Trash Talk in College Sports

Football Trash Talk

By Jessica Dye

Walking the walk is easy enough. But to be a real college football fan, you’d better be ready to talk the talk—trash talk, that is. After all, what’s the point of being number one if you can’t remind people about it constantly?

But, like the tiny dog with the big yip, sometimes trash talk has the opposite effect, giving the opposing team even more motivation to whale on those running their mouths. In an interview with Psychology Today, clinical sports psychologist Jonathan Katz said, “Many athletes are putting time and energy into something that distracts them from playing their best.”

From clever to crass, for better or worse, here’s a quick look at trash talk in college football and how you can get in on the fun.

Trash-talkingest coach: Any coach who’s been around football as long as Steve Spurrier is bound to have expressed a few opinions. One thing that has both delighted and disgusted the college football community during Spurrier’s 30-year coaching career is his ability to spout thoughtful, timely trash. He’s the Trash Master. Just check out these quotes:

“You can’t spell ‘Citrus Bowl’ without ‘UT.’” (The Citrus Bowl is typically played by the second-place team in the SEC, and “UT” stands for rival University of Tennessee).

What does “FSU” stand for? “Free Shoes University” (a dig at SEC rival Florida State University, after a local shoe store provided the entire FSU team with free kicks).

In response to news of a library fire that destroyed 20 books at an Auburn University football dorm: “The real tragedy was that 15 hadn’t even been colored yet.”

Trash-talkingest rivalry: One of the few things Auburn University and University of Alabama fans can agree on is the importance of their rivalry—and how much they despise the other side. A sign hanging in the Auburn locker room reads, “We have an opponent in this state that we work every day, 365 days a year, to dominate.” Who said it? UA head coach Nick Sabin. 

Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant once reportedly said he would “rather beat that cow college [Auburn] once than beat Texas ten times.” Auburn fans taunt the Tide with the chant, “Punt, ‘Bama, Punt,” and make celebratory “bundt” cakes (get it?). And that’s just the stuff we can print.

The trash-talkin’ Iron Bowl rivalry is so famous that a Birmingham jeweler once ran an ad campaign pitting Auburn versus Alabama fans, drawing major laughs—and major complaints. The ad ragged on  how “Tide Pride gals” had “countless stories of rigged officials and national championships won 20 years before she was born,” while the anti-Auburn side described the “Cow College grads” as having a “grandma [who] was the state tobacky-spittin’ champ and…can burp out every bar of ‘War Eagle.’” But the most effective taunts require no words at all—Auburn fans simply flash rowdy Tide fans six fingers, to stand for the six consecutive matchups that Auburn has won since 2001.

High-class trash: The Ivy League is far better at crafting witty rejoinders than actually kicking any gridiron ass. In fact, most of their trash talk is dished over brunch, not barbecue and beers at a tailgate. Wrote one Yalie of fellow Big Three rivals in a 2007 Yale Daily Herald column, “U.S. News and World Report ranked Harvard at No. 2 and Yale at No.3. Did you notice who No. 1 is? Princeton. That’s like rating Djibouti ahead of the U.S. and Britain as top military powers.” Uh, what? Harvard is taunted as being “VE-RI-DUM” in a rare 21st-century Latin pun, and, sneers some Daily Princetonian staffers at our friends in Philly, “Our athletics department did some talking with world-famous Princeton economist Paul Krugman, and we decided it would be more efficient to allocate our scarce athletic resources differently. We can't all admit 10,000 kids.” Me-ow! But lest you think all Ivy League trash talk requires a thesaurus and deep understanding of economic theory, the overriding templates for their taunts seems to be the age-old “[Other School] Sucks.” So rest assured, Ivy-goers are still well-versed in the classics.

Most Inspirational Trash Talk: Legendary former Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne is associated with a slew of quotes that, in a less polite era, would have been considered some trash talk. But Rockne’s charm and personality took the edge off of such famous putdowns as, “One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it,” “The Army halfback covering me almost yawned in my face, he was that bored,” and “Show me a good and gracious loser, and I’ll show you a failure.”

Talk your own trash! There are so many different ways to get under the skin of your collegiate rivals, whether you’re at the bowl game or the quiz bowl. My favorite method? Simply make your favorite school into one of the plethora of punchlines for, say, the age-old light bulb jokes. For example:

“How many UT Vols does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“We’ll find out as soon as they get electricity.”

At Ole Miss? “None, that’s a sophomore course.”

At Ohio State University? “100. One to change it, and 99 to tell you how WOODY would’ve done it.”

At the University of Georgia? "It takes two, one to change the bulb and one to phone an engineer at Georgia Tech for instructions.”

At Oklahoma University? “Five.  And they each get three credits.”

At Florida State University? “It takes four, one to screw in the bulb and three to figure out how to get stoned off the old one.”

At Vanderbilt University? “It takes two, one to change the bulb and one more to explain how they did it every bit as good as the bulbs changed at Harvard.”

Remember, folks—like all rivalries, trash-talking is best when it’s done in good fun. And if worse comes to worse, you can always make fun of the cheerleaders. 

Opportunity: Earn an Associates of Science in Golf Management degree from a school that offers golf college courses in Florida.