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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The People's Champ

You might not recognize the name, but if you've been to a Georgia basketball game this season, you know Georgia sophomore Tom Fell.

While the basketball team hasn't managed to offer fans a lot to get excited about this year, every home game has had at least one moment of jubilation at Stegeman... The Rocky Run.

Fell, a broadcast journalism major at Georgia, has become the most visible fan at every game, using the final TV timeout of the second half to rile up fans and inspire the Bulldogs with his run to the top of Stegeman Coliseum during the Rocky montage.

Earlier this week, I talked with Fell about his unlikely rise to stardom among Georgia basketball fans. Here's what he had to say...

David Hale: You're one of the most visible Georgia basketball fans. Were you always a Bulldogs fan?

Tom Fell: I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana until about three years ago, so I was never really a big Bulldog basketball fan. I always like IU and Purdue is where my dad went, so I kind of followed midwest more. I moved to South Carolina a few years ago, and so I didn't really follow anyone. Then I came here to Georgia, and me and my friends started going to all the basketball games. I've always loved basketball, just not Georgia basketball. But once I got here and started going to the games, I fell in love immediately just because everything was so personable, and I felt like part of the team, part of the whole experience.

DH: You and the rest of your group has certainly caught the attention of fans as the season has gone along, but how did this whole idea of dressing up and doing the Rocky Run begin?

TF: I think it eventually started just to get everyone pumped up, get the players excited and get the fans excited and to have fun, too. It's kind of boring to go to a game and just sit down the whole time and not be very loud. But I'd say originally we definitely started to help get the players psyched and once more people started coming to the games to get the fans more excited, too.

The first time I did the Rocky Run was one of those earlier games in the season where we played like really small teams like Grambling State. The games were such big blowouts in our favor that there weren't a lot of people coming and they kind of got boring. We noticed that they played the Rocky theme at at least one timeout. So my friends were kind of egging me on saying one of us ought to run up to the top, saying, 'You do it, Tom.' So originally I just ran up to the top of the student section, threw a few punches as a joke, and there were probably about 30 students there. It was kind of like, 'Ha ha, look at that guy.' I was in normal clothes, too. But later that week, my friends were like, 'You might want to try and order a Rocky costume off of Amazon.' So I got online and searched it on Google and found Rocky shorts and got a robe and the next game decided I was going to run all the way to the top of Stegeman. From then on, it's just kind of become a tradition.

DH: I have to think dressing up in a pair of boxing shorts and dancing and running around in front of a big crowd had to come with a little bit of self awareness. Is it just part of your personality to be outgoing in public like that or did it take a while to get used to garnering that kind of attention?

TF: I'd say it was a little bit of both. The first time, it's kind of weird being pretty much in your underwear running to the top of the stadium. I hadn't gone tanning or anything, so I wasn't looking too hot. But eventually I just got used to it, and it keeps me honest as far as keeping in shape and everything. At first, I didn't look too great out there. But it's definitely kept me motivated to stay in shape and at least try and look like Rocky so I'm able to get up there and do the push-ups and all the other stuff instead of looking like goon.

DH: When you run up the stands now, you get high fives and huge cheers from fans along the way. Have you been surprised by how much the fans have embraced you?

TF: I'm just surprised to the extent of which it's become. What just hit me completely out of the blue is the first time they made the montage. I always knew they played the song, and when they came up and told me they were going to play this, I thought, 'Oh, that's really cool. People enjoy this.' But when the people at Stegeman made the video montage of Rocky going up and doing the training, that was when it really just hit me. And the first time I got to the top and put my arm up and heard everybody cheer, that kind of took me by storm, like wow, people really enjoy this thing and look forward to it, which was kind of odd. It was just hard to grasp that I was that guy -- that I inspired people or people were enjoying that, that something that started off as a goofy joke or goofy prank turned into a tradition.

DH: Have you heard from the players? What do they think of the Rocky Run?

TF: All the players have given us really positive reactions. Some people will come up and ask us, 'Oh, man, you don't do it for the players. You just want the attention and stuff.' But we always tell them, if we felt like the players didn't like it or people didn't enjoy it, we would stop. But the players, we see them outside of the games, around campus and they're always high-fiving us, giving us hugs and being like, 'Hey, man, are you going to be there?' It's really positive reactions.

DH: What about around campus? Do students recognize you now?

TF: Yeah, definitely. I'll be in the dining hall and some guy will be like, 'Hey, it's Rocky!' and they'll all wave. Or I'll be in a class and some person will come up and be like, 'Are you the guy who does the Rocky thing? I knew I recognized you from somewhere.' So every once in a while you get recognized, which is pretty cool.

DH: Well, you're out there with no shirt on and drawing a lot of attention to yourself. Does that get you a little attention from the girls?

TF: It's been kind of funny because Hairy Dawg is always giving me some slack for my physique, but lately I've had a few people notice the progression. I've lost a few pounds and gained some muscle lately, and I've had a few people come up to me lately and be like, 'Hey, man. You're really looking good out there nowadays.' It's usually, I'll get a girl in the crowd who's like, 'Ooh, I like the shorts,' or something like that. The higher you hike 'em, the more the more ladies like 'em.

DH: Now that ought to be a T-shirt slogan.

TF: Definitely.

DH: Obviously it hasn't been the best of seasons for the team. Has it been hard for you guys to stay so enthusiastic when the team has had trouble winning ballgames?

TF: I think that it's hard to go out there losing as much as we have been and stay extremely positive, but we always enjoy going to the games no matter what. It beats studying and it's always fun going out there and being able to yell and scream and taunt the other players and have a good time. I don't think you're really much of a fan if you can't handle terrible seasons. I mean, if you're just going to a team because they win, you're not really that great of a fan in my opinion. You should be there through the good times and the bad because you never know when your team's going to win the SEC tournament.

DH: Well, you're from Bloomington, so I'm guessing I already know the answer to this, but do you have a favorite to take over as Georgia's next head coach?

TF: I'd really enjoy Bob Knight. I don't know how much of a chance that is now. He may not be a longterm solution, but I think he would immediately bring excitement and start packing out Stegeman, which I think is what we need -- a lot more fanbase. Just bring a lot of notoriety and attention to Georgia, which I think is what we need. And I think he could recruit alright, too.

DH: You hear about the Cameron Crazies and other notable college hoops fans. Have you guys come up with a nickname for yourselves yet?

TF: We were talking about how cool it would be to have a name for us, but you can't really give yourself a nickname. So we've been kind of waiting for someone to coin one. One of my roommates, Danny, is one of the guys who dresses up with us, and said he heard a guy call us the Front-row Freakshow, which I think is perfect because everyone in the front row is always dressing up a different way, some crazy way. So everyone really enjoyed Front-row Freakshow.

DH: There's one more home game left this year. Do you have any special plans for your last Rocky Run of the season?

TF: I don't know. I need to start thinking about it. That's a good point. I'm going to see if I can find something special. I've got two midterms, so I've got to do a lot of studying and a lot of preparing. But I'll try to think of something. I don't want to make any guarantees, but I'm definitely thinking.


Hunkering Hank said...

I love that kid if only for: "The higher you hike 'em, the more the more ladies like 'em."

Brian said...

I'd really like to see this tradition take off. The band plays the A-Team theme song each game - I encourage 4 students to dress up like BA and the gang and charge up the stairs too.