In many parts of the US, college football is a huge deal. Thousands of fans pack parking lots for elaborate tailgate parties. At these parties, someone will set up a grill and barbecue meat as people sit around in lawn chairs and consume large amounts of meat and beer. Then, eventually, they will head inside and watch the football game. Some college football games will draw crowds of close to 100,000 people.
Jeromeville is not in that part of the US.
Football is not as much a part of the culture here as it is in other parts of the country. A few universities in this state have storied football programs, but UJ is a few notches down the football ladder. They are a Division II team, two steps below the schools that most professional football players come from. They do not offer football scholarships, or at least they didn’t in the 90s. And the media does not pay much attention to UJ football, beyond the school newspaper, the local Jeromeville newspaper, and occasionally a little blurb six pages deep in the sports section of the big newspaper from Capital City.
Despite this lack of attention, UJ had its annual rivalry game against Capital State University, another Division II school. The UJ and CSU campi were less than 20 miles apart. Before the freeway bypass of Highway 100 was built, the old route of Highway 100 was a street called Capital Avenue, which crossed the Capital River on a beautiful lift drawbridge, built in the 1930s, with two tall towers and a clear view of the State Capitol Building as you crossed it. The bridge (known simply as “the Drawbridge” to locals) is still there, still used as a main city street, and also as a symbol of Capital City. Since this bridge separated Capital City from Jeromeville to the west, the rivalry game between UJ and CSU was called the Drawbridge Classic, and the annual rivalry trophy was fashioned from an actual piece of steel removed from the Drawbridge during routine maintenance in the 1970s.
On the afternoon of the 1994 Drawbridge Classic, I came back in from the dining hall to see two people in the common room, Jared and Jonathan, playing Scrabble. Jared lived on the third floor. He was a little on the short side with bushy blond hair, and his mannerisms always struck me as being a little odd. Jonathan was taller, with curly brown hair. He lived on the first floor; his roommate was Pete, who taught me Risk a few weeks earlier. I didn’t know Jared or Jonathan very well.
“Hey, guys,” I said, looking at the board.
“Hi, Greg,” Jared replied.
“Who’s winning?” I asked.
“Jared is,” Jonathan said. “He usually does.”
“I won a big Scrabble competition back home,” Jared said. “Last year I was ranked third in the state among youth Scrabble players.”
“That’s pretty impressive,” I said. I never did know if that was actually true, but a quick glance at the board suggested that some of the words played in this game were played by an extremely skilled player who knew the game well and knew lots of obscure words with unusual letters in them. “Are you guys going to the football game? I asked.
“Nah,” Jonathan said. “I have reading to catch up on.”
“UJ has a football team?” Jared asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “This week is the big rivalry game against Cap State.” I just had no concept that someone could be a student at this school and not know this, especially considering how the game had been hyped for the entire last week.
“Okay,” Jared replied. “I’m not going.”
I walked back up to my room. I spent the next four or five hours doing some combination of math homework, reading, taking a nap, and replying to two emails from girls I had met on IRC chat rooms, not necessarily in that order. As I was trying to lie down for my nap, I kept thinking about the football game. I wanted to go; that was a given. But I was debating in my mind whether I should just go by myself and sit with random strangers, or go ask people in the building if they were going. Sitting with people I knew would be fun, but finding out who was going would involve getting out of my introvert comfort zone, and possible rejection, such as the complete lack of interest I got from Jared and Jonathan when I asked them if they were going.
Fortunately, the decision was made for me. That night, at the dining hall, I saw Mike, Keith, and David sitting at a table with empty chairs. More specifically, I heard them before I saw them, because Mike can be kind of loud, but in a good way. I asked if I could sit with them, and they said yes.
“Is Kim meeting us there or is she coming here first?” Keith asked.
“She’s meeting us there,” Mike said. “Right outside the entrance. She doesn’t have her Colt Crew shirt yet, so she’ll get there early to get in line for that.”
By this point, I had figured out what they were talking about. “The football game tonight?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “Are you going? Wanna come with us?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Meet in my room after you’re done eating. We’ll all walk over together.”
By the time I met everyone in Mike’s room, a few more people had joined the group. Taylor was there, along with Charlie and Pat, who were roommates at the opposite end of the second floor from me, and a girl from upstairs named Karen. In order to reach the football field from the South Residential Area, we had to walk diagonally across the campus. We started out going much the same way that I went to math class, although they walked around and not through the creepy cluster of portable buildings. They walked next to the tall buildings that seemed to hold labs where research on biology and agriculture and genetics happened. They walked past Wellington Hall, where I had both math class and Rise and Fall of Empires.
“Karen is surrounded by a bunch of guys,” Mike said, laughing. “That sounds about right.”
“And I’m the youngest one in IHP,” Karen replied. “I’m underage, so does that mean you guys are all pedophiles?”
I was curious about that last comment. “You’re the youngest one?” I asked Karen. “When is your birthday?”
“But my birthday is August–”
“1978,” Karen interrupted. “I told you I was the youngest.”
“What? But… how? How are you in college if you’re only 16?”
“I skipped a grade in elementary school. And I took a bunch of junior college classes during high school so I could graduate in three years.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
“I guess. I don’t really think of it that way. I knew what I wanted to do, so I went for it.”
By this time, we were at the edge of the Quad, walking around the Memorial Union toward the entrance to the football stadium at the northeast corner of campus, on the corner of 5th and A Streets. The stadium was next to a large athletic field used for intramural sports and team practices, with fraternity houses facing the stadium on the off-campus sides of both 5th and A Streets.. When we got there, Mike waved to a thin girl with brown hair, who stood next to a tall blond guy who looked just like Pat. The girl walked over and kissed Mike; he introduced her as Kim, his girlfriend, and Pat introduced the other guy as his twin brother, Nate. Kim and Nate lived in the same building in the North Residential Area.
All UJ students get into all UJ Colts sporting events for free, and the student cheering section is known as the Colt Crew. The Colt Crew called itself the largest student cheering section west of the Mississippi River. I suspected that that claim was based on the fact that, once per year, all students could get a free Colt Crew T-shirt, making them members of the Colt Crew, but many students just showed up once to get their free shirt and then left without actually watching any part of a UJ athletic event. College students are always looking for free stuff, after all.
I had been to two football games already this year, and I had changed into my Colt Crew T-shirt before we left. The ten of us were able to find seats together, five in one row and five just behind, but we were sitting near the front in a section of bleachers along the end zone that had a much better view from higher up, so the seats were not all that great in terms of being able to see the game. With this game being the major regional rivalry game, a large crowd was expected.
The Cap State Hawks took the field first, among a chorus of boos, sprinkled with cheers from the Cap State fans who had made the journey across the Drawbridge for this game. Then the Colt marching band played as the Colts took the field.
Taylor was sitting next to me. “Hey, Greg,” he said. “Did you get one of these?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied, as I looked at the paper he was holding. It appeared to be lyrics to the songs that the band played during football games, as well as a list of specific situations in the game when they play specific songs. Whenever we score, the band plays the Colt Fight Song. Whenever we recover a fumble or make an interception, the band plays Sons of Jeromeville. Stuff like that. Reading through the lyrics, some of them seemed a bit strange to me, as if they probably referred to events in the school’s history or traditions that had been lost to time. Others just seemed like nonsensical cheers. Moo moo cow cow, buzz buzz bee bee… what did that even mean? I had heard the band and the Colt Crew student leaders doing that cheer before the game; there were hand motions and a little dance that went with it. I had no idea what was going on.
“STAAAAATE SCHOOL! STAAAAATE SCHOOL!” the Colt Crew students began cheering. I joined them. This cheer clearly referred to the fact that UJ was considered a more prestigious school than Cap State. This state had two separate and independent systems of public universities. The University of the Bay was the first research-oriented university in the state, and most of its sister schools, including UJ, had their beginnings as research facilities and branch campi of U of the Bay. These schools grew into the State Higher Education System, some of the most prestigious public schools in the USA. Cap State, on the other hand, was part of the State Colleges and Universities, a group of schools that began as teacher training colleges that still to this day do not offer doctoral degrees.
Cap State scored the first touchdown, prompting the “STAAATE SCHOOL!” chant to begin once again. As it died down, Mike said to no one in particular, “So what do Cap State fans chant to taunt us? UNIVERRRRRRRSITY?” Keith and David laughed. I wanted to point out that, technically, Cap State was a university also, but I didn’t bother saying anything. It was too loud to explain anything like that right now.
During the second quarter, when the clock was stopped, one of the MCs who was leading chants for the Colt Crew got on the microphone and started speaking. “Hey, Colt Crew!” he said. “It’s time for HAMBURGER MADNESS! Get loud for free hamburgers from Wendy’s!” I looked up and saw someone dressed in a costume as Wendy from the Wendy’s Hamburgers logo tossing rubber balls into the crowd with coupons attached to them. Seeing the unexpected costumed Wendy approaching, I laughed, while the crowd became more loud and raucous. I didn’t catch a hamburger coupon, and neither did any of my friends who were sitting near me.
At halftime, the score was tied 10-10. The marching band took the field to perform; someone was narrating their show, but I couldn’t hear very well with the loud crowd around me. I noticed that Mike and Kim had gotten very cuddly, with Mike’s arms around Kim, and I also noticed that Karen had gotten cuddly with Pat. Or maybe it was Nate. I looked a little more closely; I was pretty sure it was Pat. Although they looked very much alike, they weren’t identical, and I was pretty sure I could already tell them apart even though I had only met Nate a couple hours earlier.
Just before the third quarter started, the Colt Crew MC told us to get loud for “CANDY MADNESS!” A group of Colt Crew leaders started throwing candy into the crowd. I got loud, but I didn’t catch any. A few plays later, the same Colt Crew leaders started a cheer where everyone in the Colt Crew section yelled “GO!” and everyone in the sections that were not for students yelled “COLTS!” This repeated about ten times. That was a fun one.
The game continued with each team scoring a few more times, but neither team building up a big lead. With about five minutes left, Cap State scored to go ahead 24-20. After that score, the Colt Crew MC said, “Okay, Colt Crew, let’s get loud for TUBE SOCK MADNESS!!!” I watched, confused, as the Colt Crew leaders, one of whom was now wearing a cow suit and another a banana suit, threw tube socks into the crowd.
I turned to Taylor. “What is going on?” I asked. “Why tube socks?”
“I don’t know!” Taylor said.
“It’s like they just found something random to turn into a free gift.”
Just as Taylor said that, I looked up to see a rolled-up pair of tube socks heading straight for me. I reached out and caught them. “WOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed, holding up my tube socks for everyone around me to see.
“Good job!” Taylor said, patting me on the back.
“Greg caught tube socks!” Mike shouted, and everyone from IHP sitting near me, as well as a few strangers, started cheering for me.
With about two minutes left, the Colts had the ball near Cap State’s 20-yard line. UJ’s quarterback threw a short pass to a wide-open tight end, who ran all the way into the end zone. The crowd loudly exploded into cheers and shouts as the Colts took the lead, successfully kicking the extra point to make the score 27-24.
“All right, Colt Crew!” the MC said. “The Colts need to make one last defensive stand! So everyone needs to GET UP ON YOUR FEET AND MAKE! SOME! NOOOOOOIIIIIISE!!!!!” I stood up and started screaming, as did most of the students around me. I screamed as loud as I could. It didn’t matter what I was screaming, as long as I was making noise and making life difficult for the Cap State team. I screamed for several minutes straight, only taking quick breaks to breathe. I kept screaming even when I felt myself get light-headed and my voice begin to strain.
And it worked.
Cap State threw an incomplete pass, ran the ball for a six-yard gain, and threw two more incomplete passes to turn over the ball on downs. Cap State was out of timeouts by then, so Jeromeville just ran out the clock and won, 27-24. The Colt Crew section erupted in cheers and shouts and high-fives. I high-fived everyone I came with, plus some people sitting next to me whom I didn’t know. Only at a sporting event is it appropriate in that way to high-five total strangers and feel a bond in doing so.
I don’t remember the outcome of every game I’ve ever been to. But, by going to Colt football games during my first few months at UJ, I learned one of the most memorable aspects of university life: traditions. Time passes. Life changes. People get older. UJ grew and reclassified its athletic programs to a higher division in 2004, attracting better talent but also playing more challenging opponents. A new football stadium opened in 2007. But, despite these changes, the traditions remain. I stopped going to Colts games after I graduated and didn’t get in free anymore, but I started going again in 2005, and the first thing I noticed was how many of the traditions were still around. Even today, the band plays all the same songs. The same clichéd sporting event music plays over the PA system, although of course a few new songs have entered that rotation. Colt fans still do the GO! COLTS! cheer back and forth between the two sides of the stadium. And at the beginning of the game they do the Moo Moo Cow Cow cheer, which is still just as strange as ever. The Colt Crew still throws free gifts into the student section. Even Tube Sock Madness is still a thing.
I still have my first pair of Colt Crew tube socks, along with a few others I’ve caught over the years. I mostly just save them as trophies and rarely wear them, since they don’t fit me all that well. I never did get my own copy of that lyric sheet, and I really wish I had one, although these days the lyrics to the traditional campus songs can be found online. I will forever be a University of Jeromeville Colt alumnus, and no matter how far my life moves on beyond my university years, these traditions will remain with me.