College football rivalries are better than all other sports rivalries. Is it because the teams represent our alma maters, and therefore are forever a reflection on who we are as a person? Or is it because the fans are mostly college kids with way too much cheap beer and are absolutely ruthless? My guess is the latter. And one of the best parts about reckless college kids is they love to pull pranks. Here are the eight best pranks in the history of college football rivalries.
8. The Branding of Bevo
Texas vs. Texas A&M
Texas and Texas A&M have long battled for supremacy in the Lone Star state. Well…can it really be considered a battle when the Longhorns are indisputably the more prestigious program? Probably not, but that doesn’t stop the Aggies from going after their in-state rival with all the vigor they can muster. But one particular prank in this rivalry stands out amongst the rest.
In 1916 the Longhorns introduced a live mascot, which happened to be a giant orange-colored longhorn (very appropriate) that they named “Bevo.” This was a ripe opportunity for A&M students to bring shame on their rivals. Four Aggie students visited the stockyard that housed Bevo and branded him with “13-0,” which just happened to be the score from when A&M beat the Longhorns the year before.
Some of the Texas students fixed the brand to spell out “Bevo,” but that doesn’t take away from A&M ruining the introduction of their new mascot. The Longhorns would, however, get the last laugh. Keeping Bevo around after WWI began became expensive for the university, so they ended up barbecuing Bevo and serving him at a banquet with A&M, and presented the Aggies with a hide bearing the “13-0” brand.
7. The Phoenix Five
Stanford vs. Cal
The Stanford tree mascot is arguably the worst mascot in all of sports. It’s horrendous. It’s a stupid tree with stupid facial features and Cardinal fans should be ashamed by it. So any story where Stanford gets comeuppance is a great story.
In 1998, a group of fraternity brothers from the University of California at Berkeley visited the Stanford campus. While there, they visited the “Stanford Band Shak,” which was the house where the university marching band lived. While there, they found the Tree Mascot costume and stole it. They held it hostage at Cal and began calling themselves “The Phoenix Five.”
The situation escalated quickly as the Cal chancellor threatened to ban Oski the Bear, Berkeley’s mascot, if the tree costume wasn’t returned before the Cal-Stanford game began. The Phoenix Five returned the Tree to Stanford, but the band ended up burning the costume because they saw it was “contaminated.”
So the question remains: why did they even want the costume back if they were just going to burn it?
6. Literally Sh*tting on Their Rival
USC vs. UCLA
Los Angeles may be a terrible sports city (I would say the worst, but then I remember Jacksonville has a professional sports team), but there are some hardcore fans in the area. The USC-UCLA rivalry is pretty much the only sports-related activity that draws anything resembling passion for Los Angelenos. And like all good rivalries, there are some pranks along the way.
USC’s Tommy Trojan statue (see above image) is a ripe target for Bruins fans. His sword’s been stolen so many times that the university had to switch the original brass sword with a wood sword because the old brass one was too expensive to replace.
But that seems tame compared to what took place in 1958. That year, UCLA fans rented a helicopter to fly over the statue. Once there, they dropped bags of manure all over the Trojan statue. Instead of figuratively sh*tting on USC like they had been doing, they made it literal. This prank would contend for the first spot on our list but, unfortunately, the helicopter’s blades blew most of the manure right back at the UCLA students. But that’s still pretty damn creative.
There aren’t any pictures of the poo-covered statue, so I had to settle for this picture of the Trojan statue after USC students covered it in duct tape to prevent any similar pranks.
5. Most Expensive Prank Ever?
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech
Most of the pranks on this list can be done by anyone. There’s no specific skill set a person needs to know before they buy a bag of cow crap and dump it from a helicopter. But you need a very specific education to pull of this amazing prank done by a Virginia Tech fan on their rivals, the University of Virginia. Specifically, you would need a degree in architecture.
Mark Lindsey graduated from Virginia Tech in the early 1980s and began working at an architectural firm. One of their projects was to design a locker room/dining facility next to the University of Virginia’s football stadium. Lindsey saw how at the bottom of the UVA end zone, there was a V-shaped opening. He decided to propose a T-shaped building on top of it (without telling anyone it would be t-shaped) so that the stadium would be showing the letters “VT,” the initials of Virginia’s hated rival. The architecture firm chose his design, and Virginia’s football stadium featured a VT in all aerial shots.
Here’s a photo from Lindsey showing how you could see the VT.
Ok, it’s a bit of a stretch, but you have to like that this guy was willing to throw away his entire career to pull a prank on his college football rival. That takes a lot of cojones.
4. The Play Gets Reversed
Cal vs. Stanford
Yes, we already included a prank from the Cal-Stanford rivalry on this list, but this one’s also great (and will feature less Stanford bashing, I promise).
In 1982 the Cal-Stanford game ended with a play known, fittingly, as “The Play.” After a back and forth game between the two teams, Stanford led 20-19 with only enough time left for a kickoff. If you’ve ever seen a football game, you know what happened next: Cal pulled of a series of laterals that resulted in a touchdown as the Stanford band ran onto the field. Here’s the video, in case you live in a hole:
It’s one of the most famous plays in college football history. And while Cal earned the victory, Stanford pulled off a great prank on their rivals in the aftermath. A group of Cardinal students went to the Berkeley campus and created a fake edition of the “Daily Californian,” the Cal student newspaper. On the front page, they wrote a story about the NCAA overturning the kickoff return touchdown and taking the win away from Cal and rewarding it to Stanford. It must’ve been pretty believable too, as there were reports of Cal students crying after reading the fake newspaper.
Still, Stanford folks have to deal with over 30 years of seeing “The Play” shown over and over again on sports channels so Cal still wins in the end.
3. Harvard Sucks
Harvard vs. Yale
You’d be hard-pressed to find any school more pretentious…I mean…more prestigious than either Harvard or Yale. Since both universities began, they’ve been battling endlessly to prove they are the smarter Ivy League institution. There is one category that Yale clearly dominates: Pranks.
In 2004, Harvard students were given special signs to hold up during the game to celebrate their team. They thought the signs were being given out by the Harvard Pep Squad, but it was actually a group of Yale students in disguise. So instead of the signs spelling out “Go Harvard” or whatever, it actually said, “We suck.”
The Harvard fans probably couldn’t read the signs because they were too busy figuring out which investment bank they wanted to sell their soul to.
2. Stealing of the Mule
Army vs. Navy
The Army and Navy are both branches of the military, but that doesn’t mean they have to like each other. Their football rivalry goes back more than a century and includes a host of pranks. Army cadets will frequently sneak into Annapolis in the days leading up the game against Navy and steal some goats, which happen to be the naval mascot. That’s pretty standard prank behavior, but in 1992 some students at Navy pulled off a far more epic heist.
While the Navy goats are held in a barn off-campus, Army keeps their live mascots, which are mules, in a compound on-campus and keep guards posted to prevent shenanigans. But in 1992, Navy students posed as Military Police, drove onto campus in cars with “Beat Navy” stickers on it and engaged in an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist. They distracted one of the Army staffers by saying they were there to deliver food and ended up subduing all the guards protecting the mules and grabbed the mascots.
This wasn’t a case of simple hijinks either. Army guards chased after the Navy thieves and even called in helicopters and put the state police on alert about the theft. Once they reached Annapolis, federal marshals and members of the Defense Department attempted to apprehend the mules, but Naval administrators intervened and the mules were escorted to the pep rally.
Two days later Army beat Navy 24-3. These cadets risked going to jail, and their football team couldn’t even put up a touchdown. A little anti-climatic.
1. Greasing the Wheels
Georgia Tech vs. Auburn
Today when we think about Auburn football rivalries, we immediately think about Alabama and the Iron Bowl. But there was a time when Auburn had a much more hated rival: Georgia Tech.
In 1896 Auburn hosted its first ever home game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. This was in the days before coach buses and airplanes, so the Yellow Jackets arrived by train. A handful of Auburn fans decided to delay their trip by covering the railroad tracks with “pig grease and lard and soap.” The train couldn’t stop and went nearly five miles past its destination. The Yellow Jacket players had to walk the entire distance from where the train eventually stopped to the stadium.
Auburn won 45-0, mostly because their opponents were completely exhausted, and a new tradition was born. Every year, the school celebrated the “Wreck Tech Pajama Parade,” where students got in their pajamas and marched to the Train Depot for a pep rally.
This seems like something Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots would do.
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Joseph Misulonas is an editorial assistant for Playboy.com. He is a Northwestern graduate, which is why he likes to talk smack about Stanford. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.