Having trouble waiting until the start of college football season?
In a series on Sundays, the Times Free Press is providing top-three lists on various Southeastern Conference topics. Today's list contains the best big-screen productions before a game.
Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium is the second-smallest venue in the SEC with a capacity of 55,082, but it has the league's largest high-definition video board and the fourth largest in college football.
Beginning last season, MSU's video board showed the popular Saturday Night Live skit from April 2000 with Christopher Walken as fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson and Will Ferrell as fictional Blue Oyster Cult cowbell player Gene Frenkle. The skit portrays a Blue Oyster Cult recording session from 1976 in which Dickinson is intrigued by the cowbell in the band's classic hit "Don't Fear the Reaper."
"Last year, we were given the opportunity by the Southeastern Conference to bring our cowbells into Davis Wade Stadium on a trial basis to see if we could ring them at appropriate times," MSU director of athletic marketing Chad Thomas said. "We had heard from our fans for several years about using the Saturday Night Live skit about needing more cowbell and putting that on a video board. We just didn't think before last year that it was appropriate because technically cowbells were still considered artificial noisemakers that were supposed to be banned from the stadium.
"It came to fruition when we were allowed to bring them in, so we made it part of the educational process."
Mississippi State pays royalty fees to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which allows the university to use clips and music at home events.
The Saturday Night Live skit is stopped each Saturday on the video board moments before its conclusion. At that point, a different State celebrity such as former coach Jackie Sherrill or former 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Dixon appears on the screen to point out the appropriate times in which fans can ring their cowbells.
After the MSU celebrity gets his message across, he says, "I respect the bell. Do you?"
Then the SNL skit resumes, as delirious Bulldogs fans hear Walken exclaim, "I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell."
"We'll use it again this year," Thomas said. "We haven't decided if we will use different celebrities again, because we're not sure if the message got lost because of who the celebrity was. The message is very important, and we want to make sure it is consistent."
Almost every SEC school shows a highlight video before kickoff of those great plays from years gone by, and Alabama has its share from which to pick. Yet Van Tiffin's kick to beat Auburn in 1985 or George Teague's strip of Miami receiver Lamar Thomas in the Sugar Bowl following the 1992 season can't ignite Crimson Tide fans the way their current chief can.
Once the highlights end on the video boards in the four corners of Bryant-Denny Stadium, the doors to Alabama's locker room open and out walks Nick Saban with his players close behind. The short journey Saban and his team make from the locker room to the back of the end zone is shown to the audience of 101,000-plus, making this a simple concept that works very well.
"We were trying to come up with something good that linked a minute-long video that would lead into the team running out on the field," Alabama associate athletic director Jeff Purinton said. "It kind of just evolved in a way. People really liked the door opening up and Coach Saban walking out and being followed down the tunnel.
"And he was fine with it. We've run a few things by him, and he's always been good about working with what our graphics people and video people come up with."
While these vast video boards reflect a modern aspect to the college football experience, they don't have to take away from yesteryear.
Nobody seems to mesh the old with the new better than Georgia, which uses its video board to gain a close-up of the solo trumpeter playing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in Sanford Stadium's southwest corner of the upper deck. There are a pair of pregame video highlights, with one played to The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and the other to Nickelback's remake of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)."
It's the best 1-2 musical punch going right now in the SEC, even if Saturday night didn't really fit last year for the Bulldogs and their slew of lunchtime kickoffs.