Football Customs, Then and Now
By Jim Joanos
Football weekends at Florida State are festivals. FSU's customs and traditions are the envy of the college world. The sounds and sights are simply wonderful. There is nothing anywhere else like the splendor of football players in gold helmets, the precision of that huge marching band, a horse and rider from the nineteenth century thrusting a flaming spear into the turf, and thousands of fans waving their arms in unison. From the opening drum routines to the playing of the Hymn to the Garnet and Gold after the game, there is spectacular music. Garnet and Gold Glitter boys, cheerleader routines, the War Board, the Fight Song, ladies in Gold hats or patchwork vests and men in garnet golf shirts are things that we have grown accustomed to enjoying. Life in and around the brick walls and towers of the Gothic Castle of our Camelot would even make King Arthur jealous.
Yes, in addition to its great football team, FSU is quite proud of its customs and traditions. They are more appealing than ever before. Many of them have evolved through the years since FSU began playing football again in 1947. There have been others that no longer exist.
From 1947 through part of the 1950 season, FSU played its home games at Centennial Field in Tallahassee. Nearly all of them were played at night. The fans sat in portable bleachers along both sides of a football field that had been marked off in the outfield of that ancient but wonderful minor league baseball facility. On cold evenings you could smell the fires burning in the fireplaces and wood stoves of nearby Smokey Hollow. The train tracks ran along the hill just beyond the right field fence. You could count on at least one train to come chugging and smoking by during each game. The cheerleaders had a special cheer when that would happen. Speaking of cheerleaders, they wore white woolen long sleeved sweaters and pleated garnet knee-length skirts, no matter what the temperature was.
Not many students had cars. Most of them would come to the games packed in school buses. They would sing on the way. Since there was little in the way of FSU music, they would sing songs like, "On Wisconsin", and the Notre Dame fight song. The wooden goal posts were wrapped in crepe paper. One, designated for FSU, was done in red and yellow, since maroon or garnet crepe paper had not yet been invented. The other was decorated in the opponent's colors or a reasonable facsimile of them. When the game was over some big kids would climb the posts and take the crepe paper down. Other kids would then take strips of the paper home as souvenirs.
Early in the first football season, FSU students selected the name, "Seminoles", for all of its athletic teams. The name referred to the courageous native Americans who in resisting the efforts to be removed from their homelands had brought the mighty federal army to a standstill. At the time, few outside the States of Florida and Oklahoma knew about those brave people.
The new program inherited a marching band. Florida State College for Women had a band since about 1930. When the school became co-educational in 1947 and its name changed to Florida State University, the band also became co-educational and from the beginning of the new football program was an integral part of it. The band was officially named, "The Marching Chiefs", in 1949. In the first years of FSU football, the band wore gold (closer to mustard) colored one piece jump-suit style uniforms.
FSU's first unique cheer was developed early. Bill McGrotha has written about it in his, Seminoles! The First Forty Years. He tells of a post game gathering at a place called the Edgewood Club on the outskirts of Tallahassee. At some point in the evening, one of the FSU students, a military veteran, named, Doug Bonifay, climbed upon a table and shouted, "FSU, One Time". He liked the response he got and continued, improvising as he went. Soon, Florida State had its "FSU All of the Damn Time" cheer.
During the 1950 season, FSU moved into the new 15,000 seat Doak Campbell Stadium. Soon, the "FSU Fight Song" was created. A music professor, Tommy Wright, was responsible for the music and an FSU student, Doug Alley drafted the words.
Sometime, in the early fifties, the band abandoned the old mustard colored uniforms in favor of some smart looking black outfits. The men wore black jackets and slacks and white spats on their feet while the women wore black jackets and knee length skirts with white majorette style boots. Some say the new Band Director, Dr. Manley Whitcomb, had modeled the uniforms after those in use at Ohio State.
In the early fifties, the band had two of the best baton twirlers in the whole country at a time when baton twirling was in its heyday. Dick Puckett and Ed Franklin were recruited together out of their Miami high school where they had already received a great deal of acclaim. At FSU, they wore Indian costumes and were known as the "Flying Seminoles". On some occasions, the cheerleaders wore skirts of Seminole Indian patchwork.
By the mid fifties, FSU Homecoming had become one of Tallahassee's biggest social events of the year. Dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses were elaborately decorated. A Monroe Street-College Avenue parade featured floats and lots of high school bands. A Friday night banquet spotlighted politicians. After the banquet, a family style Pow-Wow was held under the lights at Campbell Stadium. Students and townspeople of all ages attended. The program featured skits and presentation of the Homecoming Court. Occasionally a beautiful girl with a great voice would sing "Indian Love Call". You could hear a pin drop. Sometimes, Coach Nugent would have the football team line up and sing the Alma Mater.
On Saturday, the pre-game barbecue began in the late morning. Ladies came in their best outfits, complete with stockings and heels and sporting new hairdos and mums. The men wore coats and ties. Some of the ladies wore fashionable hats. The game followed the barbecue. It rained during one homecoming game and in a matter of a few minutes, thousands of dollars worth of hats and clothes were destroyed.
In the evening, following the afternoon game, the student Homecoming Dance was held in the beautiful gothic styled Suwannee Room, a facility that had served as the dining room for FSCW. For many students, the dance was the most important event of homecoming. There would be a big band like Tex Beneke. The men came in dinner jackets and their favorite dates wore long sequined or hooped dresses. There was one of those mirrored balls that spun around and made lights dance around the room as the couples danced to that great music. It was a fitting end to homecoming.
In the early years, half time shows often included acts from the FSU Flying High Circus. Occasionally, opponents scheduled FSU at their stadiums with the requirement that the circus come and perform at half time. In 1957, when FSU played at Boston College, the intermission featured Dick Gutting, a former FSU national gymnastics champion doing a routine on the trampoline.
By the late fifties, the "Flying Seminoles" had graduated. But the football games continued amidst a festive atmosphere. "Sammy Seminole", a student gymnast dressed as an Indian, did flip-flops the length of the field. In 1958, Charlie Carter, created an arrangement for the "Hymn to the Garnet and Gold". It has been a feature of the band's performances since then.
Into the sixties, the spirit increased. This was fueled by success on the field of play. In 1962, a player brought home some grass from the field where FSU had beaten Georgia. Dr. Coyle Moore had it buried with a memorial stone and the "sod cemetery" was begun. After a great 1964 season, FSU beat Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl. It was the first large taste of big time football for FSU fans. They liked it. Fred Biletnikoff's number 25 jersey was retired and another tradition was started. Large numbers of fans had begun traveling to away games where groups of alumni and other supporters would gather for parties. These were the early beginnings of the pre-game parties that today are customary at all FSU away games. A fan favorite was chartered train trips. Hundreds of FSU fans went together by train to the 1966 game at Miami. When FSU played Houston in Jacksonville in 1968, a much larger group went over and back on the train. Throughout the sixties the excitement grew.
Not every attempt to add spirit worked. UCLA, Ohio State, and some other universities had card sections. Theirs could spell out their school initials or names in rolling script. It was tried at FSU. The students who sat in the allocated section enjoyed good seating as it was in the middle of the field. However, they were not very good in getting the right color cards up at the correct time. Very few missed the card section after it was abandoned.
The success that FSU enjoyed through the sixties would change. After an excellent 1971 season in which the team ended the year as a participant in the first ever Fiesta Bowl, the football team started to slip. This coincided with the political unrest that existed in the country at the time. The Vietnam War had escalated and drug on. People were not happy about a lot of things. To a growing number, college football was not very interesting or important. There were more compelling subjects. The 1972 team won its first four games but lost four of the last seven and failed to make it to a bowl. The 1973 team did not win a game. The team won one game in 1974 and three in 1975. Attendance at games decreased. Changes took place in many of the traditional events. The homecoming parade route was shortened. The Homecoming dance and the banquet disappeared.
Bobby Bowden was hired in 1976. The team went 5-6 in the first season. In 1977, the team went 10-2 including a victory in the Tangerine Bowl (now the Citrus Bowl) over Texas Tech. FSU was back to winning games. The Vietnam War had ended in 1975. The glamour in FSU football began to come back, slowly at first, but then it picked up steam. In 1977, the FSU Sports Hall of Fame was begun.
The team uniforms got fancier. Colorful spear logos were placed on the helmets. Burt Reynolds bought the team some bright golden football pants to replace the dull looking ones.
Bill Durham, with the encouragement of Coach and Mrs. Bowden and others, brought Renegade and Osceola into the game day festival. Almost immediately, it became immensely popular.
In 1982, Sports Illustrated proclaimed the Marching Chiefs as the band that never lost a halftime show. During a 1984 game against Auburn, improvising band members began waiving their arms in unison as some strains of music were played over and over. The result was the "warchant". By 1986, it was a stadium wide activity. By 1988, the band grew to over 400 and became the world's largest marching band. By 1989, the band changed to the garnet colored band uniforms.
For awhile, hundreds of garnet and goal balloons were sent up to signal the beginning of each FSU game. However, this custom was abandoned when it was realized that the balloons posed a risk to birds and other wild life.
Several other ideas were tried. A committee suggested a bird mascot. Soon, a costumed bird was prancing along the sidelines. Unfortunately, "Tommy Hawk" fell into disfavor. One view was that "the chicken", as he was called by his detractors, was scaring too many children. Soon, Tommy Hawk, had gone the way of the card section. At some point, a big drum that the band had used in pregame routines was also eliminated.
Success on the field led to stadium expansion. As part of one of the expansions, a huge spear was placed near the South end zone. The plan was that the spear would act as a thermometer or barometer measuring crowd noise. As the decibels of crowd noise increased, the lights of the spear would be sent higher and higher up the spear. It spurred crowd noise for a short while. But then fans realized that it was too easy. Even a first down would generate enough noise to push the lights to the top. Then word got out that "the spear" had cost a lot of money. There were threats to impeach or even imprison those responsible for the expenditure. In time, the stadium was again refurbished on its way to becoming the wonderful castle that it is today. At some point, "the spear" was taken down and totally disappeared without a trace. No one knows where the spear went. Questions go unanswered.
In the last fifteen years, FSU has been at the top of the college football world. There have been lots of bowl victories and two National Championships. FSU, today, has the finest traditions and customs in the college football world. But there are some of us who miss the sound of the trains, those mustard colored band uniforms, the family-styled pow wows, that lighted spear and that "damn chicken".