Duck, who comes tearing out of the tunnel before Ducks games. Puddles first appeared at Oregon games in the 1920s, and it resembles Donald Duck thanks to a verbal agreement between Walt Disney and former Oregon athletic director Leo Harris. The two parties signed a formal agreement in 1973. Other great costume mascots include Miami’s Sebastian, Western Kentucky’s Big Red, Florida’s Albert and Alberta, Auburn’s Aubie, Michigan State’s Sparty, Ohio State’s Brutus and Minnesota’s Goldy Gopher.
Passion for the school from players and fans makes this sport great, and hand gestures are often times used to display those passions. One of the most recognizable gestures in all of sports is “hook ’em,” which is proudly displayed by Texas players and fans (and sometimes upside down by rivals). It has been used by the Longhorns for more than 50 years. Other hand gestures includes Florida’s Gator Chomp, Florida State’s Tomahawk Chop, USC’s “V for Victory,” Miami’s “U,” and Oregon’s “O.”
Dotting the “I”
Marching bands create part of the charm of college football Saturdays, and the greatest band tradition in the game is when Ohio State dots the “I” prior to kickoff. The tradition started in 1936 when a sousaphone player finished off the “i” in the script Ohio formation, and it has been a staple of the Ohio State program ever since. Sousaphone players typically dot the “I,” but other dignitaries have made special appearances including former golfer Jack Nicklaus, celebrity Bob Hope and former coach Woody Hayes.