Top 10 College Football Rivalry Pranks Ever
10. Cannon Fodder for a Rivalry (1875)
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With college students engaging in pre-rivalry game pranks, we take a look at the Top 10 College Football Rivalry Pranks Ever. Note that we are confining this to pranks that only pertain to rivalries (hence, the 1961 Great Rose Bowl Hoax is not included).
The Princeton-Rutgers “Cannon War” has existed since the 1800s. The source of dispute between the two Jersey schools is a Revolutionary War cannon which, since 1840, has been buried muzzle down in the center of Princeton’s Cannon Green.
In 1875, ten Rutgers sophomores tried to steal it back (it had been used by the city of New Brunswick during the War of 1812). The students lugged a 1,088-pound cannon from its resting place and back to their campus - only to discover that it was, in fact, a “little cannon” and not the Revolutionary War one.
To this day, Rutgers still tries to lay claim to it on occasion by painting the real cannon red (below photo).
9. Branding Bevo (1917)
All those college movies where stealing the rival school’s mascot is part of the plot may have drawn their inspiration from an intrepid group of Texas A&M students who, in 1917, kidnapped Texas’ live longhorn mascot.
Once Bevo was in their possession, the A&M students branded it with “13–0” — the margin by which the Aggies had defeated the Longhorns in their 1915 game. (Texas triumphed in 1916, 21–7). While PETA would have been furious if they were around, constantly reminding your rival of their failure by just looking at the school mascot is an epic prank.
The steer was eventually returned to Austin, where by 1919 university administrators opted not to take care of it anymore on account of the upkeep cost. So it was fattened up for the January 1920 football banquet for Texas and A&M, where the Aggies were served the branded “13–0” side and presented with the hide.
8. Fit to Print, Fit to Prank (1982)
The student newspapers at Cal and Stanford have a healthy rivalry that continues to this day. In 1982, The Stanford Daily got a leg up on its rivals at The Daily Californian while simultaneously avoiding having to write about that year’s crushing loss courtesy of “The Play.”
In the week following the Stanford-Cal game, four Stanford Daily staff members handed out a bogus “extra” edition of the Daily Californian with a lead story stating that the NCAA had decided to award the game to Stanford after further review.
“Seven thousand copies of the ersatz issue were planted in newsstands on the Berkeley campus before the real Daily Californian — fortuitously late off the presses that day — could be distributed,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite.
The fake worked like a charm as many Cal students freaked out upon reading it, thinking it was real.
7. MIT Deflates Harvard’s and Yale’s Balloon (1982)
Two years before the theatrical release of Revenge of the Nerds, the brothers at MIT’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity pulled a prank during the 1982 Harvard-Yale football game befitting of the Tri-Lambs.
While the Crimson and Bulldogs were duking it out at Harvard Stadium, a black balloon with the letters “MIT” popped out of the ground and began inflating itself. When the balloon reached its maximum size, it exploded into a cloud of white powder.
As far as prank planning goes, MIT can’t be beat. The DKE brothers had to sneak into Harvard Stadium in the dead of night several times — both MIT and Harvard are in Cambridge, MA — and wire the Freon-driven hydraulic press and vacuum cleaner motor used into the electrical grid below the turf.
On the scoreboard, Harvard came out on top of Yale, 45–7 - but MIT was the real winner that day.
6. Back-Stabbing Trojan (1953)
In the week leading up to its annual game with UCLA, USC has student groups keep a 24-hour watch on the school’s iconic Tommy Trojan statue (official name: the Trojan Shrine) as well as wrap it in duct tape to prevent Bruins vandals from defacing it.
But they haven’t always been so vigilant at Southern Cal. They had to learn the hard way.
In 1953, UCLA students snuck onto USC’s campus and sawed off Tommy Trojan’s sword-wielding arm. When they welded it back on, it appeared as though Tommy was stabbing himself in the back like a doofus.
With UCLA beating USC on Saturday for only the second time since 1998, the Bruins finally got the last laugh against the Trojans again.
5. Harvard Says “We Suck” (2004)
As a prankster, you know you’ve made it when your handiwork has its own Wikipedia page.
In 2004, Yale wanted to out-duel MIT’s prank of Harvard and decided to pull a prank of its own vs. the Crimson. Disguised as the non-existant “Harvard Pep Squad,” Yale students handed out placards to a section of Harvard fans, telling them that they would read “Go Harvard” when held up in unison.
They lied - both about their identities and what the placard formation read, which was “We Suck.” Needless to say, Crimson football players were likely very confused by Harvard’s school spirit at that moment. Alas, the same designation couldn’t be applied to the Crimson’s football team as they defeated Yale, 35–3, to complete a 10–0 season.
4. Jokey Hokie (1982)
Upon graduating from Virginia Tech in 1982, Mark Lindsey didn’t only prove to be a talented architect at Richmond’s Baskervill & Sons Architects and Engineers. He also proved he was a Hokie for life.
Officials at the University of Virginia were looking to build a new locker room and dining room next to Scott Stadium and hired Baskervill. Lindsey submitted a design.
“I guess where my design came from — and I was a recent Tech graduate — was, at the end of the stadium, we had this giant V-shape,” Lindsey recalled in 1997. “And I had a late-night inspiration that what was the best thing to put in this V-shaped opening was a ‘T.’”
UVA ended up choosing Lindsey’s design. And for 17 years, until Bryant Hall was replaced in 1999, “VT” was visible above Scott Stadium. Not that Lindsey’s employers were upset about it; he would work for Baskervill for another 29 years.
3. Mule Be Sorry for This (1992)
There’s security for a school’s mascot, and then there’s Army. The academy’s two mule mascots are “locked in a veterinary compound at West Point” and “surrounded by guards in the heart of a military complex that also serves as a federal silver repository.”
Only a rival with equally potent military training would be capable of stealing them. That’s where Navy enters the picture. 17 Naval Academy seniors pulled off a daring heist of the Army mascots prior to the 1992 rivalry game by pretending they were feeding the mules.
Upon returning to Annapolis with the creatures in tow, they were ambushed by security agents from the defense department. Navy’s command duty officer stepped in and said they were on Navy property, then had the mules escorted to a pep rally full of raucous applause.
Sweeter still: Navy defeated Army the next day, 24–3, for its only win of the ’92 season.
2. Tree-Napping (1998)
When you are credited with the “Funniest and Most Bizarre Mascot Theft Ever,” that’s high praise. So we salute you, Phoenix Five.
The Marvel Comics-esque nicknamed group was a quintet from Cal’s Theta Chi fraternity. Together, they stole the Stanford Tree mascot (the costume, not the person) from the school’s Band Shak on Oct. 17, 1998 and held it “hostage” for two weeks.
What makes the “liberation of the Stanford Tree” so memorable was the over-the-top reaction from both Stanford and Cal administrators: Treating the crime as a felony and prohibiting Cal’s mascot from appearing at any games until the tree was returned, and so on. The Five released a “proof of life” video and multiple ransom letters to stoke the fire.
Upon the tree costume’s return, members of the Stanford Band deemed it “contaminated” from its ordeal and had it put through a tree shredder during halftime of the school’s game with USC.
1. Grease Lightning (1896)
What makes a prank that Auburn students pulled against Georgia Tech over 100 years ago the best one ever? Its sheer brilliance, the fact that it had a direct bearing on the game itself and its reputation as the “Godfather” of college football pranks.
With Tech traveling to The Plains via train for the 1896 game, a group of Auburn students snuck out of their dorm rooms in the dead of night. They soaked the train tracks in pig grease, sending the train carrying Georgia Tech’s team “careening right through town.”
The team was forced to walk several miles back to Auburn, and it showed the next day when the Tigers trounced them, 45–0. To mark each subsequent game in the annual rivalry, which ran from 1906–1987, Auburn students participated in the Wreck Tech Pajama Parade - a then-annual celebration of college sports’ greatest rivalry prank.