Unlike the NFL, college football is a game of signs and symbols.
Signs and symbols pop up in almost every facet of college football culture: The meme-able, fan-made signs that make their way behind ESPN’s College GameDay to mock Mike Gundy’s mullet. The unmistakable hand gestures thrown up to hook ’em for the ‘Horns, pitch ’em for the Sun Devils, and shout out “The U” for Miami’s much-beloved institution of higher learning.
About little under a decade ago, as the West Coast, no-huddle offense began to evolve, these signs started making their way onto the sidelines and into the game of college football itself. First it was in the PAC-12, where Oregon’s Chip Kelly ran a high-tempo offense with a unique, mysterious sideline signaling system in the 2010 season. The strategy worked, marching the Oregon Ducks to a BCS title game against Cam Newton’s Auburn, where they lost by a field goal.
The next season, these play cards popped up everywhere, capturing the attention of arm-chair fans everywhere for their randomness and hidden meaning. Anything is fair game on these cards: Emojis, popular memes like the Crying Jordan, video game characters, rappers, fast food chain symbols, sports teams, movie characters, ESPN personalities, etc.
Years after being popularized by Chip Kelly, play cards are still widely used on college football sidelines. To deconstruct what these signs mean to the players on the field, I sat down with former UCLA outside linebacker Kevin McReynolds. In the video above — which we’re calling “Play Card Playback” — Kevin dishes some real-talk on what these ridiculous signs really mean to the game of college football, as a whole.