Capitalizing on the cowbell craze that swept BankAtlantic Center last season, the [Florida] Panthers will give out 15,000 red cowbells at Saturday’s 2008-09 home opener. Don’t forget to bring earplugs.
Cowbells won’t just be for supporting the team, they’ll be introducing the team’s new inflatable mascot. Fear not, the popular Dancing Banana will still be making appearances this season.
The cowbell phenomenon at the Panthers started last December when Murphy Burch, a Panthers fan from Cooper City who will be dropping a ceremonial first puck Saturday, saw fans ringing cowbells at a Chicago Wolves minor league hockey game.
Burch, known as "VanMurph" on his Panthers jersey, had grown tired of noisy fans of opposing teams outnumbering -- or at least out-cheering -- Panthers fans at BankAtlantic Center. He bought a couple of cowbells to a game, then a couple more for some friends. Cowbells became a topic on the Panthers message board. Soon a clip of the popular Saturday Night Live skit in which Christopher Walken pleads for Blue Oyster Cult to use “more cowbell,” was playing on the scoreboard and cowbells were for sale at the team’s Pantherland store.
Read Burch's explanation of the cowbell movement here.
While the SNL skit has given renewed life to cowbells in pop culture, the cowbell has been intertwined with sports for years. Popular at minor league and college hockey games, cowbells have also been heard at the Olympics in support of downhill skiers and at bicycling races, among other events.
They’ve been so popular at college football games that the SEC instituted a ban on the noisy bells, threatening a loss of yardage should they get too loud. Fans of Mississippi State still smuggle in the bells.
The Tampa Bay Rays adopted cowbells in 2007 because principal team owner Stuart Sternberg loves the SNL skit. They’ve been handed out to Rays fans – fans in opposing team jerseys are denied – and are used when opposing players have two strikes.
Wikipedia has an entry on cowbells, including four paragraphs about their use in sports.