The synchronal chanting and ritualistic hand gestures concomitant with kindred attire of all attendees begs the question, “Is this a football watch party, or is it a chapter meeting of the Alpha Betas?” For in 2016, it is not just enough to root for one’s team or proudly don the school colors. One must fine tune every mannerism and tradition offered up by said institution to validate one’s unwavering loyalty.
A university’s fight song, alma mater and marching band do little to distinguish itself from any other—all actually seem to blend into one noise with only subtle variations in note patterns and lyrics. Sing along about “hallowed halls” or “gothic walls” with “faithful hearts that bleed (insert school colors of choice here)” and one has about any alma mater or fight song ever written. Hearing On Wisconsin after a while sounds no different than Hail to the Victors or even Ten Thousand Men of Harvard for that matter.
Observe any college football stadium on an autumn Saturday and you will see firsthand the myriad rituals and traditions meant to define each institution and undergird the commonality of its devotees. In the state of Florida, these rituals and traditions abound in no small measure.
With Gator Chomps and Tomahawk Chops, the fans of Florida’s institutions of higher learning have helped set a nationwide trend of turning to shadow puppetry as a means of school spirit identification. It all likely started over 80 years ago with Texas A&M’s “Gig ‘Em” gesture that resembles the hand motion of one trying to thumb a diesel down. Soon after, rival University of Texas instituted its own shadow puppetry of school spirit with its “Hook ‘Em Horns” gesture with index finger and pinky extended out to resemble a steer’s horns.
And in Florida, Gator fans cannot greet each other with a mere handshake—it must be a “chomp” with arms extended and hands clapping to resemble the mastication of an alligator. Nor does a simple ‘hello’ work for Seminole fans, who engage in the “chop,” which can best be described as a referee motioning for a first down or Hong Kong Phooey busting a 2-by-4.
These mannerisms enter the stadium every Saturday from September through November, and in the state of Florida, each school presents its own flavor and traditions that one must strive to become familiar with—else resign to outcast status.
University of Florida
Tradition:Swaying to “We Are the Boys”
What is it? At the end of the third quarter of every home game, over 80,000 fans wrap their arms around each other and sway in unison as the band plays the song We Are The Boys From Old Florida. The scene can be rather hypnotic, especially for those who have spent the better part of the day imbibing adult beverages. (Clearly another game day tradition on college campuses everywhere.)
Origin:According to UF Historian Carl Van Ness in an interview with the Gainesville Sun in 2005, there is dispute over who wrote the song, as it is very similar to several others that popped up on college campuses in the early 1900s. A typical barbershop quartet ballad, the lyrics are likely borrowed and re-arranged from songs sung at the University of Toledo, University of Chicago and University of Nebraska. The song has been played at UF football games since the 1930s, but it was in the 1970s that it was relegated to being played strictly during the intermission between the third and fourth quarters. As for the swaying, there is no historical evidence pointing to its beginning, but what else to do during a barbershop quartet ballad?
Tradition:Mr. Two Bits
What is it? A certain former player or UF celebrity roams the stands during games, blowing into a whistle and leading certain sections in the cheer, “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar; all for the Gators stand up and holler!” At which point, those in that particular section, well… stand up and holler. Go figure.
Origin: Mr. Two Bits was actually Tampa businessman George Edmondson who started the cheer at games in the late 1940s. He became a fixture leading the cheer and could be seen at every home game until retiring from amateur cheerleading in 2008. Since then, a celebrity guest has taken on the role as Mr. Two Bits along with mascot Albert the Alligator donning Mr. Two Bits attire.
Tradition: Gator Chomp
What is it? Fans extend their arms and clap in unison mimicking a Gators’ jaws clamping down on prey. Fans often employ the move while chanting “Gator bait” as opposing players take the field. The gesture is also used as a greeting between like minds. Fans should be wary on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee, however, where there are reports of Gator fans being cited for “unlawful Gator chomping.” True story.
Origin: According to floridagoalliners.com, two UF band members got the idea to transform John Williams’ Jaws theme while attending a game at Mississippi State in 1981. When UF returned home to face Maryland that year, the band played the song and other band members and fans “spontaneously began doing the chomp in time.” The arm motion was supposedly modified from a similar motion used in the “Eat ‘em Up Gators” cheer that had been used for many years prior. The next question is, does John Williams receive royalties every time the Gators band plays the Jaws theme?
Florida State University
Tradition:Chief Osceola plants the spear
What is it? A student dressed in Seminole Indian wardrobe rides an Appaloosa (named Renegade) to midfield during pre-game ceremonies and throws a flaming spear into the turf, all to the roaring delight of the partisan faithful.
Origin: According to seminoles.com, the idea came to FSU student Bill Durham in 1962 but did not gain any traction until 1977 when Durham received approval for the ritual from the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The 1978 season opener against Oklahoma State unveiled Chief Osceola and Renegade planting the spear for the first time. Durham still provides the Appaloosa that plays Renegade.
Love FSU or hate FSU, there is no disputing this tradition is the most unique and compelling in all of college sports—a rather innovative way to claim one’s home turf. One question, though: Approval was granted from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, but what about permission from the fire marshal?
Tradition:Tomahawk Chop/War Chant
What is it? In unison, fans mimic the chopping of a tomahawk by moving one arm up and down from the elbow (as opposed to the shoulder fulcrum of the Gator Chomp) much like the referee signals for a first down. All the while, the droning chant that is bellowed endlessly throughout a game surely accomplishes its mission of driving opponents’ fans to flee with welled-up bitterness. The chant is more of a “Chanting Monks” style than the usual staccato-filled chants heard at Native American festivals.
Origin:According to uloop.com, the chop and the chant evolved separately but are now indelibly connected at FSU football games. The chop was originally a motion performed by the FSU band, the Marching Chiefs, during its “Chief Step” of pre-game ceremonies. The marching style “consists of a 90-degree poppy step, accompanied by a swinging arm motion from the side to the center of the stomach.” Supposedly this gesture evolved via cheerleaders into one performed above the head as the tomahawk chop. Historical accounts on seminoles.com claim that students began performing the chop en masse during the 1985 season after it was first combined with a war chant against Auburn in 1984. The chant, more of a Hollywood interpretation than a historical one, developed as a continuation of an existing chant called “Massacre” with the same beat and melody. In a 2008 interview with John Ruch, Marching Chiefs Director Patrick Dunnigan claims “Massacre” was written in the 1960s by the late FSU band arranger Charlie Carter.
What is it? Although not a part of game day pageantry inside the stadium, this peculiar tradition is worth noting. An actual cemetery exists complete with epitaphs denoting big road victories. Each grave contains actual sod from the field on which the game took place and is maintained with the integrity of Arlington. Currently 98 plaques exist with buried turf from games in which FSU was either an underdog, at UF, a bowl game, conference championship game or one of noted significance. Still waiting for the tally on what the opportunity costs are for this monument to exist or where this falls in the state budget.
Origin: Let’s face it, for most of our lives, FSU was not very good at football and any road win was considered huge. A 2014 New York Times article credits the idea stemming from a comment made by FSU Dean Coyle Moore in 1962. The Seminoles were playing at Georgia, and Moore challenged the team captains to “bring back some sod from between the hedges at Georgia.” When FSU won 18-0, captains Gene McDowell (later a head coach at Central Florida) and Red Dawson (later a coach at Marshall and one who did not board the plane that crashed with the team and staff in 1970) ripped up some sod and brought it back to Tallahassee where Moore started the cemetery. It has since changed location several times and now resides just north of Doak Campbell Stadium.
Tradition:Throwing Up the ‘U’
What is it? The Hurricanes’ answer to the Gator Chomp and the Tomahawk Chop is the hand gesture used by fans to identify with the University of Miami. With hands up, thumbs touching and all other fingers held tight and vertical, a ‘U’ shape is formed. Picture a movie director casing a venue in order to gain a more on-screen vision and you have something similar to one flashing the ‘U’.
Origin: According to a 2007 article in Miami Magazine, cheerleader Bill Tigano introduced the gesture in 1992 for fans to hold up during the band’s rendition of Star Wars’ Imperial Theme. He stated that UM needed a gesture to identify them, just as the Chomp and the Chop identify UF and FSU, respectively.
The ‘U’ stands for university, a marketing gimmick from the early 1970s that took root and has become a symbol of UM more than the letter ‘M’. Of course, these days, one might claim the ‘U’ actually stands for ‘Underdog.’
Tradition:Running through smoke
What it is: When the Miami players run onto the field in pre-game, they enter through a large cloud of smoke, seemingly emerging from the mist as hurricane noises blare through the loudspeakers.
Origin: Although UM’s smoky entrance became iconic during their storied run of success in the 1980s, the tradition goes back to the 1950s when the ‘Canes weren’t so successful. According to the University of Miami’s website, with fan interest low (even by today’s UM definition), “UM Transportation Director Bob Nalette introduced the idea of using fire extinguishers to produce the smoke that Hurricanes run through as they enter the field.” Nalette welded the pipe together over 40 years ago, and it is still used today. Originally, the setup included flashing lights and two large hurricane-warning flags, but now only the smoke and noise remain. Running through the smoke is an honor reserved for players and coaches… or Nevin Shapiro.
University ofSouth Floridaand
The Bulls and Knights, relative infants in the history of college football, don’t have the long, historical evolutions to have built natural traditions, so it’s important to simply create them. At USF and UCF, the effort to mold time-honored traditions is certainly being fast-tracked and identities are being shaped.
Tradition: Stampeding Herd of Thunder
What is it? Whereas most marching bands take the field in uniform, regimental columns with precise stepping as in a parade, the USF band takes an opposite queue. True to their nomenclature, the USF Herd of Thunder races onto the field like a pack of wild animals, whooping and hollering along the way.
Tradition: UCF War Chant
What is it? Seems like a blatant rip-off of FSU’s war chant and chop. In UCF’s version, the fans don’t motion the arm forward, but to the side. The scene looks like 30,000 people all trying to hail a cab or wipe mud off a windshield. The chant sounds eerily similar to FSU’s but with a few variances in range and staccato. Don’t worry, UCF has many years to perfect this and create something that an actual knight might perform. How about something along the lines of a jousting ritual?
Tradition: Go Bulls Hand Signal
What is it? USF’s foray into hand shadow puppetry looks no different than Texas’ ‘Hook ‘Em Horns.’ The gesture is just one digit removed from the ‘Hang Loose’ sign or ‘I love you’ in sign language. The gesture is meant to resemble bull horns with pinky and forefinger extended. Heavy metal concerts must be full of Bulls fans as the gesture is unceasingly flashed by patrons.
Florida FBS School Breakdowns
University of Florida
Home: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)
Head Coach: Jim McElwain (2nd year)
Seasons: 109 (701-404-40)
National Championships: 3 (1996, 2006, 2008)
Florida State University
Home: Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300)
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (7th year)
Seasons: 62 (486-219-16)
National Championships: 3 (1993, 1999, 2013)
University of Miami
Site: Coral Gables
Home: Sun Life Stadium (78,468)
Head Coach: Mark Richt (1st year)
Seasons: 79 (555-312-12)
National Championships: 5 (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001)
University of South Florida
Home: Raymond James Stadium (65,857)
Head Coach: Willie Taggart (4th year)
Seasons: 16 (105-88)
National Championships: 0
University of Central Florida
Home: Bright House Networks Stadium (45,301)
Head Coach: Scott Frost (1st year)
Seasons: 20 (127-116)*
National Championships: 0
Florida International University
Home: FIU Stadium (23,500)
Head Coach: Ron Turner (4th year)
Seasons: 12 (45-98)
National Championships: 0
Florida Atlantic University
Site: Boca Raton
Home: Lockhart Stadium (20,450)
Head Coach: Charlie Partridge (3rd year)
Seasons: 12 (56-89)
National Championships: 0
*Number denotes as Division-I or FBS level; UCF played in lower divisions from 1979 to 1995 and compiled a 98-86-1 record during that span.