Football Urban Legends Revealed #15

This is the fifteenth in a series of examinations of football-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous football legends.

Today’s football legends have a special theme – all legends about COLLEGE football!

Let’s begin!

FOOTBALL LEGEND: Fresno State wears a “V” on their helmets as in “V for Victory”

STATUS: False

California State University, Fresno, better known as Fresno State, has a bulldog as the mascot for their football team.

The bulldog is seen on their helmets, as well…

However, also visible on Fresno State helmets since the late 1990s is a green letter V…

Since Fresno State does not have a V anywhere in its name (nor does California, although I guess there is one “v” in University), the meaning of the V has been much debated.

A popular theory was that the V stood for “Victory,” as the phrase “V for Victory” is a well-known turn of phrase.

However, the actual meaning behind the V is much more straightforward.

From Fresno State’s own website:

When Pat Hill became Fresno State’s head coach prior to the 1997 season, he wanted to reinvigorate San Joaquin Valley pride in the Bulldogs. Because Fresno State is the only Division I football program in the Valley, a 250-mile stretch in California’s midsection from Bakersfield to Modesto, Hill wanted to make the Bulldogs the “Green Bay Packers of college football.” As Coach Hill often states, Fresno State is not only representing Fresno, its representing the entire Valley.

This representation of the San Joaquin Valley is displayed in the form of a green “V” on the back of the Bulldogs’ helmets. The green in the “V” is a symbol to the agricultural community of the Central Valley, which is the world’s richest agricultural area in export dollars.

“The people of this Valley are of vital importance to the success of this football program,” said Hill. “They help us fund the program, they give us unparalleled support, and they are going to be the big reason we take this program to a level where we are consistently in the Top 25.”

And it IS true, Fresno State long has been the college football team associated with the Central California Valley, San Joaquin, in particular.

So that’s a very cool move by Coach Hill, who has been quite successful at Fresno State these past 13 years.

Here’s an interesting side note about the connection between Fresno State and the Valley community. Likely based on the school, a gang in the Central Valley began calling itself the bulldogs. As the popularity of Fresno State has grown in the Central Valley the last decade or so, so too has the popularity of the gang, to the point where Fresno State paraphernalia was actually BANNED in middle schools and high schools in the Valley a few years back.

Fresno State wanted to become popular in the valley, but I guess they succeeded TOO well!!!

FOOTBALL LEGEND: Ohio State once gave up a touchdown…to its own player!

STATUS: True

The grand legacy of Ohio State football began in 1890 (here’s a team photo)…

Frederick “Jack” Ryder was an early football innovator, bringing Oberlin College their very first football team. In 1892, Ryder was hired as the very first head coach in Ohio State history. He made the staggering total of $15 a week. Ryder served as head coach for three years before he left the team to serve in the Spanish-American War.

He returned in 1898, following a dreadful 1897 Ohio State season where the team won the grand total of ONE game – and that win was courtesy of a forfeit by Ohio Medical in a game that Ohio State was trailing at the time!

Ryder’s career ended with a record of 22-22, with 2 ties, but one of his losses in the 1898 seasons is likely the most notable game in his coaching career.

On October 22, 1898, Ohio State was hosting Marietta College…

Marietta was ahead 3-0 in the second half when one of their players was injured. In the early days of college football, teams rarely traveled with more than a few backup players, and in this game, Marietta only had one backup, and that player has already been called into the game because of a prior injury to a different Marietta player.

So now down to 10 players, Marietta was faced with having to forfeit the game. With no other option, the coach of Marietta asked Ryder if Ohio State could loan them a player to finish the game. Ryder agreed, and halfback Bob Hager switched teams.

That switch would prove to be quite problematic for Ohio State, as Hager would score on a 67-yard touchdown run later in the game, providing the final scoring in a 10-0 Marietta victory.

Ryder was fired at the end of the season.

Thanks to Jack Park’s essential tome, The Official Ohio State Football Encyclopedia, for the information!

FOOTBALL LEGEND: Sun Devil Stadium had an extreme makeover when Pope John Paul II came to visit during the 1980s.

STATUS: True

Since 1946, Arizona State’s football team has been known as the Sun Devils.

The Sun Devil logo and mascot (known as “Sparky”) was designed by former Walt Disney artist, Bert Anthony.

Built in 1958, Sun Devil Stadium has been home to Arizona State football for over five decades. It also was the home of the Arizona Cardinals until 2005.

It has been host to a number of famous concerts and events, including the 1996 NFL Super Bowl.

However, one of its most amusing/historic events was when Pope John Paul II visited Arizona in 1987.

Naturally, for all the people who wanted to see the visiting Pope, a large stadium was needed, and Sun Devil Stadium was the obvious choice. The only problem was, well, the name. Can’t exactly have the leader of the Catholic Church delivering a speech at a stadium named after a devil, now can you? And the Pope refused to appear at the stadium as it was.

So the stadium went around and covered up every appearance of the word “Devil” at the stadium, and the Pope agreed to enter. He held mass for over 75,000 people on September 14, 1987,

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

5 Responses to “Football Urban Legends Revealed #15”

  1. ASU almost went as far as to change the lettering to say, “Sun Angel Stadium”, but opted to just cover everything.

  2. I was four years old when the Pope came to Arizona. I do not remember anything about the visit but I do believe we tailgated that mass (my brother and I definitely had JPII t-shirts as kids).

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