“Go Vols!”: a love letter to college football

A loving reminder to not discount the excitement of college football


Photo courtesy of utk.edu

Game day at the University of Tennessee

Mr. Pietrofitta, College football enthusiast

Guest essayist Mr. Pietrofitta reminds us that, amid the joy and chaos that is professional football, there is another exciting world full of traditions, super fans and competition.


As a lifelong Southjersian, I grew up a die hard Eagles fan who still bleeds green to this day. I’ve lived through the great years, the bad years, a Superbowl win, and yes…even the forgettable Rick Kotite years. For the most part I ignored college football. New Jersey does not have great college football teams. In fact, you have to travel about four hours before you get to a team that has a decent history of being a solid program. I have no family members who went to schools who have great football programs. Therefore, I was a lifelong NFL guy and ignored college football. 

Until 2013. 

One weekend in October I booked a $75 round trip flight on Spirit Airlines, otherwise known as “The Milk Crate Express” due to their terrible seat cushions, to see my father in Florida for a weekend. I was poolside on a beautiful Saturday morning enjoying some sun when my Dad’s neighbor swung by on a golf cart with a huge orange T on the hood. Gordon Brown, from east Tennessee…a tall man, with an incredibly deep voice, a smooth southern drawl, and a Volunteers hat on: 

“Nice to meet you, junior.”

“Nice to meet you as well, Gordon.” I replied. 

“What are you doing this afternoon?”

“Nothing much. I think I’ll just sit around the pool, catch up with pop, and enjoy the sun”, I responded. 

“Why don’t you come on down to my place to watch my Tennessee Volunteers kick South Carolina’s backside.” Gordon stated. 

“Gordon, I appreciate the offer, but I don’t watch college football. I never really got into it.”

“You’ll be into it after one afternoon at my place. Come on down, son. I’m having about 20 people over.”

I had no excuse not to go. This nice guy, after knowing me for 10 seconds, invited me out of nowhere to watch his favorite team. Once I arrived I realized these people were deep into this. Orange shirts. Four TV’s going with the Vols game on the biggest one. Food. Drinks. Gordon’s dog, Misha, had a Volunteers collar on. The Vols game was blasting on volume level 10 which is not all that uncommon for older residents of Florida. I sat down next to Gordon and started chatting. He informed me that he had been married three times, all to Volunteer cheerleaders, including marrying and divorcing the same one twice. 

The game was incredible. 100,000 people in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. The crowd was out of control. The energy was beyond what I’ve usually seen in most NFL games. The college kids were going ballistic. The mascot, Smokey, a real blue tick coonhound, running through the endzone after each touchdown. A distinctive lack of flags being thrown made the game move quickly, which is one of my biggest complaints about the NFL. The game just seemed so much more authentic than most NFL games. I had no loyalty to either Tennessee or South Carolina, but I found myself getting wrapped up with the crowd of elderly people and their passion. It just all seemed really enjoyable…and a win by the Vols didn’t hurt either. 

I left that day a college football fan. Gordon was right. It is great entertainment. I became a Vols fan because of Gordon and he takes pride in that. I still get texts saying “Go Vols” which Gordon is sending from a flip phone. I’ve been back to see my father and Gordon many times since and I always watch the games at the same place I watched my first college game. If you’re not a fan of college football, I suggest you give it a shot. Pick a team and stick with them, but enjoy the others as well. I’ve watched some amazing games over the past decade and enjoy seeing team traditions such as the “Hawkeye Wave” or the “5th quarter.”  Look them up. My wife and I hit one Division I college stadium every year and the atmosphere is unmatched. 

Sticking with the Vols has finally paid off. After an incredible win over the perennial front running Alabama earlier this year, the Vols appear to be heading to the playoffs since the inception of the playoff system. They are currently ranked number three and the end of the season is closing in. Win or lose….Go Vols.