College Football Homecoming Traditions - a Celebration of Losing

By: Matthew Mulligan

Now that autumn leaves are blowing in through the patio door and being tracked into the dining room by the dog, our storied institutions of higher learning have begun the time honored process of educating our young people in the arts, sciences, humanities and professional fields. It is noble work. Included in the curriculum is the act of gathering half a dozen young people each fall who are willing to remove most articles of clothing and paint themselves in the school colors to lead a parade though campus. These and other alcohol induced undignified traditions have become the American Homecoming legacy.

It is surprising that none of these institutions have dedicated resources or brain power to better understand the allure of our Homecoming traditions. But maybe these things really are too simple to fully understand. The dignity that most universities present to the world is underpinned by the creation of an excuse - for a weekend anyway - for getting together with other alums to drink and reminisce about how things were better when they were students.

Homecoming is a uniquely American tradition of inviting parents and alumni to campus for a celebration highlighted by a football game. Ostensibly, these institutions say they want to connect alumni and friends with the student body. While this is fine with the alumni, the schools really want to connect alumni and friends to the Development Office.

Some alumni, though, really do want to 'connect' with the student body. This is where it gets interesting. Opportunities to make these connections are readily provided. Parades, rallies, dances and the ample 'tailgate' parties allow young and pretty college coeds to mingle freely with male alumni who weren't quite ready to graduate and are kicking themselves for getting that thesis in on time. And that was ten years ago. Homecoming provides alums with a reason to take part in the festivities and contribute a few bucks to the school. This ensures they are invited back the following year to oogle the cheerleaders and watch the sorority parade while decked out in school sweatshirts and Rolex watches.

To keep up appearances, some Universities have attempted to make Homecoming serious. What a waste of effort! Socializing is the one thing most of us took from our college experience that we really enjoyed. The unfortunate among us then got jobs. We gaze longingly back at the days where the biggest concern was making the beer money hold out without getting a job and getting the seat next to Nikki from the dorm in Accounting 101.

Social gatherings are the staple events of Homecoming, although to keep a good face on things, some schools offer open lectures, symposia, and other things that are rolled out to prop up the illusion of a higher purpose. Then of course there is the football game.

What does a losing school do to celebrate its homecoming? It is an interesting study. Losing schools try to deflect attention from the football program, or, at least they should. Others, such as (then) 2-2 Colorado, declared its home game with #3 Oklahoma as its homecoming game. With a roll of the dice, the Buffalos hung themselves out to all their alumni as well as a sizeable television audience against mighty Oklahoma. There wasn't any hiding from this one. If the Buffaloes went down, they were to be the laughing stock. If the Buckalo kicker could whack one through from 45 yards with no time left, the Gold and Black were in fact golden.

At last report, the Sooners were spending some time in quiet reflection wondering what hit 'em. Some years ago, Ralphie the 2,000 pound Buffalo mascot got loose on her pregame run around the field and headed for the Oklahoma bench. Handlers got her back under control, but not before several OU players had to return to the locker room for fresh pants and socks. Even fresh uniforms couldn't save the Sooners drive for a top BCS spot this year as the Buffs knocked 'em off 27-24. One has to admire the schools that roll out their toughest home games for Homecoming. Most of the time, this strategy results in a humiliating train wreck.

In honor of American Homecoming traditions, here is a look at how some of the leading and losing football programs are handling Homecoming or have attempted to handle it in years past.

Iowa State - Ames, Iowa residents were treated to this year's theme "Catch the Cyclone Craze." Events included a scavenger hunt where participants didn't know quite what they are looking for, being originally instructed only to find the 'object' and that other clues would follow. This exercise is very similar to the situation surrounding the Cyclone running game. Everyone knows the 'object' is the football, but still, no one can find it and some of the players have no idea what it looks like.

The Homecoming edition of the ISU Alumni mag included an article on Iowa Wineries, but after this season, it may include one about Iowa Whineries. Purchase of a $2.00 homecoming pin and a red sweatshirt worn to the "Wear Red to Get Fed" event - got the underfed students free admission to a cookout featuring all-you-can-eat pork burgers. Any game the Cyclones picked for Homecoming was going to be a touch one, so it really didn't matter who showed up.

Army - At least these guys can have a damned real parade - complete with people who know something about marching and a band that can play. And everyone considers it an honor to be in the thing. You can also be sure the cadets won't be wheeling a keg of beer in a shopping cart behind the band. (They are much more creative about hiding it.) The Corps of Cadets scheduled in Tulane this year for what was at least an entertaining game - a 20-17 victory for Army.

Syracuse - Events included the "Orange Friendzy" offering free Dreamcicles and a seminar on crime scene investigation. The ones giving this seminar will be looking at how the Orange managed its only road win against then #18 Louisville. The Orange Homecoming date was October 14 vs. Rutgers. If the Orange team that plucked the Louisville Cardinals had shown up for this one, it would have been interesting. However, the Orange sent out the team that lost its lunch in Iowa City (a 35-0 loss to the Hawkeyes.) Homecoming day will go down as the "Orange Endzy" as this season can't end soon enough.

Utah State - The Aggie Admin types declared its 9/22 date against San Jose St. as its Homecoming Game. Something called a Paint Dance was to be held. This was either a deeply meaningful tradition or an event designed to show off young tuition-paying students soaked in non natural pigments. We will hope it is the former (or maybe not). There was also a run walk or roll event - which was interesting the morning after trying to get a drink in Utah. Most participants showed up dazed and sober. The school provided Aggie treats and a True Aggie night - although what those events actually were remains a mystery.

San Jose State - In an effort to set itself apart, San Jose State put a heavy academic focus on this year's festivities - highlighted by a banned book discussion and debate. This might explain what happened to the playbooks. San Jose State is currently 3-5 claiming wins over Utah State, Cal Davis and the Idaho Vandals. SJ State at least had the sense to set up its homecoming game against Idaho.

North Carolina - The NoCareOlina web site only listed Homecoming events from 2006 - including something called Victory Village. It is a lonely place this year as the Blue Tar Heelers up to last week, had a whopping two victories - one over powerhouse James Madison U and a stunning upset of Miami. So the Victory Village is littered with losses to schools no one has ever heard of and one win over a school no one has ever heard of, and one over a team from football's top tier. Go Figure.

NC State - NCStaters arranged a 'Pack Howl' and pep rally for this Homeconing season. One suspects that the Pack Howl was preceded by a billion sponsored tailgate parties and tents. The universal allure of the Delta Zeta tent overrides the Wolfpack's dismal performance on the field. And this invites the question whether the over inebriated alums are set to howl at the football record or at the DZ Sorority float.

Duke - In a true harmonic convergence of alcohol related events, the 2006 celebration combined Homecoming with Oktoberfest. If the Germans can make beer and dance after drinking, Duke should hire some of 'em to build a football program. Right now, Duke has one win under their belts - which is a significant improvement over last year. Other special events include hospital tours - presumably the one where they take the Duke players after the Florida State game.

New Mexico State - The school invested a great deal of brain power in their Homecoming. Included in the schedule was a Beans, Burritos and Beer alumni event. This was to be followed by a bonfire. At least these two events weren't scheduled too closely together or campus would look like the Trinity site a few miles north. Reba also performes this year, but on the stage and not on the field. The Aggies looked into whether or not she had any eligibility left as they were going to throw her in at cornerback.

Notre Dame? - No listing of late for any Homecoming events. Perhaps the Irish don't celebrate it. That would be understandable this year. Most of the campus is still in the deep depression that occurs when devoted fans face up to a solidly losing season. It is tough to celebrate when you are 0-8. Well at least the Irish haven't sunk quite to that level this year but they can see 0-8 from where they are. If you included losses from last year, the Irish went 8 straight without a win before going to the Rose Bowl and waking up the UCLA Bruins. Even this win isn't causing many Irish fans to want to hang out in the stadium parking lot. They'll stay inside to drink their beer or go to Disneyland.

Idaho - You know when your team plays on the road and the host schools schedule you for their Homecoming, your team is a dog. But what does Idaho do for their own Homecoming? The Idaho Vandals boast a Homecoming theme called "Living the Legacy." It is curious why a legacy of Vandalism is something to celebrate. Idaho managed a win over Cal Poly this year.. that is it. These on-field distasters don't pull more bucks from the alumni, so the UI folks are gonna have to do something special... like pull out a win.

For more wit and wisdom, please visit the web page dedicated to the celebration of losing football: http://firstworst.com

Recreation and Sports
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Recreation and Sports