FSU Football Traditions
By Jim Joanos
Football weekends at Florida State are festivals. 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 waiving 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. Many of the traditions have evolved through the years.
Florida State has had a band since about 1930 when it was Florida State College for Women. When the school became co-educational in 1947 and its name changed to Florida State University, the band also became coeducational 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.
Early in the 1947 football season, the first year of football after the institution became co-educational, FSU students selected the name, "Seminoles," for all of its athletic teams. The name refers to the courageous native Americans who resisted the efforts to be removed from their homelands and brought the federal army to a standstill.
At first FSU's football games were played at the Old Centennial Field. 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.
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.
In the early years, half time shows often included acts from the FSU Flying High Circus. By the late fifties, "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.
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 surrounding the Viet Nam War that existed in the country at the time. To a growing number, college football was not very interesting or important. Attendance at games decreased for awhile. Changes took place in many of the traditional events.
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. 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 members and became the world's largest marching band.
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.
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. In time, the stadium was again refurbished. At some point, "the spear" was taken down and totally disappeared without a trace. No one knows where the spear went. Questions go unanswered.
For the last twenty years, FSU has been very successful in the college football world. There have been lots of bowl victories and two National Championships. FSU, today, also has some of the finest traditions and customs in the college football world.