50 Crazy College Campus Traditions: Part 5

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University of Virginia: Homer Statue

Sure, tons of schools have traditions that involve nudity. But to the credit of University of Virginia’s students, this custom also has a literary twist…that is if you count kissing the butt of a venerable scribe’s butt to be literary in nature. (Full disclosure: I do).

When sculptor Moses Ezekiel gifted the Blind Homer with his Student Guide statue to this Charlottesville-based research university in 1907, he could have hardly guessed the future which awaited his noble subject. Indeed, as the streaking fad swept across American campuses in the 1970s, not even Homer was safe from the indignity.

It was in this decade that the University of Virginia’s students made it custom to engage in their own respective odysseys of sorts. Homer sits magnanimously and unflinching on the university’s fabled Lawn, daring students to disrobe, sprint to him, and plant one right on his bronze posterior.

According to the official rules, streakers must then make their way to the university Rotunda, where a peek through the keyhole will reveal a statue of Thomas Jefferson. After giving a wink to the U.S. President and university founder, you are permitted to return to your clothing.

Florida State University: The Sod Cemetery

Sod Cemetary

There are few graveyards that invoke a feeling of triumph as does Florida State University’s Sod Cemetery. Some 90+ bronze tombstones mark the final resting place of stadium sods belonging to vanquished opponents.

The story of how FSU came to be haunted by the ghosts of many lawns now passed begins in 1962. For the first half-century of its existence, FSU had been an all-women’s college. With just over a decade of male admission, the school’s football program was fairly in its infancy at the start of the ‘60s. A dedicated athletics booster, longtime professor, and future dean, Coyle Moore sought to light a fire under the fledgling program when he urged his players to bring home a square of sod from their road match with the heavily-favored University of Georgia.

When the Seminoles emerged with an 18–0 victory and a chunk of grass, tradition was born…with a burial. After Moore’s wife demanded that he remove the decomposing piece of sod from their living room mantle, he created the Sod Cemetery. Without fail, FSU’s players have expanded the purview of the burial ground by seizing a square of sod from every road victory in which they are considered underdogs, as well as from every showdown with the University of Florida and every bowl game.

On the subject of bowl games, the university’s stalwart tradition earned it a $500 fine when players forcibly removed a square of Super Dome astroturf in celebration of their 1988 Sugar Bowl victory. Out of respect to the university’s tradition, officials presented FSU with a free piece of Super Dome carpet upon their next Sugar Bowl berth.

Today, the Sod Cemetery stands just a few yards from the football team practice fields. Thousands will visit to pay their respects on game days.

Lawrence University: The Great Midwest Trivia Contest

Great Midwest Trivia

A trivia contest doesn’t sound too crazy on the surface, right? It’s just quizzo. Big deal, you say? Well, this one, the nation’s oldest and longest, runs for 50 straight hours. Fast forwarding through commercials, that’s basically like watching 130 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy!

Even Ken Jennings gets tired.

The original trivia marathon was held in April of 1966. Questions were broadcast to the Appleton, Wisconsin campus by way of the student-run radio station. The inaugural question asked students to identify Superman’s father. (It’s Jor-El, for those of you lacking our considerable nerd credentials). The winning team in that first contest was gifted a broken refrigerator for their display of knowledge.

The original event proved a major success and was immediately adopted into annual tradition. Today, the trivia contest is held in the last week of every January and questions are dispersed through the web. Student teams are given three minutes to phone answers in to trivia masters, who must themselves answer to a yearly appointed Grand Trivia Master.

Because the contest takes place online and because trivial tidbits are so readily Googleable these days, questions have grown increasingly arcane and abstract. For instance, one of the easier (so we’re told) questions in this year’s line of questions commands First, translate the phrase Bon matin, j’aime le jeu from French to Furbish. What is the binary code for the 13th letter when it is translated?

We guessed Babe Ruth though we’re pretty sure we didn’t fully understand the question.

Duke University: Tailgating

This tradition should alternately be known as how to make football fun even when you’re team stinks.

It’s true that tailgating doesn’t sound like a particularly unique activity. We doubt that you’ll find a single university with any kind of football program whose students don’t begin celebrating in stadium-adjacent parking lots early on each and every home Saturday. What most distinguishes the athletic supporters on this gorgeous Durham, North Carolina campus is their dedication to futility.

Such is to say that where tailgating is the way that most college football fans get gassed for game time, it is verily the main attraction for Duke students. A festival atmosphere falls across the campus as its various guest lots become dense with portable grills, tents, folding tables, cornhole boards, and Blue Devil paraphernalia. All of this is done in honor of a team that hasn’t made a bowl game since 1994, whose record between 1999 and 2007 was a tragic 13–90, and whose fans endured an excruciating 22 game home losing streak between 2005 and 2007.

Arguably, the university’s legendary basketball program is successful enough to buoy school spirit throughout the year because, miraculously, the football team’s abysmal on-field results have done little to dampen the pre-game festivities at Duke.

College of William & Mary: Crim Dell Bridge Kiss

Crim Dell Bridge Kiss
Photo by Sarah Ross

The elegantly arched Crim Dell Bridge, so named for the creek across which it provides passage, is widely regarded as one of the most romantic spots on any U.S. campus. This College of William & Mary landmark was constructed in 1966.

Ironically, given its beauty and scenic appeal, it would replace a spot that the less environmentally-conscious residents of early 20th century Williamsburg, Virginia considered a convenient place to chuck garbage.

Putting aside its litter-strewn past, this lovely overpass is the keeper of great power. It is told that when a couple walks across this bridge, a kiss at the apex will seal their love in perpetuity. Should the relationship somehow not work out, the only recourse, legend has it, is for a scorned woman to push her lover off the bridge. Only this will free her from a life of solitude.

Boy, that got real dark, real fast.

Army-Navy: Philadelphia Showdown

What could make a storied rivalry between two esteemed football programs more exciting? Infusing it with the most rabid and unpredictable sporting fanbase in America.

Each year, the end of regular season football is marked by a showdown between the United States Military Academy from West Point, New York and the United States Naval Academy from Annapolis, Maryland. The first meeting between the two teams took place in 1890 and by 1930, it had become an annual tradition. 2015’s tilt will be the 85th consecutive season-ending match for Army and Navy.

A desire to choose a neutral meeting point for the two teams has seen these squads face off in a variety of venues over more than a century of bruising football. However, owing both to its significance in the course of American history and to its relatively central point between the competing academies, the city of Philadelphia has become the de facto venue for the gridiron tangle.

Of course, any time you hold a sporting event in Philadelphia, it comes with the added understanding that you’ve just invited the roughest, rowdiest, and rudest spectators in the nation to your party. Philadelphia Eagles fans famously pelted Santa Claus with snowballs. A Phillies fan once hurled a battery (lord knows why it had to be a battery) at a despised visiting player. So unruly are the fans from this city that the now-imploded Veteran’s Stadium became the first sporting arena to construct its very own jail cell in a subterranean corridor.

So naturally, the intensity of the Army-Navy game has been historically magnified by the sheer insanity that thunders from the bleachers around it. Though the game is held at an alternate location every four or five years, it is truly the marriage of event and venue that makes the Philly-bound Army-Navy game a spectacle to behold.

Taylor University: Silent Night

Should you happen to show up a few seconds late for a Taylor University basketball game to find a foreboding hush blanketing a stadium of costume-wearing spectators, we assure you that you have not wandered into an episode of The Twilight Zone. What you are observing is Taylor University’s Silent Night, a collective act of meditative fandom that marks the last game before finals week.

Students at this Indiana-based evangelical university share a vow of silence with one another from the moment of tip-off until such time as Taylor University scores its 10th point. In stark contrast to the staid spectatorship that has proceeded it, this bucket is marked by an unhinged, court-storming celebration.

The Silent Night tradition began as a stadium pajama party in the 1980s, perhaps suggesting that day and night had largely blurred together for the finals-cramming students at Taylor. But the act of abstaining from sound during such games began in 1997. Either this eerily quiet atmosphere gives Taylor’s players a bit of extra mojo or it just creeps their opponents out enough to throw them off their game because, amazingly, Taylor is 18–0 on Silent Night.

John Brown University: First Point TP’ing

First point TP

Toilet paper can be a beautiful thing when thrown with just the right spin, arc, and trajectory. Once it hits its target, of course, it’s just a huge mess. But then, that’s pretty much the point.

The students of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas know this joy full well thanks to a tradition that dates back to 1980. The minute that a player from this Christian liberal arts college scores the team’s first field goal, the fans release some 2,000 rolls of toilet paper into the wild.

The result is a raucous minute of streaming white, followed immediately by one of the most worth-it technical fouls in all of sports. For obvious reasons, this is the best-attended game of the year and has garnered coverage in USA Today and on ESPN.

University of Pennsylvania: Toast Throw

Toast Zamboni
Photo by The West End

If you’re looking for a job as University of Pennsylvania’s Quaker mascot, it’s probably best that you aren’t gluten intolerant. The condition would make it pretty hard for you to endure one of the university’s most dutifully practiced traditions.

The third quarter of each football game held at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field is followed by a collective recitation of the classic school spirit melody Drink a Highball. The final line of the song rejoices, Here’s a toast to dear old Penn. Historically, this was the signal for all in attendance to tilt a glass in honor of their alma mater.

That is, until the 1970s, when alcohol was banned from the stadium. Suddenly, a more direct translation of Drink a Highball resonated with students. Now, the toast which is offered is quite literally that. Today, every third quarter brings with it a hailstorm of lightly crisped bread and more than a few bagels. What began as an ironic protest against stadium prohibition is now a part of Penn lore. Estimates hold that during a good season, attendees will carpet the field with between 20,000 and 30,000 baked goods.

This tradition also makes the University of Pennsylvania the only Ivy League college with its very own toast zamboni.

Stanford University: Bearial of Oski the Bear

bearial

Every football season, during the week before another chapter is written in the rivalry between Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology, the students of the former ritualistically desecrate the mascot of the latter.

Oski the Bear has been repping Cal Tech since 1941. Since that time, he has pretty much been a constant target for abuse and indignity at the hands of the enemy.

Anti-Oski sentiment reaches its greatest pitch in the days leading up to each year’s all-Cali face-off. It is then that the irrepressible Stanford Band leads a procession in which pallbearers (pun totally unavoidable) carry a casket-bound Oski effigy through campus. Though the event is called a Bearial, the name is something of a misnomer. It’s really more of a cremation.

When the casket arrives at the White Memorial Fountain (known to students by the far more foreboding name, Claw Fountain), Oski is unboxed and impaled thereupon. He is subsequently burned at the stake.

Pretty sinister stuff.

Turnabout is, of course, fair play. Students at Cal Tech will typically respond in kind by, at any opportunity, beating the sap out of their rival’s lunatic mascot, The Stanford Tree.

If you want to know more about the bitter ongoing feud between Oski and the Stanford Tree, check out our piece on The Most Legendary, Lovable, and Ludicrous College Mascots.

Part 4 | Part 1

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