College Football Traditions in Tennessee

Monday, August 31, 2009 - by B.B. Branton
The Carson-Newman Mossy Creek Maniacs show their school spirit as they cheer on the Carson-Newman football team. The C-N Maniacs symbolize the long standing college football traditions across the state.
photo courtesy of Carson-Newman News & Media Relations Office.
The Carson-Newman Mossy Creek Maniacs show their school spirit as they cheer on the Carson-Newman football team. The C-N Maniacs symbolize the long standing college football traditions across the state. photo courtesy of Carson-Newman News & Media Relations Office.

From the Mossy Creek Maniacs at Carson-Newman to the Peay!Nuts cheering "Let's Go Peay" in Clarksville to the sound of the ship's horn at Vandy games, the long standing "Yea, Sewanee's Right!" heard across the Cumberland Plateau and the high-stepping TSU "Aristocrat of Bands", strong college football traditions are as varied and distinct from one college campus to another as are the campuses themselves and the varied disciplines of study.

The cry of "It's Football Time in Tennessee" is not just for the 100,000 Big Orange faithful in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, but for all 18 collegiate gridiron programs from UT to Austin Peay and from Lane College to Lambuth to Memphis.

College football in Tennessee has its beginning with Vanderbilt defeating Nashville,40-0, on Thanksgiving Day, 1890, soon followed by varsity pigskin games at Maryville, Sewanee and Tennessee.

Today, the sights and sounds of the rock-solid institution of college football with its many traditions - long-standing or born in recent years - stirs the souls of young and old across the Volunteer State.

As college football is in full swing this week throughout the state and the South, here is a look at those traditions and the Tennessee school's which embrace them.

AUSTIN PEAY: "Let's Go Peay!" has been the school's battle cry for years and now the student group Peay!Nuts leads the cheer at all home football games on the Clarksville campus.

Now in its first year, the official student spirit group's purpose is to boost school pride and have the fans in a frenzy is exactly what these current students plan to do.

Sports information director Brad Kirtley is credited with creating the catchy name and the group is given direction by APSU staff advisor Emily Shearer.

Thanks to the leadership of then university president Dr. Sherry L. Hoppe, scholarship football returned to Austin Peay for the fall of 2006 (after the Governors had played non-scholarship football for a few years) as did an increase in school spirit.

Thus, the football traditions are not as long-standing as at most schools, but strong nonetheless.

In a pre-game tradition, the football players walk from Dunn Center through the elaborate and energy-filled Tailgate Alley and into the stadium led by the cheerleaders and the Peay!Nuts.

The Governor's home opener is Saturday against Newberry at 6 p.m. CDT and the Peay!Nuts will be found in, where else, but the - Peay!Nut Gallery.

CARSON-NEWMAN: The great football tradition at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City - five NAIA national championships - was born on the banks of Mossy Creek in 1895 and today the face-painting, high-energy, over-the-top Mossy Creek Maniacs continue to stir up excitement each fall on the Eagles' campus.

The 100,000 fans to the East might have them in numbers, but not in spirit.

Known as the team's 12th man, the Maniacs stand as one the entire game and do what it takes to make Burke-Tarr Stadium the home field advantage their beloved team has come to know.
The students who form the Maniacs carry on the legacy of longtime C-N coach Samuel B. "Frosty" Holt (hired in 1929) who instilled in his players the importance of home field advantage and let them know repeatedly, "You know, it gets foggy on Mossy Creek".

Whether foggy, rainy or sunny, fall Saturday afternoons on the gridiron are much anticipated by Eagle fans.

The strength of the Mossy Creek Maniacs has depended on strong leaders for the past two decades, and two of the best have been brothers Paul and Phil Barger, sons of C-N athletics director David Barger.

Current offensive coordinator Mike Turner also is given credit with putting some added "umph" in the Mossy Creek gang in recent years.

Head coach Ken Sparks prepares his Eagles (0-1) for the home opener on Saturday Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. EDT against Campbellsville and whether spoken or inferred, the entire team to a man knows that it needs to get foggy on Mossy Creek.

CHATTANOOGA: A new era for Moc fans is tied to an old school tradition as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga opens the Russ Huesman era Thursday night at Finley Stadium against D-II foe Glenville (W.Va.) State at 7 p.m. EDT.

"I like opening on the season on Thursday and plan to do this every year," said Huesman. "I believe it is special for our players instead of the normal Saturday opener."

Other Tennessee schools which have a Thursday home opener are Tennessee Tech, UT-Martin and Tusculum.

Nearly every year from 1904-1966, the Mocs had a standing tradition to play on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) and the vast majority of games were in Chattanooga; first at Olympia Park, then League Park and finally Chamberlain Field.

The Mocs re-instituted Thursday play - as the season opener, not the finale - under coach Tommy West in 1993 with a 26-7 road win against UT-Martin. The Blue and Gold is 6-2 on Thursday's since 1993.

Originally known as Grant University, the football team lost its first Thanksgiving Day game to the 7th Calvary, 17-0, on Nov. 24, 1904 at Olympia Park.

But the Mocs quickly turned Thanksgiving Day into a winning tradition, posting a 7-3 mark over the next 15 years.

The first non-Thanksgiving Day Thursday game was a 10-2 loss against Mercer College in Macon, Ga. In 1909.
Three of the bigger Thursday wins - all on Thanksgiving - have been Oglethorpe (1927 for a then school record eight wins), Mercer (1941 to win Dixie Conference title) and Ole Miss (1945).

CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY: Homecoming at Cumberland (Saturday, Oct. 10 vs. Faulkner Univ.) in Lebanon translates into Saturday afternoon football, return of alums old and young and the biggest spread of fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans and banana puddin' one can imagine and a few gallons of sweet tea to wash it all down.

Known as the "Taste of Cumberland", area restaurants and stores in Wilson County bring their signature specialty for the locals and alums and best of all - it's free.

Twelve to 15 vender's have booths on the practice field near Lindsey Donnell Stadium and the food feast is sponsored by the Wilson County Sports Council.

The first serving is at 11 a.m., so don't stuff yourself on eggs and bacon at the breakfast table.

And don't let grandpa take a nap after lunch, because kickoff is at 1:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs' home opener is Saturday with Campbellsville at 1:30 p.m.

LAMBUTH UNIVERSITY: Eagle Walk has been a big tradition for Lambuth football players and fans since 1993.
Former head coach Vic Wallace started the Eagle Walk which entails players walking in two's across campus along with the cheerleaders, through the tailgate area and entering L.L. Fonville Field from the southeast corner.

The cheerleaders carry a banner with the athletic theme "Together We Will".

"The Eagle Walk is enjoyed by both our fans and players," said second year head coach Hugh Freeze. "It is a tradition I have great respect for.

"It reminds me of Ole Miss, but on a smaller scale, of course," stated Freeze who coached for the Rebels prior to coming to Lambuth. "Our complex is not really that large, but it has a great ambiance."

Lambuth first fielded a team in 1924, and following two breaks in gridiron action, the Eagles are in their 42nd season of pigskin action. The 2009 campaign is the 25th year of the modern football era.

The Eagles (1-0) were victorious this past Thursday on the road and the home opener is Sept. 26 with UVA-Wise.

LANE COLLEGE: Homecoming Week is the highlight for most colleges and Lane College in Jackson is no exception.

The LC community pulls out all the stops to make the third week in October - tradition-rich Morehouse College is the Oct. 17 opponent - a special time for the faculty and staff, students, alums and the activities surrounding Saturday football.

The first Homecoming Queen was crowned in 1945, a weekend dance was added in 1949 and the high-energy Dragon marching band first hit the drums in 1951.

"Homecoming is a big part of the life of our college and the large economic impact for the city of Jackson is vital for our businesses," said Lane College vice president Richard Donnell.

In recent years, a nearly five hour pre-game parade has become a big hit with the community.

"Everyone gets involved with the parade, including high school bands, church and civic groups and even kindergarten classes," stated Donnell. "It gets bigger each year."

The parade route starts at Bray Hall on campus, winds through various neighborhoods to downtown Jackson and ends at Fothrock Stadium.

State and U.S. Senators and the governor have been past attendees on Homecoming Saturday.

MARYVILLE COLLEGE: College football in East Tennessee has its beginning at Maryville College by Kin Takahashi, a Japanese student who evidently played the sport in California in the mid-1880s.

Research shows that MC's inaugural football game was New Year's Eve, 1890 against a victorious Knoxville squad.

The first college game in the state was played 34 days earlier as Vanderbilt defeated Nashville, 40-0, on Thanksgiving Day.

Takahashi was player/coach and guided the Orange and Garnet in its first collegiate game on Oct. 15, 1892, but fell 25-0 to the visiting University of Tennessee.

MC alumni honor the former student each June with a Kin Takahashi Week which includes fund raising and volunteer maintenance work on campus.

The current Maryville team carries on the sport's foundation established by Takahashi as the Fighting Scot players stand as one after each home win and sing the school's alma mater in front of the home fans at Lloyd L. Thornton Stadium, while the victory bell at Anderson Hall is sounded.

Prior to kickoff, the players participate in the "March of the Scots" from Cooper Athletic Center down Donald W. Story Captain's Walk to the stadium.

Upon entering Honaker Field, the players rub a mounted granite and bronzed monument called Legend's Rock and promise to give everything they have that day for Maryville College. On Legend's Rock are inscribed the words "pride", "team", commitment" and "honor".

Homecoming football games have been celebrated at MC since Oct. 26, 1934 and a pre-game parade (the 2008 parade included llamas, most likely a first for Maryville) highlights a lengthy weekend schedule full of class parties and honoring of alums.
The first queen was crowned in 1942.

At this year's Homecoming (Oct. 17 vs. Averett) the team of 1979 will be honored at halftime. The '79 seniors compiled a four-year mark of 28-7, including a 10-game win streak, the most successful four year span in MC football history.
The Fighting Scots' home opener is Saturday with Huntingdon College at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS: Members of the Memphis media thought they had seen it all, until the school's athletic department called a 1972 press conference for the school mascot, TOM (Tigers of Memphis).

Yes, TOM I (the Bengal Tiger school mascot for nearly 20 years before dying in the winter of 1992) was on hand - all nine pounds of him - sitting on the desk of athletics director Billy "Spook" Murphy, showing his pearly whites for the cameras and ready to field any and all questions.

TOM II was the school's mascot from 1991 to 2007 before dying of cancer in Oct. 2008, while TOM III, who currently weighs 180 pounds, was introduced as the new mascot last November.

Scott Forman, one of TOM's handlers and Chairman of the Tiger Guard, relates this game day tale.

"One of my favorite stories was back in 1996 when we were playing UT. At one point, the Vol cheerleaders decided to bring Smokey (the blue tick coonhound mascot) over on his leash to see TOM II.

"Smokey caught TOM's scent about 15 yards away from the trailer and he decided quickly he would view the big cat from a distance," Forman stated. "The kids were trying to coax him over, but he was fighting that leash with all his might and made it perfectly clear he would not be going to see TOM that day or any day. We won the mascot war that Saturday!"

When not intimidating opposing mascots, the TOM's are a big part of the University of Memphis pre-game "March Around" joining those on two legs - cheerleaders, the marching band, spirit squads - to make a pass around the stadium before the team runs onto the field.

TOM III, whose daily consumption of five pounds of specially prepared gound meat will eventually cap at 12-15 pounds, makes his grand entrance as the band plays "Hold That Tiger", takes his ceremonial and hopefully victory lap around the field in his upscale tiger den and positions himself near the Tigers locker room with a great view of the game.
Forman also noted that the TOM's have been pretty low-key on game day.

"TOM travels in a climate-controlled, sound proof trailer (has yet to request a 52" flat screen suitable for Tiger touchdown replays) and spends much of the game napping (adult male Tigers sleep 18-20 hours a day) in air-conditioned comfort, while the rest of us sweat in the sun," Forman stated.

Tigers are a bit more active when young, though, and TOM III (celebrating his first birthday today (Aug. 31 - maybe cake and ice cream and one big candle) loves to go out to see his fans. The new sights out the window are fun for him to see and he loves to pose for his public.

TOM III helps kick off the season as the Tigers host longtime rival Ole Miss at the Liberty Bowl on Sunday, Sept. 6 at 2:30 p.m. CDT.

MIDDLE TENN. STATE UNIVERSITY: Raider Walk, the Horseshoe and the Walking Horse are highly visible traditions surrounding Blue Raider football.

The Raider Walk starts at James Union Building on campus two hours before kickoff. The team goes down a walkway that has numerous lightning bolts on it and fans, cheerleaders and the band surround them as they make their way through the grove, toward the stadium. The team then walks across the field into the locker room.

The six-foot Blue Horseshoe is a symbol of tradition and good fortune for MTSU and those who touch the Blue Horseshoe will be granted good luck.
Dedicated Oct. 22, 2005, the horseshoe was the creation of the MTSU Student Ambassadors.

Guidance, installation and support were provided by MTSU Concrete Industry Management and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

The MTSU fans are entertained by a different Tennessee Walking Horse and rider at each game.

MTSU works with Lynn Womack of Womack Stables to organize this each game.
First introduced in 2005, the horse is part of the festivities and kicks off the pageantry of pre-game.

The Blue Raiders open Saturday at Clemson at 6 p.m. EDT and the home opener is Sept. 12 against Memphis at 7 p.m. CDT.

RHODES COLLEGE: Located in Memphis, Rhodes College is one of three NCAA D-III football schools in the state (joining Maryville and Sewanee) and the Lynx face Sewanee each year for bragging rights and ownership of the Edmund Orgill Trophy.

The two schools have faced each other since 1899, while the Orgill Trophy was added to the mix in 1954.

The late Mr. Orgill, who was appropriately born the year this cross-state rival began, was a former Memphis mayor, a Rhodes trustee and chairman of the board of trustees at Sewanee.

Rhodes has won the past three games, while Sewanee leads the overall rivalry, 41-32-3, and the Orgill Trophy series, 27-26-1.

Rhodes opens the season at home Saturday against Westminster (Mo.) and concludes the 2009 campaign at home against Sewanee.

The Lynx cheerleaders ring the football bell located in the east end zone after every score and the players take their turn after each home win.

On Friday's prior to a home game, the players do a walk through to the tunes of Johnny Cash.

Rhodes was originally known as Southwestern Presbyterian College and later as Southwestern before the current name was chosen in 1984.

SEWANEE: Also known as the University of the South, This small (1,300 undergrads), highly-acclaimed, liberal arts university nestled among 10,000 acres of Tennessee Pine on the Cumberland Plateau can match many Southern schools - large or small - in a gloried football past.

A sun-splashed, fall afternoon of college football doesn't get much better than this as today's young Tigers play on the oldest field in the South (first game on McGee Field was Nov. 7, 1891) where some of the greats of the game - three alums are in the college football hall of fame - once ran rough shod over opponents.

A 60 plus year tradition of ringing the Breslin Tower bell after a win, home or away, is currently handled by former University registrar Paul Engsberg.

In the 1950s and '60s, the bell sounded throughout the Domain for nearly 30 minutes on late fall Saturday afternoons as the main means of communication (didn't need all those hand held electronic contraptions in those days) that the men of Sewanee, once again, were victorious.

During home games, the students and alums give a rousing rendition of Yea, Sewanee's Right!
Tigers, Tigers
leave 'em in the lerch
down with the heathen
up with the church
Yea, Sewanee's Right!

Sewanee's home opener is Sept. 12 against Hampden Sydney.

UT-MARTIN: The tradition of the Spirit Jug is alive and well at Skyhawk football games at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.

Started by former women's athletics director Bettye Giles in the mid 1950s, Spirit Jugs (painted with Team Spirit XXX) are awarded by the cheerleaders to the best spirit group at football games.

In recent years, the school administrators had planned to make the orange-painted jugs - in the shape of a moonshine jug and equipped with crook handle and corn cob stopper - a rotating trophy of sorts, but coveted by many and kept close at hand by the precious few who win, the athletic staff must re-stock the shelves each fall.

"In the 1950s, we got our ample supply of empty jugs from the school cafeteria, but today it's a little harder to find them," said Giles.

Several groups will vie for the first shipment of 2009 Spirit Jugs when UT-Martin hosts Iowa Wesleyan on Thursday at 6 p.m. CDT.

Legend has it that the jug's origin was for haulin' moonshine and groups probably retained them for "medicinal purposes" for those a little under the weather after the game or even during the game.

Of course, for the winning group from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, members note that the popular liquid is homemade sweet tea.

TENNESSEE: The Vol have more recognizable traditions tied to home games than any school in the state and maybe the South.

The orange-and-white from head-to-toe UT nation holds fast to their traditions - from the players running through the "T" in pre-game hype to Smokey, the blue tick coonhound mascot on the sidelines, to the nationally-recognizable orange-and-white checkerboard end zone to the seemingly endless playing of Rocky Top.

Former Vols head coach Doug Dickey is credited with three of Tennessee's biggest traditions.

In Dickey's first year on The Hill in 1964, the players began running through the "T" formed by the "Pride of the Southland" Marching Band and helmets were donned with the block T.

The end zones on Shields-Watkins Field were also painted checkerboard orange-and-white in the mid-1960s.

"It's one of the greatest thrills a Tennessee player will experience when the band forms the "T" and it opens up for the players to run through just prior to kickoff," said former Tennessee punter Herman Weaver (1967-1969).

"You are all pumped up for the game and then to run through the "T" with all those fans cheering is tremendous."

The familiar orange and white school colors date back to the first varsity team in 1891, the inaugural Smokey mascot first paced the sidelines (1953) more than a half century later, while a past tradition had the famous Tennessee Walking Horse strutting his stuff down the sidelines as the faithful Big Orange fans roared their approval.

Two hours prior to kickoff, the fans can get within arms length of their heroes along The Vol Walk (Gibbs Hall to Neyland Stadium) which was initiated in 1990, while Rocky Top was first associated with the team in 1972.

These traditions and more will be part of UT's home opener Saturday against Western Kentucky with a 12:21 p.m. EDT kickoff.

TENNESSEE STATE: If you say Tennessee State Marching Band - you said it all.

If there is one school in the country in which the band is as well known ( or maybe more) as the football program it's Tennessee State in Nashville.

As successful and as tradition-rich as the football team has been over the years - Eldridge Dickey, Joe Gilliam Jr., Claude Humphrey, Ed "Too Tall" Jones - the TSU "Aristocrat of Bands" is the cat's meow - the epitome of style, soul, professionalism, quality musicianship, all in a dignified manner.

High-stepping, trend-setting, action-packed shows, from pre-game to long past the final gun - win or lose on the scoreboard - the band, along with the Sophisticated Ladies majorettes, is triumphant each time it enters a stadium.

For more than a half century, the TSU band has made national television appearances at NFL games and presidential inaugurations, plus music videos, parades and television movies and commercials.

TSU was the first historically black colleges and universities band to appear on national television in 1955 at the Los Angeles Rams-Chicago Bears pro football game in Chicago.

First formed in 1946, the TSU band is under the leadership of Edward Graves, associate professor of music at TSU. Graves has served as director since 1979.

The Tigers and the Aristocrat of Bands open at home Saturday against Alabama A&M at 6 p.m. CDT in the John Merritt Classic.

TENNESSEE TECH: The ''Firing of the Cannon'' during football games goes back at least to the early 1980s when a local resident shot the cannon as a hobby, then donated the cannon to the campus Army ROTC office before moving out of town.

Rock and Roll legend Freddy "Boom Boom'' Cannon would be pleased as the Army ROTC students shoot off a cannon at one end of Tucker Stadium after every score.

"I warn our media in the press box that the shooting of the cannon will shake the stadium." said Tech sports information director Rob Schabert. "It's that loud."

"This is a great project for our ROTC cannoneers and we are glad to be part of Golden Eagle football," said Major Jim Reed.

TTU head coach Watson Brown hopes that his Eagles can keep the cadets busy during the season opener on Thursday, Sept. 10 against Pikeville at 7 p.m. CDT.

The Golden Eagles band should follow each blast with a few notes of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" by Bill Haley and His Comets.

Tail Gate Park: Golden Eagle fans have a pre- and post- game tailgate party across the street from the stadium. A fireworks show is part of post-game festivities following night games.

The TTU sports hall of fame, started in 1975, is one of the oldest collegiate halls of fame in the state and this year's inductees will be recognized on Saturday, Oct. 31.

TUSCULUM COLLEGE: Since 1998, Louis "Big Coach" DeBusk (father of Tusculum head coach Frankie DeBusk) leads the team onto the field at TC home games at Pioneer Field, driving the "Big Coach" golf cart with the Orange & Black TC flag waving, and kids and grandkids of coaches along for the ride cheering on the team.

"Being able to be on the field with my son and my grandkids and also watch Frankie do what he loves to do, driving the golf cart is so special to me," said "Big Coach" DeBusk, 71, who was nicknamed "Swifty" in high school, even though a defensive lineman.

"The players enjoy it, the kids on the golf cart enjoy it, but I think I enjoy it more than all of them combined."

Following a win, the players gather at midfield and sing the school fight song.

Coach DeBusk said, "When I came back to Greeneville to coach at Tusculum College, I came for several reasons, but one of the main reasons was because my family was here.

"When I look out there before every home game and see my dad, who all the players refer to as ''Big Coach'', it re-emphasizes how important my decision was and is.''

DeBusk, who is the winningest coach in school history (68-53 now in his 12 th season) went on to say that, "my parents have always been so supportive of everything I have ever done and for my dad to be able to drive the golf cart with it full of kids, my son, Ty, and other coach's kids, I get a chance to smile.

"He has done this ever since we opened the new stadium and he enjoys driving the golf cart with all the young ones and leading our team onto the field more than anything."

"Big Coach" will have the golf cart powered up and ready to for the Pioneer home opener against Wingate on Thursday, Sept. 24.

VANDERBILT: Prior to the season home opener - Saturday at 6 p.m. CDT vs. Western Carolina - Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos leads members of the freshman class into Vanderbilt Stadium for the pre-game "Freshmen Run".

The frosh, numbering 1,650, sprint the length of Dudley Field and then take their seats for the game. Having been in class all of nine days by game day, this is most likely their first big college test.

Surely the winner will be able to tell his or her grandkids how he or she - as a freshman, no doubt - outran everyone to the end zone one fall Saturday afternoon for the 'Dores back in the day. But will conveniently omit that none of the opposing players were part of of the play.

And former high school track stars will look for their one more moment (or few seconds) in the sun.

But no jumping the gun as Chancellor Zeppos has a keen eye, having been an attorney at the Department of Justice in the mid-1980s.

''As Chancellor, leading the freshmen into Vanderbilt Stadium and down Dudley Field for the Commodore's first home game is a very proud moment for me,'' said Zeppos.

''Welcoming these incredibly bright and gifted young men and women into the Vanderbilt community represents both an infusion of energy and a continuation of the university's strong history.''

He went on the say that, "The freshman experience at Vanderbilt is all about being embraced in the culture and mission of this great institution in a complete and holistic manner, while celebrating the uniqueness of each student, and the Freshmen Run symbolizes that philosophy with a sense of fun and enthusiasm.''

At the 2008 opener against South Carolina, freshman Matthew Taylor could barely contain his enthusiasm before the race.

"I've wanted to go here since I was three-years-old and now I am finally doing this," he said. "It's spectacular."

For the fourth year, the team anchor is carried from McGugin Center through Star Walk to Vanderbilt Stadium by two players selected by the Player Leadership Council.
Members of the equipment staff watch over the anchor on road trips.

When the Commodores score a touchdown, Naval ROTC students sound a loud ship's horn from atop Vanderbilt Stadium.

The University's second hall of fame class will be introduced at halftime of Saturday's game, while the HOF dinner is Friday night. The football inductees are Herb Rich and All-American punter Jim Arnold.

Football Traditions is the first of a four-part series on college football:

Monday - Football Traditions in Tennessee

Tuesday - The Year of the Quarterback, 1969 & 2009

Wednesday - Radio voice of the Mocs, Jim Reynolds, gives his highlights since 1980

Thursday - UTC's Thursday Football History

Contact B.B. Branton at

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