What makes college athletics so great are the traditions. From pregame rituals to rivalry games, from marching bands to student section chants, it’s a level of sports unrivaled in passion.
The FCS is no different. Programs rich in history are proud of the traditions they’ve established. HERO Sports asked around and also scoured the internet for some of the best in the FCS. What we found are traditions that range from new to old, from humorous and quirky to something that sends chills down your spine and puts a lump in your throat.
Here are the best traditions in the FCS with a Top 10 ranking at the bottom:
NOTE: This article was originally published in 2018 and has been re-published in 2021 after the link broke. Many of these traditions were submitted by fans, administration, or coaches. Because of that, there are sure to be some missing. If you feel one deserves to be mentioned, email email@example.com and we’ll consider adding it.
The Cannon Man
Dick Dewing, who graduated in 1953 and is a UNH football Hall of Famer, fired a Revolutionary War-era cannon at home games for years, and did so into the 2019 season at the age of 91. Dressed in full regalia and with his full crew, a blank shot is fired from the cannon at the beginning of the game, after the marching band plays “1812 Overture” and after every Wildcats touchdown. Dewing passed away in April 2021, but the tradition will continue.
Todd Walker Teammate Award
UNH has another special tradition with the Todd Walker Teammate Award. Walker, a former receiver for the Wildcats, was shot and killed in 2011 when he stopped an attempted robbery and saved the life of a woman he was walking home.
The award was created to honor his memory and recognize a player who displays the attributes of selflessness and dedication as the ideal teammate.
Tubby Raymond’s Paintings
Harold “Tubby” Raymond was a Delaware assistant coach beginning in 1954 and was the head coach from 1966-2001, winning 300 games and three national championships. In the 1950s, Raymond began to do acrylic paintings of a senior member of the team each week during the season for most of his coaching career at Delaware.
He continued to do the paintings all the way up to the 2017 season until he passed away in December. Raymond was 92.
“These portraits were a treasure to all of us,” Joe Purzycki, a 1969 captain, said.
After each touchdown, the band plays the Cajun National Anthem, Jolie Blonde.
The entire stadium dances to it, swaying to the left and clapping twice, swaying right and clapping twice, and so on and so on.
Firing the Cannon
After the Cowboys score a touchdown, a cannon is fired by Cannon Krewe members, who dress in full costume attire. It’s a strong tradition not only for the football team but for Southwest Louisiana as a whole. The history of pirates, contraband, buccaneers, and cannon fire can be found on street names, at festivals, and within the deep treasuries of local family tales and stories.
The Cannon Krewe consists of at least 10-12 members for every game. When the Cowboys win, the cannons are fired strategically right when the scoreboard hits zero. If the team loses, the cannons are discharged only after the band plays the McNeese Alma Mater.
Several college football teams celebrate with some sort of prop after the defense forces a turnover. Kennesaw State has “Plank,” which went viral in its debut season in 2017.
Simply a piece of wood with a smiley face on it that was originally found in Florida on spring break, Plank is still a point of pride for the defense to hold up on the sidelines.
Every time the Idaho football team runs onto the field, they make sure a player is carrying the American flag. This started under former head coach Robb Akey after he took a trip to Afghanistan. The Vandals still run out with the flag under current head coach Paul Petrino.
Ring the Bell
Idaho has another tradition inside the walls of its facilities and uses it as a rallying call with “Ring the Bell.” Every time the bell is rung in the weight room, it signifies a player has hit his personal best.
Add another tradition for Idaho, one that the students love. On the night before the homecoming football game, students form a serpentine led by the marching band that snakes across campus and picks people up on the way to a bonfire and pep rally.
Originally, freshmen were tasked with gathering materials for the fire. Now, it is constructed by the homecoming committee. The serpentine has been an annual event for more than 100 years.
Gold Rush Game
Montana State has one of the best home venues in FCS football. The Bobcats make it extra special during the first home game of the year with the Gold Rush Game. The fans all wear gold and the team wears its gold jerseys.
If the first home game is also the season opener, it’s usually held on a Thursday night under the lights.
Another cool tradition for MSU is the Cat Prowl an hour before kickoff. Cheerleaders and the marching band lead the football team to the stadium through a tunnel of fans.
Before entering the stadium, players touch a 9-foot statute of Sonny Holland, known as the “the greatest Bobcat of them all.” The statue debuted in 2016. Holland was a three-time All-American and also won 47 games in seven years as a head coach, winning the 1976 Division II national championship. And the big stat is going 10-1 against Montana.
Former Raiders head coach Dick Biddle told his players, “Don’t be cake eaters.” In other words, “don’t be soft.”
In 2012, Biddle brought in an actual cake with frosting that said, “Don’t be cake eaters.” This took place on a Wednesday and the team won that Saturday. It’s now turned into a tradition with cake in the locker room after every Wednesday practice.
Charles Williams Memorial Jersey
In 2003, Samford defensive back Charles Williams was killed in a car accident. An extremely well-respected man by his teammates and coaches, it was decided that no player would wear his No. 5 during the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
In 2005, the first Charles Williams Memorial Jersey was awarded to a senior who had the same qualities as Williams: selflessness, perseverance, and determination. The jersey number has been given to a senior every season since.
“I’ll Fly Away”
This has been sung by the JSU Marching Southerners for decades. A few years ago, the football team began to join in on the tradition. After games, the Southerners gather, put their arms around each other and sing it with the fans and players.
Singing the Alma Mater
A lot of football teams sing the school’s alma mater after games with the band. But how Chattanooga began this tradition is a little more unique.
In 2009, UTC fans pointed out on the message boards that Wofford stopped in the middle of the field after the game to watch the band play the UTC alma mater while the Chattanooga players ran to the locker room.
Bob Mulkey, an admin on the message boards, brought it up to then-head coach Russ Huesman as part of the “question of the week.” Huesman acknowledged it and since then the football team remains on the field during the alma mater and the words appear on the video boards.
Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Western Carolina
The Freshmen Run
At the beginning of every season, the freshmen class runs across the football field from end zone to end zone. Known FCS schools to do this are Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, and Western Carolina. (James Madison also does this, but has another well-known tradition that will be on this list.)
WCU’s tradition had a special twist with beloved chancellor David Belcher leading the freshmen during his seven years at the school. Belcher, known as the biggest fan of every sport/athlete at WCU, passed away in 2018 after a year-long battle with cancer.
“‘Peach Blossoms’ is the informal name of WIU’s Veterans Club with the purpose to help student-veterans adjust to college life after their time in service. They are also a group of the most passionate Leatherneck fans out there.
The Peach Blossoms, a moniker adopted in the 1960s, can be seen during home games, tailgating, and the annual parade wearing their red-dyed mop tops and purple T-shirts.
Tap the Rock
The “Tap the Rock” mantra dates back to the 2009 national championship Villanova team. Team Chaplin, Father Rob Hagen, shared the Stonecutter Parable which describes a person wanting to break down a stone using only small chipping tools. The cutter goes on for a long time tapping the stone, eventually getting the stone to crack and fall apart. The message from the story is not reaching the goal. It’s realizing that, while the final tap of the rock was the one that broke it, it was all the taps leading up to it that played a key role.
The message stuck and was engraved on the national title rings. Now, the football team still uses the saying and taps a rock as a reminder that the final play didn’t win the game, but it was everything that added up to that final play.
Dakota Days (D-Days)
The first Dakota Day was held in 1914. Also known as D-Days, it’s a prideful week where the alumni return and the current students get to know more about the past traditions of the university. The weeklong celebration culminates with a parade Saturday before the football game.
Of course, the students also use it as an excuse to do what college students typically do on a Saturday night. That side of D-Days can be found here:
South Dakota State
Another Homecoming celebration for a South Dakota school. The first official Hobo Day at SDSU took place in 1912. It originally began as a “nightshirt parade” in 1907 where students prepared torches after a bonfire and marched through Main Street dressed in nightshirts and bedsheets.
The tradition turned into Hobo Day in 1912, where students simply dressed as hobos. The Homecoming celebration has continued to evolve over time while still maintaining traditions such as competitive beard-growing that started in the ‘30s. The Bummobile has also been a part of the parade for more than 100 years.
Activities occur throughout the week, but it’s game day when the festivities really crank it up a notch and of course, the students have their own fun with it before and after the big football game.
Sonic Boom of the South entering the stadium to “Get Ready”
HBCU marching bands are legendary and must-see shows. Perhaps no band sets the stage better during their football game performances than Jackson State’s, who enters the stadium playing “Get Ready,” an old Motown favorite selected as the band’s theme song in 1974.
If the ceremonial bonfire takes place, that means it was a special season for the Princeton football team. The fire only happens if the Tigers beat Harvard and Yale in the same season, giving the school bragging rights out of the “Big Three.”
This started in the 1950s and as the tradition goes, it is the responsibility of the dink-wearing freshmen to gather wood from the surrounding area and construct the bonfire.
The Bulldog Walk
One of the top traditions in the Ivy League, the Bulldog Walk begins 80 minutes before kickoff as the football team gathers under the Walter Camp Memorial. Led by the captains and head coach, the players lock arms while following the marching band on the 1,000-foot march into the Yale Bowl.
The path is lined on both sides with fans. When the team enters the Yale Bowl, they walk along the outside walls of the stadium as they make their way onto Jensen Plaza to enter the team room.
“The Bulldog Walk gave me chills as all of the fans lined up to cheer the team on as we made our way to the Bowl,” former linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “I took visits to other Ivy Schools and none of their fan bases and community support compared to that which I have experienced at Yale.”
The Helmet Rule
Starting in the 1970s, legendary UC Davis head coach Jim Sochor implemented a rule that is still in place today. Sochor’s core rule was that a player’s helmet was to never hit the ground. They were to be worn, held, or placed in their lockers.
“Your helmet is the most critical piece of equipment,” Sochor once said. “It can protect you, save your life, so you must treat it with dignity and respect.”
Over time, it’s become more enforced by the upperclassmen rather than the coaches.
“Boomer” the Cannon
Cannons have been a part of The Citadel tradition from the school’s founding day. During home football games, the Palmetto Battery supports the team by firing one of two cannons when the Bulldogs score a touchdown. Then, when the extra point is scored, “Boomer” is fired.
It was first fired in 1957. Then in 1980, a “Name the Touchdown Cannon” contest was held, and “Boomer” was chosen.
The Top 10
10. Southern Illinois
Pyramid of King Tut the Dog
Southern Illinois is known geographically as “Little Egypt.” The SIU mascot was changed in 1951 to the Saluki, an ancient breed of Egyptian hunting dog, and the school got an actual Saluki dog as a mascot and named it King Tut.
King Tut was hit by a car in 1954 and died. He was buried in the corner of the old football stadium with a cement pyramid.
When the new Saluki Stadium was built in 2010, the pyramid was cleaned up and moved to the entrance of the stadium where fans and players touch it for good luck.
9. Magic City Classic
The Magic City Classic is routinely the most attended FCS game of the season. The annual game between Alabama A&M and Alabama State is played at Legion Field in Birmingham, nicknamed the “Magic City.” Attendance averages more than 60,000 people.
This series began in 1924 and has been played at Legion Field since 1946.
The tailgating beforehand has turned into a special event. It resembles more of a festival as tents and RVs line the tailgating lot. Good people, good music, and good food make for a tailgate everyone needs to experience.
Harvard has only one captain, a position voted by the players. It’s been that way for almost every season since 1872.
A classic tradition of any win by a Fordham team is ringing the Victory Bell, which is located outside of the legendary Rose Hill Gym. President Harry S. Truman became the first to ring the bell on campus in 1946.
After football wins, every senior is lifted by underclassmen to ring the bell. Fans watch as they sing the fight song. At least two players are needed to lift a senior high enough to reach it.
The bell is also rung at the start of graduation ceremonies.
“What kind of makes it awesome,” former tight end Dan Light told the New York Times, “is that for three years you watch it, and then when you ring it as a senior, it makes it that much more special.”
6. HBCU bands
The 5th quarter
“We came for the football game but stayed for the band.” As odd as that sentence may sound for a college football fan, it can sometimes be reality in the world of HBCU football. The 5th Quarter has become a must-see performance and a reason to stick around if a game is a blowout.
It takes place after the games when the bands of the two opposing teams battle each other for bragging rights on who has the best musical performance. Between the choreographed routines and the song selection, a lot of practice and preparation are needed in the days leading up.
5. James Madison
Starting in 2004, when the Dukes won their first FCS national title, throwing purple and gold streamers in the air after touchdowns is a prideful tradition for JMU fans.
Originally, the streamers were thrown while the Dukes ran onto the field to encourage fans to be in their seats at kickoff. Phil Cockrell, who started the tradition, handed out 1,000 of them before the season opener.
Now, the tradition has evolved to not only being thrown after every touchdown but even after graduation ceremonies instead of caps. The school also hands out streamers before every home game.
4. North Dakota State
The Fargodome press box has seated many national college football writers in recent years, from ESPN commentators to feature writers. All typically have the same kind of response on Twitter after seeing the Bison take the field: “Of all the college football stadiums I’ve been to, I’ve never seen a spectacle quite like the NDSU football entrance.”
With the ability to shut off the lights completely, the Fargodome almost turns into an NBA arena. A video counting down from 60 seconds with highlights and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” playing appears on the video boards. As it hits zero, the video boards cut to a camera showing the outside of the Bison’s locker room. The doors burst open and the head coach leads the team through the tunnel and onto the field to the band playing and fireworks going off.
This tradition started in 2003 in Craig Bohl’s first year as head coach when the Fargodome added video boards. Bohl previously coached at Nebraska, whose tunnel walk is well known. This sparked the idea of how NDSU’s intro is done.
A Toast to Dear Old Penn
Between the third and fourth quarter of every home football game, the Penn band plays “Drink a Highball” with the last line saying “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn.” At that point, fans throw pieces of toast toward the field, although most land on the surrounding track.
The tradition started in the 1970s when alcohol was banned at Franklin Field. The fans would drink when the fight song was played. After the alcohol ban, the Penn band decided to literally toast after the song by throwing slices onto the field. It has stuck ever since and is still done today.
As far as the cleanup, Penn engineering students designed a toast-eating Zamboni-like machine to help.
Montana is one of the most storied programs in the FCS and is home to an awesome tradition. All-conference, All-American, or broken records be damned, there is no greater honor for a football player than wearing the No. 37.
The Griz pass down the jersey number to a player born in Montana and who represents the team on and off the field. Once the current No. 37 graduates, he decides who gets the jersey next. The tradition started in 1983 and represents the Spirit of Montana – hard work, dedication to the team, and tough play on the gridiron.
Jesse Sims was the last player to wear No. 37 in 2019. Sims tragically passed away in an ATV accident in May this year. He was 24.
1. Cal Poly
After a game in 1960, a plane carrying the Cal Poly football team crashed due to weather conditions, an overweight aircraft, and partial loss of power in the left engine. Of the 48 people on board, 22 died, including 16 players, a student manager, a Cal Poly football booster, and the pilots.
There is a memorial outside of Cal Poly’s stadium with 18 columns to honor the Cal Poly-affiliated individuals who died in the crash, each one the height of the person that died. The columns are in a circle that resembles a huddle and they have display plaques that tell the story of each person.
Before the football team departs for away games, the team stops at the Mustang Memorial. And on official visits for recruits, the first place they start is at the memorial.
For home games, after warm-ups and before the football team goes back to the locker room, the team meets at a rock next to the locker room because they cannot go outside the stadium to visit the memorial. The team says a quick prayer to remind them that they have the opportunity to play and coach the game they love and that they will play and coach for someone other than just themself.
Throughout the week, former head coach Tim Walsh could be seen eating lunch by himself at the memorial. If anyone asked him what he was doing, he always responded with, “I’m eating lunch with some friends.”
Sam’s coverage of the FCS began in 2012 as the sports editor and eventual editor-in-chief of NDSU’s The Spectrum. After graduating in 2015, he spent three years in the newspaper and magazine industry while starting his work for HERO Sports in the fall of 2016 as a freelancer. In May 2018, he joined the website full time as the Senior FCS Analyst.