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It goes without saying that we all love to watch our teams take home a big win, but even when the Broncos blow an 18-point lead, the Rockies lose 100 games in a single season, and the Avalanche make an early postseason exit, there’s still something that keeps us crawling back to the stadium for more. Whether it’s belting out a pop-punk anthem, watching a 1,000-pound mascot charge across the field, or standing till our feet are sore, partaking in beloved gameday traditions are half the fun—sometimes more, depending on the score—of sports fandom. And although you probably participate with religious fervor, do you know the origin stories behind some of your favorite rituals? Below, we break down the backstory of five of the Centennial State’s most sacred sports traditions.
Ralphie’s Run at the University of Colorado
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This rowdy ritual was voted the best college gameday tradition by Axios readers in August, and if you’ve ever witnessed it firsthand, you know why. Before each University of Colorado home game (pending weather conditions), the Buffaloes’ live mascot—a three-year-old, 800-pound bison named Ralphie—tears across the field in a horseshoe pattern, flanked by student athletes fondly known as Ralphie Handlers.
To put it bluntly, it’s badass, and the tradition stretches all the way back to 1967. The OG Ralphie was actually a gift, donated to the school in 1966 by freshman class officer (the ’60s version of student government) Bill Lowery’s father. At the outset, Ralphie kept a low profile on the sidelines of Folsom Field, silently spurring the Buffs to victory. But that same year, head football coach Eddie Crowder was approached with a more dramatic idea: What if Ralphie charged out onto the field in front of the team?
Naturally, the pitch had to be tested, and on September 16, 1967, she (yes, Ralphie is always a girl), sprinted across the turf alongside sophomore class officers to thunderous applause. CU beat Baylor 27-7 that day, and Ralphie’s Run became something of an instant good luck charm. The tradition has remained intact—through a split national championship and an 1-11 season—although CU administrators decided it would probably be a better idea to have students trained in large-animal handling escort Ralphie, rather than a couple of random sophomores.
The Colorado Avalanche Anthem: “All The Small Things”
To be fair, millennials would probably belt out this Blink-182 banger if it were played in the middle of a shopping mall, but it’s even more electric when 18,000 Avalanche fans are singing it together in Ball Arena. Much like the Broncos’ IN-COM-PLETE chant (see below for more on that), the tradition of scream-singing this 2000 pop-punk anthem during Avalanche games was unintentional—and a relatively recent phenomenon.
Craig Turney, better known as DJ Triple T among the Avs fanbase, heard the throwback song on the radio in fall 2019 and decided to add it to the playlist for Avalanche home games. “You don’t even have to like rock, that song is just one of those feel-good universal tunes that you can’t help but sing along to,” Turney told NHL.com.
And they couldn’t. When the song blared through the Ball Arena speakers for the first time during a pause in play, Turney noticed that some of the crowd kept singing even after the music faded and play resumed. He knew he had something. Then, it became all about timing—finding the sweet spot during the game to deploy the song. That magic moment is often midway through the third period, usually when the Avs are up and the crowd can really let loose. For just a minute, Ball Arena transforms into a Warped Tour concert, and even when the puck drops, the singing continues.
That’s the goosebump-inducing part: when the music stops and the fans rattle the rafters with “Say it ain’t so, I will not go.” The refs have even had to delay the puck drop once because the singing was so earsplitting. The song has become such a signature to the franchise that Blink-182 frontman Mark Hoppus himself led the crowd in an unforgettable singalong of “All the Small Things” at the 2022 Avalanche home opener while the team hoisted up its most recent championship banner.
Denver Broncos IN-COM-PLETE Chant
Some of the most clung-too gameday rites are the ones that start unintentionally. Such is the case for the Denver Broncos’ IN-COM-PLETE chant. The diss originated in 1996 when the Broncos were on a hot streak (remember those?). Denver was squaring up against the Kansas City Chiefs on a chilly October Sunday and had taken a commanding lead going into the third quarter. Down by three touchdowns, the Chiefs needed to change strategies, and they were hoping quarterback Steve Bono’s arm might rescue their lackluster running game.
But even hope can’t turn Steve Bono into Tom Brady. Pass after pass, Bono failed to find a receiver, and the Broncos public-address announcer Alan Cass fell into a hypnotizing incantation. It wasn’t a zealous scream, but rather a succinct statement delivered with gusto after each unsuccessful attempt: “That pass was IN-COM-PLETE.” Cass parroted the phrase nine plays in a row, and eventually, without prompting, the fans joined the chorus.
From there, the dig took on a life of its own, ringing out at Mile High after every pass incompletion, eventually buttressed by stadium graphics and sound effects. The Broncos claim the tradition got so rambunctious that the NFL even asked the organization to stop leading the chant. We aren’t, the announcers replied, the fans are. So although not everyone seems to love this snub, don’t expect it to be squashed anytime soon.
Charlie Blackmon’s Walk-Up Song
Right fielder Charlie Blackmon isn’t one for change. He’s been a constant on the Rockies’ roster for 12 years now; his beloved beard seems to be a permanent facial feature; and his walk-up song has been the same since college. “It didn’t catch on in college,” Blackmon told Mlbplayers.com, “but I stuck with the song because it worked for me and I liked it.”
And while it makes sense that “Your Love” didn’t resonate with Georgia Tech students (they do like their girls a little bit older, after all), it certainly found its fanbase with the Rockies. While Blackmon strolls up to home plate, “Josie’s on a vacation far away” croons out over Coors Field, and just as the music stops at 15 seconds, the crowd picks up the lyrics, yelling “TONIIIIIGHT.” There’s really no telling why Blackmon’s walk-up song has morphed into a tradition for the masses (although it is a little bit easier to sing than Kris Bryant’s “Tequila Shots”), but as Blackmon’s five-year extension comes to an end this year, you might want to sing it extra loud this season for old time’s sake.
Firing the Cannon at Colorado State University
This storied CSU sports tradition might scare the jersey right off of you, if you don’t know it’s coming. During every home game national anthem, after every touchdown and field goal, and at the end of every winning game, ROTC cadets at CSU fire off “Comatose,” a 1918 French 75mm field gun (aka a cannon). This noisy custom isn’t just intended to blow out the eardrums of CSU’s opponents—although that’s a bonus—it’s actually an explosive ode to the school’s origins as the state’s land-grant institution.
The Morrill Act of 1862 led to the advent of land-grant institutions, including CSU, and required all schools to offer mandatory military training to all males. In 1916, CSU (then the Colorado Agricultural College) created an artillery-focused ROTC unit in Fort Collins. Conveniently, Colorado Field sat right across the street from the college’s Military Science Complex, making it the perfect place to conduct artillery practice.
The tradition of setting off the cannon at home games began four years later in 1920—although it wasn’t the “Comatose” that rings out today. The university went through a rotating cast of cannons throughout the years—and even had to send its cannon back to the Army in 1945 when the government recalled all guns from college campuses to be used in World War II. The Army made up for it 1952 when it gifted CSU with its very own French 75 to keep: Comatose. Today, this 20th-century gun signals the start of a different kind of battle and reminds fans of the school’s unbreakable ties to the armed forces.