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Why creative intros became a primetime football norm, and why everybody calls their alma mater ‘THE’ now

Players have been tweaking their presentations for years, and their traditions fit well with TV broadcasts.

Former Miami offensive lineman Ereck Flowers introduced himself and his school during a 2017 Sunday Night Football Game.
Via NBC.

At the beginning of primetime NFL games — especially Sunday Night and Monday Night Football — players introduce themselves and name their alma maters on camera.

Many of these intros aren’t that interesting, but two of the most common twists are:

  • Ohio State alums reminding you they went to the Ohio State University.
  • Miami alums saying only that they went to school at “The U.”

Ohio State people started calling their school the Ohio State University (which is technically its full name) sometime in the 1990s. Miami became The U in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when its football teams were dominating with attitude.

Miami and Ohio State folks have briefly, occasionally clashed over ownership of the word “the” in the context of school intros. A fun Palm Beach Post note from 2010:

Cardinal Newman coach Steve Walsh, an ex-’Cane and NFL quarterback from 1989-99, on boasting Buckeyes: “That really kills me, proclaiming themselves ‘The.’ It’s almost like somebody saying, ‘Oh, you need to start calling me ‘Sir.’ “

Equal time to [former Buckeye Brian] Hartline: “I think The Ohio State took care of The U this past week or so, so that’s all that really matters.”

But what the heck is it about “The?”

”The one and only, I guess,” Hartline says. “I don’t know what it means.”

“For former Buckeyes then playing at the next level, the silly adherence to the pedantic official school name was a way to puff out their chests and rep the university on national television,” Matt Tamanini of Buckeyes blog Land-Grant Holy Land told me.

These days, you might hear a player from any university adding an emphatic “the” up front.

Other players sometimes tease their teammates’ emphasis on “the.” During an SNF game featuring the Carolina Panthers, Charles Tillman shouted out his alma mater, the University of Louisiana, right before secondary-mate Kurt Coleman said the Ohio State University.

Player introductions during NFL games have been around since 1970, starting with Monday Night Football.

“We ask them to say give us your name and school, and then it’s up to them as to how creative or straightforward they want to be,” Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli told SB Nation. “I mean as long as it’s in good taste, we let them say you know pretty much whatever they want. I don’t think we’ve ever had somebody use bad taste, but that would be the line in the sand, if you will.”

The idea of the introductions actually originated from player intros on college football broadcasts. Back then, MNF aired on NBC, so producer Don Ohlmeyer brought them to Monday night. In 2006 when NBC earned the Sunday Night Football broadcast, Gaudelli decided to incorporate them.

“It was important to me and [SNF producer] Drew Esocoff when we came over. We just felt like it’s such a great way to do the obligation that most people don’t pay attention to, but everyone kind of pays attention to the player introductions, so it was important to us. And at the time when we came to NBC I know [executive producer] Dick Ebersol was encouraging us to do that. So it was important to us, and NBC really wanted us to continue it as well.”

Over the years, lots of players have had fun with their own intros.

”Mr. Woodson to you all. You know the school,” Charles Woodson, who went to Michigan, once said on air.

Randy Moss said “Rand University” in 2012, a reference with deep roots:

“Growing up in a low-income area, the one thing we had was a 7-Eleven,” explained Moss’s business manager and one of his closest friends, Donnie “Blue” Jones. “We’ve had all-state athletes here, but because of the environment in which they grew up, people in the community would say, ‘It doesn’t matter. He isn’t going anywhere but Rand University.’

”I was an all-state football player, but when they said that to me, what they meant was that when I was done with high school, I’d be standing at the 7-Eleven drinking a cold beer. That’s the university. I graduated from there.”

Some other notable moments of guys who decided mix it up include Jared Allen’s Culinary Institute intro, Tony Gonzalez’s Anchorman reference, and Terrell Suggs’ “Ball So Hard University.”

“I’ve always loved this concept,” SNF’s Al Michaels told the Post. “It brings the players to life. Brief as it is, it gives the viewers a little insight. Is this guy smiling? Is this guy animated? Is this guy in need of anger management? If you can glance into a guy’s soul in two seconds, this is as good a way as any.”

Some players have thrown in light jabs at their own colleges, spurning them to announce JUCOs, high schools, or elementary schools.

During a Packers-Seahawks game in 2014, Green Bay quarterback and Cal alum Aaron Rodgers said Butte Community College, his JUCO, instead of Cal:

And other Cal alums continued the trend that night:

Packers tight end Richard Rodgers said he went to Cal-Berkeley, but it was all downhill after that for the school.

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who went to Cal from 2004-06, said he went to ‘Oakland Ice City.’

Seahawks defensive lineman Brandon Mebane, who went to Cal from 2003-06, decided to rep Crenshaw High School in his introduction.

The shoutouts are a great recruiting tool for schools, unless a player spoofs his alma mater. These players don’t owe much to their alma maters with these, but the schools surely appreciate a shoutout on national TV over a joke.

The SNF crew welcomes the players’ creativity, too.

“It’s really appreciated,” Gaudelli said. “And you know what’s really fun now is, a lot of the players you have now, they grew up watching this. We had a number of players over the last three or four years say, ‘God, I’ve been waiting my whole life to do this.’ Because they have been watching football since 2000 when this all started on Monday Night Football, and it’s kind of a part of their football-watching experience.”

Gaudelli’s personal favorites include Suggs’ “Duke and Donna University,” shouting out his parents, Woodson’s Michigan intro, and Allen’s “home-schooled, thanks mom.”

Here’s one of Allen shouting out his preschool:

“We encourage the creativity,” Gaudelli continued. “We don’t say ‘hey do something creative.’ I think they know what they can do having watched all these years. And let’s face it, most of the people definitely tend to be straightforward, but there’s always one of two.”

We’ll see which players use their creativity this season on Sunday nights.