Anyone who tells you that there is no difference between collegiate football and professional football because “football is football,” doesn’t understand the intricacies involved with either version of the game.
Whereas the NFL can put a product out there that will rival any form of entertainment on television, it lacks the soul and time-honored traditions that the college game boasts. In the NFL the on-the-field product is key, and what happened in the past is simply either something to brag about or, something to vehemently complain about.
In the college game, history is just as much a part of what happens on Saturdays as the touchdowns scored and the inevitable wins/losses.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Big Ten are a match made in heaven for a lot of reasons. Nebraska has always been regarded as a school that’s extremely proud of its past and established traditions (Herbie Husker and Hail Varsity, anyone?), noting proudly that both are a part of the school’s epic lore. Similarly, the Big Ten has always been home to some of the finest rivalries in college athletics and some of the most unique customs that folks will ever see.
Here are the top five traditions that the Huskers and their fans can expect to grin at over the course of the coming year:
5. Jump Around, Wisconsin – It may seem basic, but this little (relatively new) experience -- which occurs between the third and fourth quarters of games -- has been going strong since its inception back on October 10, 1998 versus the Purdue Boilermakers. In an effort to rile the home fans up during that Homecoming game, one of Wisconsin’s marketing agents who was in charge of sound blared the infamous House of Pain tune through the loud speakers – from that point on the tradition became an accepted part of history. On September 6, 2003 Wisconsin officials opted not to play “Jump Around” for the first time in five years because of structural design fears; they were subsequently met with a very negative reaction. The tradition resumed shortly thereafter, and has been going strong ever since.
4. Zeke the Wonder Dog, Michigan State – Whether you love or hate man’s best friend, you can’t help but smile at this sentimental favorite which began back in the late 1970s. The original “Zeke” and his partner Gary Eisenberg rose to prominence in 1977 when school officials noticed the pair’s routine and invited them to perform at halftime. Their shtick became so embraced at one point that head coach Darryl Rodgers famously said that Zeke was the best receiver in the Big Ten. The original Zeke died in 1987 and the tradition was put on hiatus before being revived with Zeke II in 2002. Zeke II performed consistently until 2007, at which point Zeke III was brought in to replace his freshly retired predecessor.
3. I Am an American, Purdue – This simple yet remarkably moving patriotic reading has become so meaningful in recent years that it’s difficult to believe that it was born nearly 50 years ago. In period of serious political unrest -- mostly as a result of the Vietnam War and the United States’ notable culture shifts -- Purdue’s marching band director Al G. Wright and publisher of the Journal and Courier, Jack Scott introduced this brief speech to the world. Spoken over an arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” the reading was embraced by fans immediately during a halftime presentation and met it with a standing ovation. Wright pulled the speech from games several times over the next two years fearing that people would grow tired of it. However, each time the public demanded it be brought back. From then on, the speech remained more or less intact, with the only change coming in the early 1990s when the crowd began jumping in, yelling out the final line: “I am an American.” Nebraska and Purdue aren’t slated to play in 2011, but this is still a fascinating tradition that should definitely be taken in at least once by all football fans.
2. Script Ohio, Ohio State – Who would have thought that dotting the “I” could be so much fun? Script Ohio is an infamous formation formed by the school’s marching band before home games, and features the band turning around in a sequenced design spelling out the school’s trademark while playing Robert Planquette's Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse. Generally, a fourth or fifth year member gets to dot the “I.” However, some notable dignitaries have also made guest appearances in that spot. This tradition was born on October 24, 1936 at an Ohio State v. Indiana football game.
1. The Victors, Michigan – Fight songs are nothing out of the ordinary in college football, but few fight songs pack the punch that this Louis Elbel-composed tune does. Originally crafted in 1898, The Victors was once famously referred to by John Philip Sousa as the “greatest college fight song ever written.” Because the full lyrics of the song would span something like two minutes, an abbreviated version is typically played after the team scores or makes a huge defensive play. Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Victors is that its lyrics inherently exude Michigan’s traditional confidence, blatantly celebrating the team’s “inevitable” win than pushing them to victory like other fight songs tend to do.