Picture this: you’re watching the Super Bowl on your big-screen TV. A player from your favorite team scores the winning touchdown. When he rips off his helmet, you say: “Hey, that guy was in my Russian Lit class!”
Whether you’re looking to hobnob with future sports stars or become a pro-athlete yourself, here are five schools where athletic programs spur students on to major league success:
University of California, Los Angeles, CA
Ever heard of Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Troy Aikman, or Jackie Joyner-Kersee? Sure. What about Ann Meyers, the only female player to sign a contract with the NBA? In 1980, Meyers signed a $50,000 contract with the Indiana Pacers. Although she never made the team, Meyers went on to an illustrious career in broadcasting, and became yet another legend who started as a UCLA Bruin. Everything about UCLA seems elite: they play in Sports Illustrated’s top college sports venue (the Rose Bowl); they’ve sent 70 players to the NBA and 62 to baseball’s major leagues; they have an electric rivalry with cross-town rival USC. The week before the football game between these two Los Angeles Schools is know at UCLA as “Blue and Gold,” or “Beat ‘SC Week,” during which UCLA students camp out to protect their Bruin mascot statue from SC vandalism. The winner of the USC-UCLA football game secures the Victory Bell, originally a UCLA antique from the Southern Pacific Railroad, stolen by USC. Luckily USC hasn’t even come close to ‘stealing’ UCLA’s most glorious possession: its 104 NCAA championships, the most in the nation.
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
One word to describe LSU fans? Rowdy. The proof? After LSU scored the winning touchdown in a 1988 football game against Auburn, Tiger fans cheered so loud that a seismograph in the geology department registered tremors akin to those of an earthquake! Even their colors, purple and gold, are taken from traditional Mardi Gras colors (Tulane University took the remaining color, green). And tailgating at LSU makes Baton Rouge look like Bourbon Street: tailgates feature thousands of fans devouring Cajun specialties like jambalaya and crawfish. But even though they party hard, LSU scores big across sports. Temeka Johnson and Semione Augustus, WNBA Rookies of the Year for 2005 and 2006 respectively, were both Lady Tigers. In 2007, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell beat out Notre Dame darling Brady Quinn as the #1 NFL draft pick, due to the recent Tiger triumph in the Sugar Bowl. Perhaps the most famous pro-athlete to come out of the bayou is Shaquille O’Neal , current Cleveland Cavaliers center and four-time NBA champion.
The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Sports are a way of life at Ohio State, and not just for athletes. Ohio State sporting events are also a showcase for the Buckeye marching band, boldly dubbed TBDBITL, “The Best Damn Band in the Land,” which is known for playing “Hang on Sloopy” at desperate moments in football games, and for forming the script letters of “Ohio.” The dotting of the i in Ohio was named ESPN’s #1 college football tradition, showing that it’s not only the athletes who are celebrated. Ohio State alums are also great at supporting and managing sports teams—college coaching greats Urban Meyer and Bobby Knight were both Buckeyes, as was Yankees manager George Steinbrenner (before becoming a target of merciless mockery on Seinfeld). Of course, though, there are the athletes– golfer Jack Nicklaus, Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk, and 2007’s #1 NBA draft pick, Greg Oden. Oden, along with that year’s #5 pick, Mike Conley Jr., played on the OSU team that lost to Florida in the NCAA championship game. Women’s basketball is also a strong point: 2008 WNBA Finals MVP Katie Smith was a Buckeye.
The University of Texas at Austin, Austn, TX
Celebrity fan Matthew McConaughey knows what he’s doing when he dons orange and flashes his ‘Hook ‘Em Horns.’ Cheering for the University of Texas at Austin pays off. Football dominated the undefeated USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl; men’s basketball’s reached the Elite Eight twice in the past four years (CHECK), and baseball has gone to the College World Series more than any other school. UT is the home to thrilling rivalries. The football team faces Texas A&M in an annual Thanksgiving day face-off, and Oklahoma in a Cotton Bowl match dubbed the “Red River Shootout.” Sooners fans at the shootout blast Texas fans by making an upside-down Longhorn sign with their hands. It’s not only cheering for UT that pays off, however; playing for them pays off, too. Longhorns who have charged into the pros include Roger Clemens, Vince Young, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant. But the Longhorn ladies are just as successful: this year, four UT soccer players were drafted into the Women’s Professional Soccer league.
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
BC’s motto, “ever to excel,” may be what spurs Eagles athletes on to such impressive careers at pro athletes. Look at quarterbacks alone! There are the legends, like Doug Flutie, who during his time at BC was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, Heisman Trophy winner, and the executor of an unforgettable Hail Mary pass– then went on to be a pro-bowl quarterback. There are the family acts, like NFL quarterbacks Matt and Tim Hasselbeck, who each met their wives at Boston College (all four, including The View host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, were BC athletes). Then there’s the next big thing: Matt Ryan was 2007 ACC Player of the Year as the Eagles’ quarterback, then signed the largest NFL rookie contract in history with the Atlanta Falcons. Athletes from this Jesuit university of 14,000 undergrads also excel on the ice: every year, the BC hockey team competes with Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston University in Boston’s Beanpot Tournament, which gives a needed dose of excitement for the first two dreary Mondays of February. BC has had 41 players drafted to the NHL, including Brian Leetch, the only American winner of the Conn Smythe Playoff MVP award.