First chief hails grand tradition
Last modified 9/25/2008 - 12:17 am
Originally created 092508
First chief hails grand tradition
By The Times-Union
One of college football's greatest traditions was born on Sept. 16, 1978,
when Jim Kidder, Florida State's first Chief Osceola, mounted his horse,
Renegade, then charged down the field at Doak Campbell Stadium and planted
a flaming spear at midfield before a game against Oklahoma State. Saturday,
that tradition comes to the First Coast when Chief Osceola and Renegade
make their first road appearance in 14 years for FSU's game against
Colorado at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
Kidder, who spent 11 years in Jacksonville working with Barnett Bank and
still maintains a home in Ponte Vedra Beach, spent two seasons atop
Renegade and is one of 10 different riders who have appeared as Chief
Osceola on three different horses.
Bill Durham trained the horses until 2003, when he passed the
responsibility to his son, Allen.
Kidder took some time to share his thoughts on what he had to do to become
the first Chief Osceola and how the tradition is treated with the proper
How did you find out about the need for a rider? Did you answer an ad?
They ran an ad in the Florida Flambeau, the school newspaper. And it said,
'Can you ride bareback?' If so, call this number.'
My best friend, Tom Wheeler, and I were sitting in psychology class, and he
was reading the newspaper, and I was taking notes, and he turns to me and
says, 'Hey, you can ride bareback. Why don't you call this number?' I said,
'What's it for?' He said, 'I don't know.' ... He gave me the number, and I
didn't end up calling it, so he called it, and he got Bill Durham's
assistant, who said, 'I can't tell you what it's about, but all I can tell
you is today is the last day to get an application in.' [Wheeler] ended up
driving me down to Bill Durham's office, and I filled out the application.
A couple weeks later, they called me up and said, 'You have been selected
out of some candidates. We would like to have you ride the horse to show us
your riding ability.'
When did you learn exactly what you were trying out for?
It was a secret up until I got there. They said, 'You need to be at this
place and have your riding clothes on because you're going to have to ride
the horse.' When I got there, I asked, 'What is this for?' I don't remember
Mr. Durham giving me a straight answer. He said something about it's
something to do with the school, and you need to be able to ride a horse
bareback. I don't think they actually disclosed it until a little later on
when I actually got selected. ... They tried to keep it a secret as long as
You had to be pretty excited. How hard was it to keep that secret?
I was a 19-year-old college kid. I didn't tell anybody but my best friends.
I kept it a secret [laughs]. It was a secret between me and probably 10
other people, or more.
Even as an accomplished rider since age 6, how nervous were you, not
knowing how the horse would react in front of a full football stadium?
I did a talk at the 30-year reunion [of Chief Osceola riders] with the
Alumni Association the Friday night before the [2008 opening] game, and
they had asked, 'What was your most memorable moment?' I told them most of
you all would probably think it's the first game against Oklahoma State
when I rode out. I told them I was so scared that game that I don't even
remember it. We hadn't practiced with the horse going out on the field in
front of 50,000 screaming fans, football players and bands. We really
didn't know what was going to happen. I was scared to death.
So what is the most memorable experience as Chief Osceola?
The 1979 Orange Bowl [on Jan. 1, 1980] when we played Oklahoma. ... We did
a routine where I was going to chase the Sooner wagon twice around the
middle of the field. They were going to go to their side of the field, and
I was going to my side, then we were going to come up to the center of the
field. I was going to throw the spear, and they were going to fire the
little gun they have. ...
The Orange Bowl people had painted the concrete green around the sides of
the stadium to match the grass. The horse was standing there, and his front
feet were on the grass and his back feet were on the concrete, and a
photographer jumped up in front of him and snapped a flash picture of him.
It scared him, and he jumped, slipped and fell down. The horse was on his
belly. Our handlers had to lift him up. I'm standing there looking at this
... and the horse's eyes are as wide as they can be, his nostrils were
flared. He was hyperventilating. He was just scared to death. The handler
turns to me and says, 'Are you ready to get on?' I'm looking at him, going,
I was going to go up a corridor between the Oklahoma band and people on the
sideline and start chasing the wagon. [The handlers] let him [the horse]
go, and he takes off like a shot. There was an Oklahoma flag-bearer
standing on the end, and he [the horse] cut on her. My knee hit her elbow.
I ended up lapping the Sooner wagon twice. I got to my position to throw
the spear, and they weren't even halfway through their routine. I throw the
spear, and it starts to fall back on me and the horse. ... The Miami Herald
got a picture of it, and you can see the horse's big eye looking at the
flaming spear coming at us. I'll never forget that because I was on for the
ride. Thankfully, he knew the routine and followed it. It was just a little
fast. ... I think they had to pry my legs off the horse. It was pretty
What kind of relationship did you build with Bill Durham, as well as Bobby
and Ann Bowden, and what have those meant to you through the years?
Being with Mr. Durham, when he set this program up, he met with the
Seminole Indian chief and talked to them about what he was doing and told
them how he was going to do this very honorable and respectful. They were
on board with it and supported it.
I saw over the years in working with Bill, that when you give people your
word, it's very important that you honor your word. ... We didn't do any
commercials. We didn't open up new car lots. The horse and the chief only
performed on the football field. ... It was done with honor, respect. I
think that helped when the problem arose [with the NCAA] when a lot of
other schools had to change their [mascot] names. We didn't. We had the
support of the Seminole Tribe. We've been able to keep the name and keep
Working with Mrs. Bowden and coach Bowden, they're just super people, very
honorable people, very gracious people. I saw you can still be a good
person and care about people and still be a huge success.
Do you like the recent changes to the routine, including the more authentic
Chief Osceola costume?
I view them all as positives. It's been 30 years. When we started with me,
the first costume wasn't ready. The Seminole Tribe was actually making it,
and it wasn't ready for the game. We had to put a costume together. It was
a lady's bathrobe. First, we started out with a pair of brown Danskin
pantyhose, and I had some moccasin bedroom slippers that I had to tie onto
my feet with a red cloth because they were too big. We ended up doing away
with the Danskin pantyhose, and I just wore brown corduroys for a while.
I'm all in favor of the new costume.
Where does the Chief Osceola and Renegade pregame routine rank in terms of
college football lore?
I'd say it's got to be right up there, No. 1. Anybody that has seen it,
people remember it. ... It still gives me goose bumps to watch them ride
the horse out and plant the spear. ... There's just so much to it. You've
got a guy dressed up like a Seminole Indian, riding a horse, carrying a
flaming spear, leading the team out. It's like a story. It's about being
unconquered. I think it's the greatest show in college football.
bob.thomas@..., (850) 224-7515