My 10 favorite SEC game day traditions
What makes SEC football so darned wonderful stretches well beyond what happens on the field on fall Saturdays in the South. Serious SEC fans knows this.
They’ve always known that it’s about “The Experience.” They know it’s the treasure chest of game day traditions built up and celebrated through decades that makes SEC football a wonder, an event, something far more precious than just a game.
Spin the fictional SEC geographical wheel and it’ll stop on a conference outpost with a legendary tradition passed joyously through time. And folks at each stop on that wheel will claim that theirs is the best tradition. And you could make an argument to support any one of them.
So we’ll get out of the way of those endless debates and just list our favorite 10, in no particular order, because the one thing every fan can agree on is that they’re all wonderful in their own way. And it won’t be long until the SEC faithful get to experience these rituals all over again.
Mr. Two Bits, Florida
Echoing through The Swamp on fall Saturdays is the cheer that a retired insurance salesman named George Edmondson Jr. started in 1949 and carried through until he retired from his more famous side gig in 2008. That’s six decades of passionate song and mid-field dance for a man who served as a Navy fighter pilot during World War II, settled in Tampa and then set forth with his Gainesville act.
Since Edmondson stepped aside nearly a decade ago, Florida has paraded an A-list of Gators greats to perform the pregame festivities in Edmondson’s honor, from Danny Wuerffel to Steve Spurrier. The charming Two Bits ritual is almost always followed by another Gators tradition at home: demoralizing the opponent.
Running Through The T, Tennessee
Reggie White did it, with those big arms raised triumphantly. Peyton Manning did, too, before carving up visiting defenses. For over 50 years now, Tennessee’s football heroes have run through the “T” formed by the Pride of the Southland Marching band, to the deafening pregame roars of a packed Neyland Stadium. It’s an orange-and-white sight to behold, through all of its varying reincarnations through the decades.
Whether coming out at the midfield entrance or through the end zone, a Tennessee home game hasn’t really started until the home team powers through that “T” and gets ready to dominate, with Smokey the mascot and the cheerleaders joining the players.
Calling the Hogs, Arkansas
It’s loud, it’s proud, it’s offbeat and it’s wild. It’s unquestionably and wonderfully Arkansas. Before games begin in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks sellout crowd performs the Calling the Hogs ritual with that familiar “Wooo Pig Sooie” that the home folks love and the opposition thinks is just annoyingly loud. The tradition is said to have started in the 1920s by area farmers who were upset that the Razorbacks were losing games.
A century later, the Fayetteville faithful are still Calling the Hogs before every fall football game, and the game day celebration is taken very seriously, with a detailed illustration of how to properly call those Hogs on the university website. Those who perform the ritual for real know to bring their unbridled spirit — and their strong voice boxes.
The Grove, Ole Miss
This one’s so much more than a pregame tradition. It’s a full-fledged, colorful tailgate party spread across 10 plush acres in Oxford lined with gorgeous elms, oaks and magnolias. Rebels fans, and even some of the road fans who want to experience The Grove, come for the awesome food, drink, music and all-around scenery.
Before you experience an actual game in Oxford, it is absolutely necessary to be an invited guest at “Ole Miss’ living room,” the Rebels’ sanctuary that renews itself every year for six or so home football dates. ESPN has taken its college football pregame cameras to The Grove, but being there is so much better than watching the beauty on TV.
Kissing After Touchdowns, Texas A&M
This cute, cozy ritual falls under Texas A&M’s vast and amazing “12th Man” umbrella, with men kissing their dates after each Aggies touchdown at boisterous Kyle Field. The entire 12th Man tradition is a breathtaking sight that makes a game day experience in College Station unlike any other.
For the home fans, it’s a day-long celebration of football, and of life. For the visiting team and any road fans who dare make the trip, it’s often just a long day. Ask rival Texas back in 1985 or most any visitor since, even in leaner Aggies football times. The 12th Man wasn’t an original SEC tradition, with the Aggies being in the Southwest Conference for years, but it surely qualifies now. Intimidation, sealed with a kiss.
Arguably the best college mascot in the country also qualifies as an SEC tradition because Uga is more than just a cuddly bulldog that sits on his throne on the Sanford Stadium sidelines. Before games, fans young and old come to have their picture taken with the venerable Uga, or just to have an up-close look. During games, their eyes (and the TV cameras) will surely flash toward Uga between plays.
Uga is a Georgia football institution launched by Sonny Seiler over 60 years ago, when Seiler brought a bulldog that was given to him as a wedding present to the Bulldogs’ first home game of the season. Six decades later, Savannah’s own Seiler is 84 years young, and the original Uga he brought to the game that day has given way to the 10th installment of the bulldog. Who knew a quirky wedding gift would become Georgia’s eternal football gift?
Fan cockabooses, South Carolina
Yes, those shiny red cockaboose fan palaces that sit on a rail line outside Williams-Brice Stadium are expensive, as in close to $300,000 expensive, and we’re highlighting them over the slightly less pricey (and a lot louder) Gamecocks tradition of “Sandstorm” before kickoff.
The unique, stationary red cars became luxurious tailgating spots in 1990. Next time you’re in Columbia on game day, ask one of the lucky owners to let you see the inside of one of those cockabooses (the word you get when combining Gamecocks and cabooses). It’s said the value of the cars is hard to gauge because they so rarely change hands. And, really, can you blame the owners?
War Eagle, Auburn
At Auburn, War Eagle is a way to greet fellow fans, the name of the fight song and, of course, an actual eagle. Auburn has kept a golden eagle on its campus since 1930 and continuously since 1960, and since 2001 an eagle has flown over Jordan-Hare Stadium before Tigers games as the crowd roars and salutes the magic of the moment.
The War Eagle phrase encompasses a lot at Auburn. This makes it a game day way of life, even if it isn’t the school’s actual nickname. As for the eagle, we’re now up to War Eagle VII at Auburn. That’s a lot of battle cries, a lot of fight songs and a lot of actual eagle flights above Jordan-Hare.
Tiger Walk, Auburn
Yes, Auburn gets two traditions on our list, but it’s well-deserved. The Tiger Walk began in the 1960s when kids would greet the team and get autographs before games. Not only has it turned into a prestigious pregame event over the years, but it’s been duplicated all around the country.
The aura of the Tiger Walk was crystallized in 1989 when Auburn hosted Alabama at Jordan-Hare for the first time in the history of the Iron Bowl. The Tigers won 30-20, but it was far more than just a victory on the field against the hated rival. It was an all-time win for Auburn’s football tradition, as the Tiger Walk became a must-go-to event.
Death Valley at Night, LSU
How many big LSU home wins can you really remember happening with the sun out? Last season’s makeup game against Florida was played during the day at Tiger Stadium and LSU lost, and that was so fitting because the program has built its reputation on big-time victories on humid Baton Rouge nights. Like the famous Earthquake Game against Auburn in 1988 and so many others before and after it.
LSU began its tradition of night games in 1931, and it hasn’t looked back, or turned the clock back to start playing regular afternoon games. Originally it was done to avoid the heat, but we all know it’s plenty hot on Saturday nights at Tiger Stadium. Just ask most of LSU’s beaten opponents over the years. The only real way to experience LSU football is if by game’s end the midnight hour is closing in.
We’ll end with a disclaimer to explain that though no Alabama game-day traditions made our list, the Crimson Tide has wonderful and pristine rituals all their own. And besides, Bama leads the SEC pack in a most important tradition, particularly over the past decade: winning.