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College football is built on tradition. From the Sooner Schooner to Howard’s Rock, Ralphie the Buffalo, and even Lee Corso’s College Gameday picks, it oozes from every coach, player, and fan. Florida State knows quite a bit about building great traditions.
If you find yourself near Doak Campbell Stadium on a Saturday, you’re sure to hear the chant of the Seminoles. Their high-decibel war cry rattles the ground as garnet and gold fans echo the tribal song that has been a staple of FSU pride. As kick-off approaches, the crowd lifts to the sight of Osceola and Renegade charging onto the field, flames spewing from the back of his spear. The Seminole thrusts it into the turf as everyone chants, “Uhhhhhh-Who”.
This duo has been the Doak Campbell Stadium hype-man and FSU symbol for the last 42 years. What started as a homecoming idea, took almost 15 years to find it’s way onto the field. Bill Durham was looking to amp up school spirit in 1962, and what better way than a guy riding a horse with a flaming spear? Unfortunately, the school shut down the concept, as the idea of a horse on the field had a few logistical flaws at the time—if it had been pitched to me I would have jumped on it immediately.
Durham held onto his idea until he approached head coach Bobby Bowden and his wife, expressing deep interest in making it happen—Bowden was sold. Durham then met with Seminole Chief, Howard Tommie, who helped educate him on the history of the tribe and the story of Osceola. At the time, it was important for the program to have full permission and collaboration with the local Seminole tribe, as well as foster the connection that would lay the foundation for a new college football custom.
Known for his relentless battle against U.S. forces in the 1830s, Osceola was a passionate fighter known for his influence. Though most think he was a chief, he actually wasn’t—sorry to disappoint all those fans using that as their office ice breaker. But, he was uncompromising nonetheless, putting up brutal fights against U.S. troops until he passed away from illness. His spirit and refusal to be conquered was revered by the Seminole people and by Durham and company.
Before the 1978 showdown between FSU and Oklahoma State kicked off, Jim Kidder rode out on Renegade 1—a blazing, leopard Appaloosa horse. With flaming spear in hand, he drove it into the turf, sparking a stadium-wide eruption that shook the cowboys in their boots and led the Seminoles to a 38-20 win. That was the beginning of an FSU legend.
For the last 40 years, fans, coaches, and players have united under this moment, intimidating those who’ve ventured into their territory. It’s a sign of the unconquerable mentality that FSU brings to the field.
This unconquerable mentality is something that must be carried by those who get the privilege of putting on the Osceola attire and mounting up Renegade. Finding your way into this elite circle of people is no easy task. Those who’ve done so went through a rigorous 2 -year internship that covers the Seminole history and extensive equestrian training.
Not only that, but you have to answer to the man himself, Mr. Durham. Since it’s inception, his family has been in charge of the entire process. From housing and training multiple Renegades, to selecting and training the next Osceola, they’ve watched all 18 people wear the tribal regalia and take the field.
Students interested in the opportunity must first have a 3.0 GPA, upstanding moral character, and the ability to ride bareback—that’s right, bareback. Talk about being an athlete. Those who qualify have personal interviews with the Durham family, FSU board members, Osceola Alumni, and even some one-on-one with Renegade. This process can take up to six months, with only one Osceola being chosen at the end.
Even then, you will spend 2 years doing everything except riding at games. It’s considered one of the biggest honors at FSU and reserved exclusively for games.
The Osceola program has seen six Renegades in their 42-year history. In 2014, FSU retired what would be considered their most popular steed, Renegade 5. The black and white Appaloosa helped wave goodbye to Bobby Bowden, after his 33-year tenor as head coach, as well as lead Jimbo Fisher to his first national championship in 2013.
Renegades are exclusively Appaloosa, which was traditionally ridden by the Seminole Tribe, and the Durham family trains between two and four horses for the program. Though they’re traditionally on point during the performance, they did take a tumble in the 2016 Orange Bowl which brought some laughs from the crowd.
The tradition of Chief Osceola and Renegade is one for college football history. It’s origins tie FSU to a group of people that show unwavering loyalty and grit that is brought to the field every weekend and engrained in the hearts of every fan. Most schools have a mascot, some have an icon, but at FSU this duo is a symbol—a symbol that stands something more than football.