Football’s rules and regulations are the game’s guiding principles, but it’s the customs and traditions that have grown out of the ideas and personalities of the human imagination that give the sport its soul.
The role of traditions is hardly complementary.
It’s difficult to imagine Friday night without the band, dance team or Frito pie.
A look at some of the football traditions that have evolved out of the game through the years:
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Paper or plastic
Football teams don’t simply enter a stadium. They make an entrance the way a hurricane makes shore. It’s an event.
In the good ol’ days, players took the field busting through a banner bearing some sort of motivational message and running to the other end of field through a human tunnel of cheerleaders and dance team members.
“Hustle, hit, never quit.”...“Together Everyone Achieves More.”...“Always Earned, Never Given.”...“Nighty Night, Knights. It’s Lights Out. Sleep Well.”
That still happens, though more and more teams are running through an inflatable tunnel often in the shape of the team’s mascot. Teams’ possession of one generally reflects the health of their booster clubs.
The tunnels vary in price, but can be as high as $15,000.
American Express...never leave home without it.
Wearing your emotions
Spirit ribbons in schools were once as prevalent as pizza for lunch on Wednesdays in the cafeteria.
Cheerleaders sold them as fundraisers. A different one each week reflected the football team’s task that week.
“Beat Heights” or “No mo Mojo.”
A longtime tradition, though, lives. Varsity football players wearing their jerseys to school to generate some school spirit and excitement for the game. More and more coaches today prefer their players to dress more professionally for the game.
But they don’t want to lose that spirit of anticipating the big game. So, at some schools, players will ask their favorite teachers to wear their jerseys.
Debating the origins of the Frito Pie will bring ’em out on social media, the fair denizens of San Antonio saying it was “us;” the people of Santa Fe, N.M., saying “bull...loney.”
Who knows...who cares? What’s important: Let us just all sit and give thanks that the Frito Pie made its way into the American appetite, making a former Frito-Lay introduction around 1962.
And you’ll find a good one on a cold evening under the Friday night lights.
Unclear is whether Child, Lagasse or Puck ever tried to put a twist on this dish. While there have been admirable tries (chopped beef and Ranch Style Beans...mmmm), leave the veer to Bill Yeoman.
Stay with the playbook.
The original recipe called for heated chili poured into a bag of Fritos and topped with grated cheese and chopped onions.
Today, concession-stand operators accommodate hungry fans by serving this Texas football staple in a Styrofoam or paper food boat.
That there is high livin’.
Mum’s the word
Nothing has become more unwieldy than the homecoming mum, so big, in fact, that holding them with a pin attached to clothing won’t do the trick.
Many today need the support of the entire neck.
The NCAA credits Missouri as site of the first “homecoming” game, in which alumni returned to their old stomping grounds for a football game. It was supposedly in Texas that boys began giving their dates a chrysanthemum — shortened at some point to “mum” — to wear to the game.
Itasca would be known as little more than a dot on the map of the Hill Country except for one trivial matter relating to the mascot of the local high school.
Itasca is the “Wampus Cats,” words that are always followed with “Say what?”
As far as anybody knows, Itasca became the Wampus Cats after player Toby Burks exclaimed after a game in the 1920s, “Wow, we were really Wampus Cats tonight!”
So what was this kid talking about? A creature in folklore.
One version of a wampus cat is a nocturnal fictional character of the Appalachians, half-dog and half-cat. In Cherokee lore, it’s a half-woman, half-cat who haunts forests.
Itasca isn’t the only school with a unique mascot. Here are a few others.
Brazosport Exporters: The Brazosport region, 50 miles south of Houston, does a lot of exporting off the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
Mason Punchers: Short for the cowpunchers who worked in the predominantly ranching community.
San Antonio Central Catholic Buttons: If you hear one of these tread carefully. The button is more commonly known as the rattle of a rattlesnake.
San Antonio Lanier Voks: Voks is short for vocational student. Lanier was the first vocational school in the Alamo City.
Texas City Stingarees: The Gulf Coast city pays homage to the stingray.
Winters Blizzards: The climes of this West Texas community don’t support such snowstorms, but...it works.
Rites of fall
Over the years, football communities and teams have adopted rituals and superstitions designed to bring good fortune, appease the football gods or annoy the opposition.
Here are a few of the more notable school traditions.
Stephenville cans: Art Briles’ Stephenville teams were notable for their high-scoring spread offense in the mid- and late-1990s, but that’s not how the Yellow Jacket’s fans announced their presence. That was done with cans, such as a coffee can, or even butane tanks filled with ball bearings donated from a local business. From the beginning to end, fans shook their cans during at crucial moments or in celebration at games. Controversy followed: Opposing teams attempted to get the cans banned from stadiums, sometimes succeeding. They’re still shakin’ in Stephenville.
Dying to play at Carroll: As it concerns one of Southlake Carroll’s better-known playoff traditions, spontaneity was the mother of invention. It was purely teenagers’ impulse that prompted Dragons football players to dye their hair a bleached-type blond for the postseason in 2001. The Dragons were defeated by eventual champion Ennis in the Class 4A Division II state semifinals that season, but a tradition was born.
Speaking in Tongan: The Euless Trinity Trojans have added a unique twist to the usual rituals of Friday night. Before kickoff, the assembled Trojans partake in what appears to be a tribal dance, players chanting and gesturing and slapping their legs and chests. This is the Haka, generally led by one of the school’s Tongan players, that doubles as a celebration of Euless’ growing population of immigrants from the South Pacific island nation.
Mojo in Odessa: Odessa Permian and “Mojo” are synonymous. Where the moniker originated is as mysterious as this so-called magic. According to one account, its genesis was 1962 when graduating seniors sent their “Mojo Magic” down to all the other classes and all of the school’s extracurricular endeavors. Another story tells how a football player told a newspaper reporter he had his “mojo working” to make a crucial play in a big game. Whatever the case, to beat the six-time state champions, one has to get through Permian’s Mojo.
The band and accessories
The first football halftime show by a marching band was, according to a number of sources, the University of Illinois’ band marching in a 1907 game against the University of Chicago. There is some debate about who was first.
What’s not debatable is that the creativity and enthusiasm of the marching band became an integral part of the lifeblood of football.
They’re fun, more often than not good and keep the fanatics entertained even in four- and five-touchdown blowouts.
The move to the football field seemed a natural fit after musicians — specifically buglers — were needed less and less in directing battlefield troops. That’s obviously too simplistic, though the marching band’s roots in the military survive. They’re often still ordered to “attention” and directed to “forward march.”
Somewhere along the way, the band picked up the baton twirler (a dying art) and the color guard, who interpret the music in dance. The bands also compete, at the game and at various competitions throughout the year.
Like the football team, band workouts begin in the summer, members putting in hours of preparation.
“It was crazy,” said Debra Lantz, a baton twirler who graduated from Granbury High in 1987. “Our directors had elaborate drawings, and creations choreographed. The intricacies, the ‘glide’ heel-to-toe, side-stepping, cross-stepping.
“Band, as it is now, was its own ‘thing,’ a sorority-fraternity, if you will. For all the joking about band nerds, it didn’t matter. It was a place to belong, and it was super fun. You can’t have football without a band.”