The best jokes and trends don’t always need a logical origin or purpose. Such is the case with Vanderbilt football’s latest victory chant: an homage to the Peter Pan film Hook.
A youtube clip of the VU locker room following their 28-14 victory over Ole Miss has gotten major web traffic this week. It features an emotional Robbie Caldwell, an overjoyed team, and 15 seconds in there is a bizarre-to-the-uninformed chant: “RUFIO! RUFIO! RUFIOO!”
The chant is based on a character from the 1991 movie Hook. Peter Pan (Robin Williams) departs Never-Never Land to grow up. Replacing him as leader of the Lost Boys is a sword-savvy, land-surfing, red-and-black Mohawk donning, smart-mouth: Rufio. The Lost Boys show their support by chanting his name.
How any of that ties in with the Commodores is a bit of a mystery even to the team.
“We’ve just always done it,” senior center Joey Bailey said. “Everybody on the team loves that movie; it’s a great movie. It’s just kind of been our trademark after a big win. We come in and do the Rufio chant.”
Though wide receiver John Cole is captured in the clip as a leading voice of the chant, he’s not really sure why.
“Joey and some guys started that a couple years ago,” he said. “Honestly, that’s about all I know.”
Quarterback Larry Smith, seen prominently shouting the chant in the clip, traced “Rufio” back more accurately. Each year, Vanderbilt freshmen participate in talent show-type skits as part of a teambuilding exercise. Smith and Bailey pieced together a Rufio-fused skit from two years ago that left the team rolling.
“Each year, being that we don’t do hazing at Vanderbilt, the freshmen come in and do skits for fun at the end of camp,” Smith said. “They try and imitate coaches, other players, stuff like that. My sophomore year, DeAndre Jones had a funny skit and the whole team was like “Rufio, Rufio, Rufio!’ and it took off from there.”
In 2003, the Vanderbilt cheerleaders introduced the ‘VU’ hand sign (formed by making a ‘V’ with the index and middle fingers and a ‘U’ with the thumb). The gesture has become increasingly popular. ESPN College Gameday hosts Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstriet flashed the sign when the show was in Nashville for the Vanderbilt-Auburn game in 2008.
With the buzz, and often confusion, surrounding the Rufio chant, Bailey thinks it could potentially take off.
“It was just an inside the locker room thing, but now hopefully they’ll [fans] join in with us when we get another big win,” he said.
The Commodores aren’t channeling the Lost Boys, imaging the face of Captain Hook on their opponents, or nostalgically escaping to their childhoods after wins. But perhaps the significance, if any, of the Rufio chant is irrelevant.
It’s just fun to scream things after a big win.
• Coach Robbie Caldwell will appear at the Ryman Thursday as a guest of Bill Cody’s program, the Opry Country Classic. The show starts at 7 p.m. Caldwell is a noted fan of classic country music.
• The VU defense created three turnovers against Ole Miss, including Eddie Foster’s interception return for a touchdown. The Commodores have three interceptions and seven forced fumbles through the first three games.
The takeaway mindset starts at practice. Defenders must earn a point total (points given for each turnover) to avoid conditioning.
“We try to create turnovers every day in practice and coach Bryant keeps up with how many they create,” Caldwell said. “We try to keep them hungry. They do pushups in the end if they don’t get them.”
• Vanderbilt does not have a game this Saturday. The next contest is Oct. 2 at Connecticut. The team and coaches will take Friday and Saturday off to rest, visit home, and recruit.
“We’re gonna try and let them rejuvenate their legs and get home and see momma,” Caldwell joked. “Daddy too, but Momma’s cookin’.”