Centre College fraternity takes "Dead Fred" to home games

DANVILLE- College football fans love their game day tradition. At Tennessee, they play Rocky Top, Georgia brings a bulldog onto the field and Kentucky's Wildcat does pushups to match the score. But Centre College may have one of the most unique traditions.

It centers on the school’s most famous alumnus… Fred Vinson… class of 1909. Every member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity knows his bio.

Student Chandler Sneed said, "Fred Vinson is a very significant student. He graduated in 09 at the top of his class. Even had the opportunity to play professional baseball but he turned that down to pursue law.”

Vinson was a US Congressman for 12 years, who went on to be the nation’s treasury secretary and eventually, chief justice of the Supreme Court. But here, at the Phi Delt house, he’s better known as Dead Fred.

But his portrait doesn’t just hang around-- it's the fraternity’s off-the-wall game day tradition.

Phi Delt Max Mazza said "When he was alive, he never missed a game and we never want him to miss a game.”

Sometimes, there are just a couple of brothers who can take Fred to the tailgate parties. 75 percent of the Phi Delts are tied up before the game, because they’re on the team.

For a couple hours, Fred watches people pass from behind glass and just before kickoff, he gets a lift to the stadium. Fans file behind as he makes his entrance.

David Bettis was a Phi Delt when this tradition started in 1967.

“I try to come back every year, so that would be 49 years," he said. "But yeah, I expect to see Dead Fred at the games. He needs to be there."

“The first guy that took Fred M. Vinson to a football game was this fellow right here… Mike Dyer," he said, pointing out a class picture on the frat house wall.

He remembers they did it on a whim, actually taking the portrait off campus to Indiana just to show off their famous brother.

“I even questioned it at the time but, being an upperclassman, thought if that’s what the guys want to do, that’s OK.”

The portrait never goes off campus now, but does show up at other big events at Centre such as the 2012 vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

At the stadium, Dead Fred presides over each touchdown, and there are a lot of them. The Colonels have lost just one home game in the past four years.

Sneed said, “ So we take him as a good luck charm and we’re going to keep that going.”

“You know. I hope he’d appreciate it. I think he’d like it. I’m sure he’d be glad that he’s contributing to what we do today.”

There’s no way to know if the team would perform differently without Fred’s attendance, but he sure provides the framework for a lot of fun.


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