31 Flavors of Football: Cowbells

To help you and me get through the drudgery of August, I will present in this space a daily scoop of MSU football-ness, as inspired by a certain ice cream chain. August has 31 days, so I’ll let you work it out from there. Here is today’s flavor.


I have written more about cowbells the past four years than I ever thought I would when I got into this business 14 years ago. They are an indispensable part of the MSU fan experience, which is something outsiders have a hard time understanding. To non-MSU fans, cowbells are a great annoyance and something to mock as they make jokes about tractors and cows and such.

That’s because unless you’re an MSU fan, it’s hard to understand the meaning they hold. MSU fans give tiny cowbells to their babies; they hand them down to sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters; some are old and dented from years of use, others are shiny silver and sit prominently displayed upon mantles and shelves.

Cowbells entered the picture at some point prior to World War II. As the legend goes, MSU was playing Ole Miss one day, and trailing, when a cow meandered onto the field. The Bulldogs rallied to win, and the cowbell came to be seen as a good-luck charm. It’s now more than that – it’s a fixture. It adds to the outside image of MSU as a “cow college,” but MSU fans seem to embrace that to a degree. And that’s good, because agrarian life is not something to be looked down upon. My family has agrarian roots, and it’s good and healthy to embrace one’s country-ness.

Anyway, cowbells for a long time were not legal to bring into stadiums to ring, but the SEC and the school worked things out in the Great Cowbell Compromise of 2010. Fans are now allowed to bring ’em and ring ’em during SEC home games, so long as they ring at appointed times. Non-conference games are a free-for-all. And the fans, to the surprise of many skeptics, have learned to “respect the bell,” to use the school’s words.

A week from today, the cowbells return to Davis Wade Stadium, and a longstanding, much beloved tradition will return. It’s the kind of tradition that’s good for college football.

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