Secret of Fun, Obnoxious, Inescapable S-E-C Chant

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Published on January 8 2018 6:14 am
Last Updated on January 8 2018 6:14 am
Written by Millie Lange

By ESPN

You know the chant. Odds are, you hate the chant.

And yet you know it's coming, possibly louder and longer than ever, at Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T (8 pm. ET, ESPN and ESPN App). The SEC isn't a league known for biting its collective tongue. It's also a league swelling with unique pride and never bashful to show it to whoever is within earshot.

As Georgia and Alabama prepare to play for a title, the SEC will mark a historic night in the league's unofficial capital of Atlanta. The celebration is sure to include the repeated reciting of three letters that make most college football fans want to cover their ears and scream.

S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!

It's the verbal champagne -- check that, Southern Comfort -- sprayed upon forlorn fans from other conferences, usually when victory is in hand. The chant has blown up in the past decade or so, as the SEC has collected national titles.

While the chant is instantly recognizable, little is known about its origins. It surfaced at times during the 1980s when SEC teams played bowl games or intersectional contests. But there's not an agreed-upon starting point.

What can be traced is when a fan base started chanting S-E-C on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, the loyalists belonged to a program that wasn't yet an SEC member, and they used the chant as a response to years of being branded an outsider in its previous conference.

Meet the Arkansas Razorbacks of the early 1990s.

The setting: Reunion Arena, Dallas

The date: March 10, 1991

The event: Southwest Conference basketball tournament final

On Aug. 2, 1990, Arkansas agreed to join the SEC, ending its 76-year run as a member of the Southwest Conference. Despite its charter status in the SWC, Arkansas had grown frustrated as the league's only member outside the state of Texas.

"Being a one-state conference with the exception of Arkansas, it was an unusual conference," said Dan Ferritor, Arkansas' chancellor from 1986 to 1997. "The SEC was a conference a little more like Arkansas: state schools, similar academic programs. We weren't running away from something. We were running to something."

Unlike fan bases involved in recent realignment moves, Arkansas supporters didn't leave the SWC kicking and screaming.

"We always had this chip on our shoulder that we were always getting screwed, by the ref, by big brother at the University of Texas," said Rob Janes, an Arkansas native who started attending Razorback games when he was 6. "We never felt like it was equal footing. So we never had Southwest Conference pride. We had state pride."

Despite the impending move, Arkansas competed in the Southwest Conference for all sports during the 1990-91 season and in football in 1991. The football team went 3-8 in 1990, its first losing season since 1967, and SWC fans would mock the Hogs with the "S-E-C" chant. But revenge came during basketball season.

Arkansas basketball was a powerhouse from 1990 to 1995, averaging 29.1 wins with a national title and three Final Four appearances. In March 1991, Nolan Richardson's team blitzed through the league tournament, averaging 112 points in three wins and thumping Texas 120-89 in the championship game.

"You talk about a raucous, boisterous S-E-C chant," said Tim DeVore, a longtime Arkansas season-ticket holder. "It was our last tournament, and everyone knew it. You couldn't yell any louder."

Fans nicknamed the Reunion Arena "Barnhill South," a reference to Barnhill Arena, Arkansas' home court.

"It was like 75 percent Razorback fans," Janes said. "We were having so much fun at the end of the game chanting, 'S-E-C, S-E-C' as they were cutting down the nets."

The setting: War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock

The date: Oct. 19, 1991

The event: Arkansas-Texas football game

Arkansas had several rivals in the Southwest Conference, but none chafed Hogs fans quite like Texas. A year earlier, Texas fans had mocked Arkansas with the "S-E-C!" chant as the Longhorns thumped the Razorbacks by 32 in Austin. But Arkansas bounced back with a 14-13 win on this day.

The Hogwild Band played "All My Ex's Live In Texas," a frequent refrain during league games that fall, and fans broke out the "S-E-C!" chant in the final minutes in Little Rock.

"I never heard that chant inside the SEC," said Jack Crowe, Arkansas' head coach that season, who had previously been an offensive coordinator at Auburn. "By breaking up the Southwest Conference, with us leaving, we were at the cutting edge of rebranding the SEC. It's only right we brag about it by chanting it.

"It was sort of, 'In your face, Texas.'"

An improved Hogs team and the impending departure emboldened Arkansas fans during the early part of the season.

"You had years of feeling like you got the short end of the stick," said Kevin Trainor, then an Arkansas student who now serves as an associate athletic director at the school. "So when Arkansas got accepted to the SEC, certainly they played at Southwest Conference venues, and other schools weren't happy we were leaving. [The SEC chant] was a source of pride for Arkansas fans because they were chanting toward their Southwest Conference brethren that they were heading toward bigger and better things."

The setting: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville

The date: Nov. 2, 1991

The event: Arkansas-Baylor football game

Arkansas' final on-campus game as a Southwest Conference member took place on a cold, miserable afternoon. The Hogs still had a chance at the league title but lost their starting quarterback and eventually fell to Baylor by the bizarre score of 9-5.

Baylor coach Grant Teaff, who strongly opposed Arkansas' departure from the league, said afterward, "My daddy always told me, when a friend dies, you wear a coat and tie. So I wore a coat and tie."

Sally Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated: "The final Southwest Conference game in Razorback Stadium was played before nearly 8,000 empty seats, and among the fans who attended, the most impassioned chant was 'SEC! SEC!' in anticipation of the Razorbacks' controversial departure for the Southeastern Conference next season."

"I think the SEC chant really incentivized Baylor," Crowe said. "If there was one group and one leader who really seized on the emotion, it was Grant and those guys."

Crowe remembered a conversation he had had with athletic director Frank Broyles, the legendary Arkansas football coach, about possibly joining the SEC. The process was well underway, and Broyles asked Crowe what he thought about the move.

"There's one Texas in the Southwest Conference. There's five Texases in the SEC," Crowe told Broyles. "We were going to have to step it up. When I heard that chant, I said, 'Thank goodness we've got great enthusiasm, because it's going to take an investment in that enthusiasm to be able to compete over there.'

"The whole year, our students, our fan base, they were totally focused on going to the SEC. I heard it all the time. 'S-E-C. S-E-C.'"
The Aftermath

Arkansas began competing in all sports as an SEC member in 1992, and the S-E-C chant surfaced periodically throughout the league in the 1990s. Arkansas fans chanted during the basketball team's NCAA tournament runs, in the 1999 Citrus Bowl against Michigan and the following year at the Cotton Bowl as the Hogs whipped Texas 27-6. But it didn't truly pick up steam around the league until the SEC began its run of national titles.

Florida players did the chant after upsetting Ohio State to win the BCS national title game after the 2006 season. A year later, LSU players famously chanted, "S-E-C" behind the Fox set after beating Ohio State to win the national title.

As SEC hegemony grew, so did the attention around the chant. It's a staple at bowl games against teams from other Power 5 leagues. When Arkansas thumped Texas in the 2014 Texas Bowl -- a game best remembered for former coach Bret Bielema calling the final kneel-downs "borderline erotic" -- Razorback fans revived the S-E-C chant. They did it last year while visiting former Southwest Conference foe TCU.

"The funny thing about the SEC chant overall is that, clearly, you didn't hear other conferences doing that," Trainor said. "It would usually be late in games, a farewell and a reminder."

Since Monday's national title game features no team outside the SEC to taunt with the chant, perhaps it won't be as noticeable. But fans from around the league will celebrate the moment, including those in Hog Country.

"It's a great source of pride, for everybody in the SEC," Ferritor said. "To have Alabama and Georgia in the big game, I don't know if I should say, 'Roll Tide' or, 'Get 'Em Dawgs,' but we'll all be chanting, 'S-E-C!'"

 

Monday, January 8 Schedule (Time Central)

Alabama vs. Georgia, 7:00 p.m.

CFP National Championship