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?
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.)
What is your football story?
P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this with others. Thank you!