Like its famous Masked Rider, LSU fans seeing their Tigers play the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Tuesday’s Texas Bowl is more mystery than a rival to get heated up about. LSU and Texas Tech have only played twice in football, back in 1954 and 1957, and while Tigers fans may have learned by now that the Red Raiders have one of the nation’s best offenses and worst defenses, they probably know little about the school and its history. Here’s a primer on the Red Raiders and their traditions:
Texas Tech was founded in 1923 as Texas Technical College. Today, the school boasts more than 35,000 students in 300 degree programs. Its campus in Lubbock is the only one for a major college in the state of Texas that has a law school and a medical school on its grounds.
THE MASKED RIDER AND HORSE
The oldest and most popular mascot at Texas Tech, the tradition of the Masked Rider began in 1936 as something called the “ghost rider,” a figure that would circle the field at home football games, then disappear. The Masked Rider became Texas Tech’s official mascot 61 years ago, when rider Joe Kirk Fulton led the Red Raiders onto the field against Auburn in the 1954 Gator Bowl. Since then, 54 students — Anne Lynch was the first female Masked Rider in 1974 — and 14 horses have served in the mascot’s role. The current Masked Rider is Rachel McLelland of Tijeras, New Mexico, and her horse is Fearless Champion, a 10-year-old quarter horse who has been part of the tradition since 2013. Fearless Champion’s name comes from a line in one of Texas Tech’s fight songs, the “Matador Song.”
Living in Austin in the early 1970s and facing constant “Hook ’em Horns” hand gestures from Texas fans, 1961 Texas Tech graduate L. Glenn Dippel and his wife, Roxie, decided to come up with a symbol of their own for their school. Their answer was the “Guns Up” gesture, which has become a widely recognized greeting among Red Raiders fans. The sign is made by extending the index finger upward and the thumb outward to form a “gun.”
VICTORY BELLS AND SADDLE TRAMPS
If Texas Tech beats LSU in the Texas Bowl, someone back on the campus in Lubbock will ring the Victory Bells, which hang in a tower at the school’s administration building. The bells have rung since 1936, mostly after Texas Tech athletic victories. The bell ringers come from a student booster group known as the Saddle Tramps, an organization of about 50 male students who take the lead in a supporting Texas Tech athletics and appearing at special campus events. The group gets its handle from a name given to traveling ranch hands who would briefly do work on a farm, then move on.
WILL ROGERS STATUE
One of the best-known landmarks on the Texas Tech campus is a 10-foot tall statue of famous entertainer and social commentator Will Rogers aboard his horse Soapsuds. Dedicated in 1950 by Rogers’ long-time friend Amon G. Carter (for whom TCU’s football stadium is named), the statue is wrapped in red crepe paper before every Texas Tech home game. Legend has it that the original plan was to have the statue face due west so that Rogers, who died 80 years ago, would be perpetually riding into the sunset. But that would have meant the rear end of the horse would have been facing downtown Lubbock. So, as the story goes, the statue was turned 23 degrees to the east so that Soapsuds’ posterior would be pointed in the direction of Texas A&M’s campus, a solution that apparently served two purposes.
Actor G.W. Bailey (“M*A*S*H,” “The Closer”) … Baylor coach Art Briles … Oakland Raiders WR Michael Crabtree … Singer/actor John Denver … CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley … WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes … St. Louis Rams WR Wes Welker