Super fans in all shapes and sizes
If the NFL is considered America's new religion, the college game is our nation's biggest cult. The most rabid U.S. sports fans, millions of them, fill stadiums across the country each fall Saturday and literally live and die college football.
In what other American sport can you find a fan like Giles Pellerin? The greatest college football super fan ever, he viewed 797 consecutive USC football games -- home and away -- before passing away at the age 91 in the parking lot of a Trojans game.
Or how about Cecil Samara? When Oklahoma's super fan passed away in 1994, he was buried in his trademark red jacket, an OU tie and a Sooners belt buckle. He had "Boomer Sooner" played at his funeral, but his family decided against Samara's wishes to have his index finger put in the "No. 1" position in his casket.
Whether they have ridiculously long attendance streaks, dress up like it's Halloween, have become performers on game days or complete other acts of sheer lunacy, all these super fans ask is to be recognized for their dedication.
Here's our list of the top 20 college football super fans based on their passion, loyalty, flair and celebrity status on campus.
20. Barry Erickson (Washington) Washington football could have used a superhero the past couple of years, but unfortunately "Captain Husky" is in the stands, not on the field.
Barry Erickson plays the part with a costume that includes a cape, an aviator hat and a giant "W" on his chest. He's done this for every home game except two since the 1986 season, right after he graduated from UW.
His ritual is to put on the costume and lead the stadium in spelling out H-U-S-K-Y after the first score of the second half. But things got so bad during the Tyrone Willingham era that he had to do it during a late TV timeout a couple of times because UW failed to score. That's dedication.
19. Tom Pounds (Washington State) You probably don't know Tom Pounds, but you're certainly aware of his work. He's the Washington State alum who has arranged for the Washington State Cougars flag to wave behind the set of "College GameDay" every Saturday in the fall since 2003.
Since then, Pounds has built a network of more than 100 contacts who have helped the flag relay continue. There now are two flags flying during every telecast, Ol' Crimson and Ol' White.
18. Terri Jackson (Utah) There aren't many people who would find the nickname "Crazy Lady" to be flattering. Terri Jackson is one of them who does.
Having graduated more than three decades ago from Utah, she still has the energy of a college student, which she demonstrates with her regular pre-fourth-quarter dance routine that involves a lot of shoulder shakes and flying fists. The entire stadium turns to her before the final 15 minutes, with the students chanting, "Cra-zy La-dy." She's been doing it since 2000.
Jackson said she and her husband might hit the road for each game in the 2011 season to check out all the new venues in the Utes' next conference.
Pac-10 fans, you've been warned.
17. John Chubb (Ohio State) There was a void at Ohio State after the passing of super fan Orlas King in 2004, known as "Neutron Man."
While plenty of Bucknuts have stepped up to fill his shoes, the most identifiable is John Chubb, known as "Buck-I-Guy."
The camera loves Chubb, whom you can see decked out at Ohio Stadium in a white jump suit, a mustache painted red, sports gloves, eye black with OSU logos on it, and an Ohio State cape and cowboy hat. When the camera inevitably finds him, Chubb is split-second on the draw to pull out his barehanded six-shooters and fire away at the camera.
16. Mike Woods (Georgia) Why does Mike Woods -- known as the "Big Dawg" -- have a giant Georgia Bulldogs logo painted onto his head? To honor his late father.
It was Woods' dad who created the tradition when the two hit the road for the 1982 Sugar Bowl versus Pitt. When Woods' father passed away a couple of years later, Woods continued the practice in his dad's honor.
Woods' wife starts by laying down a base of white paint, hardening it with a mini fan and then plastering on a Georgia logo. Woods also wears a pair of overalls covered with Georgia material to games, as if you couldn't tell where his allegiance stands.
15. Nathan Davis (Alabama) Take one look at Nathan Davis, and you'll know why he's called "The Alabama Super Fan."
His entire body is covered in Crimson Tide tattoos, including a massive mural of Bear Bryant leaning against a goal post that takes up his entire back. Davis refers to it as the love of his life.
You can find the 39-year-old on game days bearing a giant Alabama flag, his face covered in war paint, his shirt off and him dressed in a kilt with high white socks. It's all topped off, of course, by a houndstooth cap that honors Bryant.
14. Jim Brown (Kentucky) There are plenty of basketball fanatics in Lexington, but a football super fan? Ninety-one-year-old Jim Brown must be a glutton for punishment, because he had seen every Kentucky home game -- 412 in all -- from 1945 until this past October, when an illness kept him at home.
He's witnessed some pretty lean years like, say, the entire 1990s, when UK had just one winning season. He also had the misfortune of witnessing the Bluegrass Miracle in 2002.
Brown said he'll be ready for the home opener Sept. 11 versus Western Kentucky.
13. John Sheldon (Michigan State) His given name is John Sheldon. "Johnny Spirit" is such a Michigan State fanatic that there's a rumor he's legally changed his last name to "Spirit," a la Chad Ochocinco.
The MSU super fan started attending almost every school function as a Spartans student in 1993, painted green from head to toe. Seventeen years later, he's still going strong. You can find him on game days in full body paint with a giant white "S" on his bare chest, riding around on his bike with a massive MSU flag -- that can get mighty chilly late in the season. He also is a regular to stand guard over Michigan State's Sparty statue the week before the Michigan game.
How's this for high praise? In a statement, then-MSU coach Nick Saban once said: "John Spirit fits the definition of a super fan."
12. Robert Lipson (Kansas State) Like many people on this list, Robert Lipson has an impressive streak in his name: He's gone to 142 consecutive conference road games dating all the way back to 1973 -- his last year as a student at Kansas State.
But what makes Lipson really stand out is that instead of getting a motel room on the road, he sleeps in the back of his Nissan truck, which can get brutal in the heartland late in the season. Throwing extra pieces of carpet he has on top of him, Lipson once slept in his car in 17-below weather in Ames, Iowa, for an Iowa State game.
With Colorado bolting the Big 12, Lipson will make one final football road trip to his beloved Boulder on Nov. 20, where he will savor every teeth-chattering moment in the Rockies.
11. Paul Layne (SMU) Paul Layne's love for SMU is so strong it even survived the death penalty.
Starting when Layne attended SMU and was a team cheerleader, he's attended every Mustangs football game for the past 37 years, now 393 games in all. He'll reach No. 400 at Navy on Oct. 16.
Layne's loyalty was finally rewarded last season, as June Jones led SMU to an 8-5 season and the program's first bowl game since the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
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10. Lance Smith (Vanderbilt) Most people find heckling college students to be in extremely poor taste. But Lance Smith, aka "Vandy Lance," isn't most people.
Although he never attended Vanderbilt, Smith has been a staple of Commodores home games since 1969, when he witnessed Vandy knock off mighty Alabama and Bear Bryant. Since then, he's become a world-class heckler at Vandy sporting events, including women's basketball and baseball, the Robin Ficker of college football.
9. Wendell Wolka (Purdue) At first, people might not get the connection between Boilermakers and pharaohs. Known as "The King," Wendell Wolka wears a giant, gold and black Egyptian pharaoh hat to each contest to show his true colors.
After missing Purdue's stunning 1974 upset of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., because he didn't think the Boilermakers had a chance, Wolka vowed to never miss another Purdue football game.
Wolka has kept that promise, now 415 games later. When he got married in 2007, he asked his bride-to-be whether she was prepared for 12 football games a year. Was she ever. The two rented the Boilermaker Special train mascot as their limo for the big day, and now when Wolka attends each game in his pharaoh-style hat, she is at his side donning Cleopatra headgear.
8. Freeman Reese (Alabama) For years, Freeman Reese and his late wife, Betty Reese, were a part of the small army that follows the Alabama football team wherever it goes, living in wedded bliss as they drove their "Crimson Express" RV around the South together.
But the Reeses are most famous -- or infamous -- for going to an Alabama-Tennessee game instead of their own daughter's wedding. Let that sink in for a moment. To their credit, they drove straight from the game to their daughter's reception.
"We warned her, 'Don't get married on an Alabama Saturday,'" Freeman said.
They say blood is thicker than water -- apparently not when that water is a Crimson Tide.
7. Dwayne Gilbert (Georgia) If you haven't caught on yet, they take football pretty seriously in the SEC.
Dwayne Gilbert, a former police officer used to driving long distances, has attended 423 straight games since 1974.
Now 83, he's got No. 500 in his sights.
"Of course I'd like to reach that magic number of 500, but that's a long way down the road right now," Gilbert said.
That might be, but long distances on the road have never stopped Gilbert before.
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6. Mitch Lavinghouze (Ole Miss) This 81-year-old has attended 439 consecutive Ole Miss games dating back to the 1972 season opener against Memphis, when his son Steve was a freshman kicker on the team.
But even after Steve and his brother Robin finished playing at Ole Miss in 1977, the elder Lavinghouze just kept trucking with the Rebels.
He has his own Rebel Room in his home that includes photos, memorabilia, figures and an autographed photo of the greatest Rebel of all time: Archie Manning.
5. Tony Brandino (Alabama) Yes, another Alabama super fan with an insane attendance streak.
From 1954 to 1997, Tony Brandino attended 500 straight Alabama games before a bad case of the flu stopped him making the game in Oxford, Miss., for 501. Wrote Brandino in his memoir, "FANtastic," about his illness: "If I had made it to the stadium, I would have puked on everybody in sight." Lovely.
Now 94 years old, Brandino lives in a senior living facility. He isn't well enough to attend Alabama games but still tunes in on Saturdays to watch the team play.
4. Tommy Thompson (Iowa) Eighty-three-year-old Tommy Thompson has been going to Iowa football games so long that he remembers watching 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick in action and even got to play a round of golf with the legend.
Thompson has seen a total of 710 Iowa football games in his lifetime, starting with a contest in 1937, when he was just 11.
With his wife deceased, Thompson travels to Iowa games with his buddies in a low-key Lincoln town car. As for the Sept. 18 matchup in Tucson with Arizona, he'll make that trek through the air.
3. Tom Ables (San Diego State) Set in one of the most beautiful cities in America and with a program that's floundered in recent years, San Diego State averaged less than 25,000 fans a game last season on its way to a 4-8 campaign. And that was a good year. In 2008, the Aztecs averaged a paltry 10,000 fans per game.
But one person the program can count on to show up each Saturday is 84-year-old Tom Ables. An SDSU alum who wrote for the student newspaper, he's attended 522 straight San Diego State games. He last missed a road game at Cal Poly in 1964 because he was deemed too sick to travel.
2. George Edmondson (Florida) He's known affectionately as "Mr. Two-Bits," but many people don't realize George Edmondson's famous "Two Bits" cheer actually started when he was at The Swamp to watch his alma mater, The Citadel, play the Gators in 1949.
As the years went by and Edmondson's fame grew, he led cheers around the stadium about 15 times a game in his patented dress shirt, tie, slacks and saddle shoes, accompanied by a whistle, a "2-Bits" sign and a megaphone.
After 60 seasons on the job, Edmondson retired after the 2008 campaign.
He still attended Florida home games last season but didn't lead the cheer, as Albert the Alligator dressed up in Mr. Two-Bits regalia and led it in Edmondson's honor. But the 88-year-old Tampa resident hasn't ruled out leading the cheer in the future.
Said Edmondson: "I told the university that I would always be available for some kind of cameo appearance if necessary but haven't found it to be necessary."
1. Dick Coffee (Alabama) As has been detailed in this countdown, Dick Coffee certainly isn't the only person following the Crimson Tide to each away game in the fall. He is, however, the only person who's been doing it for every single game since 1946.
That's right -- Coffee now has attended a whopping 741 straight Tide games after their victory in Pasadena for another national championship. Now 88 and still wearing a coat and tie to each game, Coffee's streak started when he was a freshman at Alabama after he served in the war. To put that in perspective, another freshman in 1946 was a Brown football player named Joe Paterno.
Coffee got a major scare for the 1964 Sugar Bowl when he couldn't reach the game due to snow. With time running out, Coffee asked the operators of a freight train if they would add an extra car on the back to transport him and his fellow Tide fans down there. He made it in time to witness Alabama's victory over Ole Miss. A stroke in 1994 didn't stop Coffee's streak, either.
Pellerin's mark of 797 is just 56 games away, which would put Coffee surpassing the USC super fan sometime in the 2014 season.
Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com, a historical college football and men's basketball site that links the sports' past to the present.
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