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Essential Guide :: College Football

Sooner Schooner - U of Oklahoma - Atlas Obscura Blog
University of Oklahoma Sooner Schooner; John Silks/Photographer

For those of us who spent our college years being indoctrinated into the cult that is NCAA football (boomer sooner!), this weekend marks the return of the fall season. Along with the intense matches and one-sided slaughters leading up to the bowl games, comes the gloriously arcane traditions, like the Land Run recreation with the Sooner Schooner at my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. There’s also Georgia Tech’s Ramblin’ Wreck, a 1930 Ford Model A that cruises the field; the running of Ralphie the buffalo (or the dragging of some poor students by her) at the University of Colorado; and the throwing of a flaming spear right into the field at Florida State.

Atlas Obscura Guide to College Football - Sports Oddities

Below are some college football related entries on Atlas Obscura, including a dog who is a five-star general, a radioactive drum, and the largest land animal skull ever discovered.

Jim Thorpe - College Football - Atlas Obscura Blog
Jim Thorpe on the Carlisle football team.

Jim Thorpe Monument
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
An Olympic hero controversially stripped of his medals is buried in a town he never visited, that took his name after his death

The Sac and Fox sports hero from Prague, Oklahoma, was the star of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team before he went on to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, where he won gold in both the pentathlon and the decathlon. He was controversially stripped of his medals in 1913 and died impoverished at the age of 64. Unable to afford a proper burial, his third wife struck an agreement with two Pennsylvania towns: they would merge and change their name to “Jim Thorpe” and create a grave and monument to one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.

Reveille III - Texas A & M Mascot Monument - Atlas Obscura Blog
Reveille III; Texas A&M University Archives

Reveille Mascot Cemetery
Texas A&M University :: College Station, Texas
Resting place of the Texas A&M canine mascots, who watch the game from the grave with their own miniature scoreboard

Texas A&M is full of bizarre traditions, from the yell practices to the creepy kissing whenever the team scores a touchdown. However, most of its more elaborate traditions revolve around Reveille, the beautiful and perfectly groomed collie mascot. The “first lady” of Texas A&M is a Five-Star General in the university’s Corps of Cadets and is honored with a full military funeral upon her death. She also gets to spend the afterlife just outside the stadium, where all the Reveilles are buried in a small cemetery, complete with its own miniature scoreboard so the deceased dogs can follow the game.


Mike the Tiger; Gian2347/Photographer

Mike the Tiger
Louisiana State University :: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
LSU mascot lives on the college campus in one of the most impressive tiger habitats in the country

Mike the Tiger roars into each LSU game in a rolling cage topped with jubilant cheerleaders, but he first makes a stop outside the opponent’s locker room to intimidate the opposing players. The original Mike the Tiger, who was bought for $750 in 1934, is taxidermied and on display in the LSU Museum of Natural Science. Although there have been no violent incidents from keeping a predator on a college campus, Mike IV did escape in 1981 to destroy a small tree and wander the track stadium.


Big Bertha at the University of Chicago in 1922; University of Chicago Library

Big Bertha Drum
University of Texas :: Austin, Texas
Controversially claiming the title of world’s biggest bass drum, UT’s Big Bertha was once radioactive due to the Manhattan Project
Named for the Big Bertha Howitzer cannon, this giant bass drum at the University of Texas claims to be the world’s largest, even if Purdue with its Big Bass Drum would passionately disagree. Big Bertha was originally at the University of Chicago, where it became radioactive during work in the stadium on the Manhattan Project. It was later procured by a rich Texas oilman and is now known as the “Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band.”


Nova, War Eagle VII; J. Glover/Photographer

Auburn War Eagle
Auburn University:: Auburn, Alabama
Auburn’s iconic eagle flight goes back to a 19th century eagle that dropped dead to the field after inspiring the football team to victory

Before each football game, an eagle majestically circles the Auburn stadium. Currently, Nova, a golden eagle, is serving as War Eagle VII, but the War Eagle tradition goes back to a Civil War veteran and his pet eagle. It broke free from its owner during a game and soared over the field, raising the spirits of the crowd and the team. At the end of the game, Auburn had won and  the eagle died and fell from the sky to the field.

Pentaceratops Skull
University of Oklahoma :: Norman, Oklahoma
The largest land animal skull ever discovered

The ten-and-a-half-feet tall Pentaceratops skull at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History has the world record for largest land vertebrate skull, and was also forgotten beneath the University of Oklahoma football stadium for over 50 years. Discovered in New Mexico in 1941, it’s estimated the five-horned dinosaur weighed around 13,000 pounds. Due to the onset of World War II and the loss of funding, the skull was left in its rock matrix in crates beneath the stadium until it was rediscovered in 1995. Perhaps this created some sort of cretaceous luck and brought about the victorious Bob Stoops era for the Sooners.