What Is More Important: Chemistry Or Football?

What Is More Important: Chemistry Or Football?

Everyone has a few days in their lives they will never forget. August 11, 1989, was such a day for me when I need to choose between chemistry or football. 

On that day, I flew to the United States for what I thought would be a 9-month long adventure as an exchange student (little did I know I would stay for a lifetime). I flew from Koeln (Cologne) to Frankfurt, then Atlanta, Georgia. Finally, I arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee, my new home. I was going to attend Graduate school (chemistry) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) for one academic year. I was keen to learn about American culture. A dream of mine was finally happening!

As I soon learned, UTK is also home to the famous VOLS, UTK’s football team. The Neyland Stadium stadium is enormous and holds over 90,000 people. 

There were many things I didn’t know about America when I first arrived in Knoxville. Football was one of them. Growing up in Germany, I was familiar with soccer. It is everywhere. Many people are pretty passionate about it. I had played it a bit, but never seriously as a kid. It was not uncommon that fans got rowdy at games – often a little and sometimes quite seriously.

Then imagine my surprise. Less than a month after my arrival (October 7), I saw hoards of people dressed in orange walking through campus. Orange from head to toe?! Caps, shirts, shorts, skirts, even shoes. What is going on? 

“It’s Homecoming!” 

What is “Homecoming”? I had no idea. Former students were coming back to UTK and were watching the VOLS play. “We” won that day against Georgia.

American football is quite a phenomenon. I still have a T-shirt from my UTK days that says, “University of Tennessee, Chemistry Department – almost as important as U.T. Chemistry.” Ha, funny!

I have to confess, at first, I didn’t get it. Eleven guys in tights, helmets, and pads running after an oddly shaped ball – what is that all about? I quickly took a liking to tailgating tough. LOL. I was surprised that football games were a family affair, too. Fans were passionate but generally civil with each other. 

U.K. s graduate school, especially in the sciences, had many international students from all over the world. Someone had a sticker saying, “Men play football. Intelligent men play soccer.” I admit, for a while, I thought that was funny. 

But then I thought to myself, wait a second. While this game looks a bit brutal, there is much strategy involved. American football evolved from rugby (which is a pretty rough game as I understand it). 

American football got safer over time. Photos from the early days of this sport tell that story powerfully. I also came across a pretty interesting image that shows how they tested early football helmets made from leather in 1912. They tested them by jumping headfirst into a wooden wall. Ouch!

What is the Takeaway of This Nugget? 

  • Don’t be so fast to judge something you don’t understand? (Yes!)
  • That orange is a cool color?! (Yes, for me, it is on homecoming days!)
  • That U.T. football is indeed more important than chemistry? (hmmm – not so sure on that)
  • U.T. means the University of Tennessee instead of the University of Texas (I might get in trouble for that with my friends from Texas!)

Or maybe, it is just a sharing of a personal story prompted by today’s upcoming Superbowl. Enjoy the game – and the beer, queso, chips, munchies….! And may your team win (as long you root for the “right” team. LOL. Just kidding.)

I’m Curious

What is your football story?

Dr. Stephie

P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this with others. Thank you!

Stephie Althouse

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