Twenty years ago, Stan Beck was attending a college football game at Army in West Point, N.Y., when he noticed something unique – cadets who had just parachuted out of a helicopter above the stadium delivered the game ball and flags to midfield.

“I asked the man sitting next to me, ‘Do they do this every game?’ and he said, ‘Yes. We’ve got the planes and the parachutes,’ ” Beck recalls. “I thought, I’m a huge sports fan and I didn’t know that – I wonder how many other people might find these traditions interesting.”

And so Beck, along with co-author Jack Wilkinson, embarked on a mission to document as many college traditions they could find, winding up with more than 1,500 featured in their book titled College Sports Traditions: Picking Up Butch, Silent Night and Hundreds of Others.

The pair sent out more than 7,000 letters to schools asking to share their traditions, and the responses came back “in droves,” according to Beck.

From a buffalo being named homecoming queen (University of Colorado) to a tree growing out of the end zone (Ursinus College in Pennsylvania), the book captures the fun, fanatical and fantastic traditions in all sports, but especially college football, which is filled with long-lasting and relatively new customs from schools big and small.

“Traditions can be started by the schools, athletes, fans, alumni and students,” Beck says. “It’s a huge part of college football and it is what differentiates it from the NFL. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to gather these traditions and share them.”

Check out these five traditions that are among Beck’s favorites:

1. Skull Session

The Ohio State University marching band is known for its elaborate halftime performances, but prior to each home game, the 225-member unit hosts a pep rally called a Skull Session.

More than 10,000 fans fill the basketball arena to cheer on the band and find out which member gets to “dot the i” in the famous Ohio script. Even the players stop by to thank the band for being a huge part of the school’s football experience.



Howard's Rock

2. Howard’s Rock

Clemson University in South Carolina boasts one of college football’s most recognizable traditions, as Tigers players have been touching a rock imported from Death Valley, Calif. since 1977 before running down “The Hill” and onto the field.

But it wasn’t always that way.

“Before it was on display for good luck, it was a doorstop in (former Clemson coach) Frank Howard’s office,” Beck says. “He told the sports information director to get rid of it, but the SID (sports information director) rescued it and turned it into a tradition.”

3. Prisoner Exchange

Every year, a few students at the United States Naval Academy attend the United States Military Academy, and vice versa, on very prestigious appointments. But during the traditional Army-Navy game, loyalty is paramount.

Before the heated contest, the schools hold a “prisoner exchange” to ensure no one infiltrates the other side. “The schools release those ‘prisoners’ to go sit in their respective sections,” Beck says. “It’s quite wonderful to see them running across the field to rejoin their friends.”

4. Peanut People

At Arizona State University, tailgating is taken quite seriously, with fans setting up shop for hours before game time. The marching band takes a circuitous route to the stadium, winding through the tailgate to get fans fired up. For years, one family has rewarded band members with bags of peanuts.

“As they get close to the tailgate, the band starts cheering, ‘We want peanuts!’ It’s really fun because the band goes out of their way to get them,” Beck says.

5. GameDay Flag Tradition

Since 2003, there have been two things you can count on during ESPN’s College GameDay weekly broadcast – Lee Corso donning mascot headgear and a Washington State University flag flying in the background. The brainchild of alumnus Tom Pounds, and now aided by a network of WSU fans and alumni across the country, spotting the Cougars’ flag during the packed crowd is a favorite activity for viewers of the show. A nonprofit foundation has raised more than $10,000 to cover flag-wavers’ expenses, and Beck himself even got to hoist the flag in 2012.