November 13, 2018
This past fall I went to my first American football game. Not my first football game, mind you. No, I have four football-crazy brothers and grew up in England, so I’ve seen plenty of those.
Dos Equis, my awesome client, is the official sponsor of the College Football Playoff and as such, invited its agency partners to experience all things college football up close and personal in Knoxville, TN, for an epic game against long-time rivals Florida. While I appreciated the invite – and the obvious spectacle of seeing fanatics at work in the stands – I have to confess I tried to ditch a few times, arguing that other college football fans in the office would enjoy the trip more me. Nice try. But incomplete.
So, on a (very) hot and (very) humid Friday in September, my college football education began. We started with a tour of Dos Equis POS displays in grocery and convenience stores throughout the city. My biggest takeaway was the sea of Tennessee Volunteers’ orange everywhere. Orange cakes, orange balloons, whole families dressed in orange. The day before the game. That’s some dedicated fandom.
Game day, of course, started with tailgating – a blend of intensely competitive games of corn hole in the blistering heat, icy cold Dos everywhere and a career/culinary first (hopefully last): roast gator. On a spit. Take a peek at the boomerang. Apparently, it’s a game-day tradition when the Vols play the Gators.
Next up, the easily impressive and gigantic Neyland Stadium on the University of Tennessee campus, known in recent years for its checkerboard pattern in the stands. Sadly, “Checker Neyland” has been superstitiously associated with a losing streak and ditched – for now – so we didn’t get to see it this trip. What we did see was a spectacular 100,000-strong crowd out in force to see this anticipated showdown.
The atmosphere was electric. And instantly contagious to this newly minted rookie. I found myself suddenly but passionately invested in a Vols win. Which didn’t happen. Not even close. While I have no real clue what was happening on the field, despite the best efforts of a very patient college-football translator, it turns out I just watched a shitty game. The Gators skewered the Vols. But I still loved it. I loved the energy, the excitement and the overwhelming feeling of being part of the crowd and sharing this experience with my fellow Vols fans in my bright orange tee.
My trip probably won’t turn me into a die-hard college football fan, but it did give me a little taste of what it’s like to be one. I still strongly believe that “football” has been wrongly appropriated here in America (I didn’t see much foot hitting ball), but I’m OK with it. And might even consider using the word “soccer” soon.
Roast gator for Thanksgiving, anyone?