I have a goal — to attend a game at all 130 FBS (Division I-A) college football stadiums across the country. At 65 stadiums and counting, I’m halfway there.
My husband of five years, Olin, travels with me on most weekends, filling the role of dutiful videographer for my YouTube channel. He is also the president of the Appalachian State alumni chapter of Chicago and never passes up an opportunity to remind college football lovers about App State’s 2007 gigantic upset of Michigan.
Being gay and tackling this quest has been an awkward experience for me at times. Certain locations we descend upon make it challenging to perform a simple action like holding hands. It's my own hang up, of course. On the trail of visiting 65 of the stadiums, I have never experienced any unpleasantness over how I am perceived. However, in my mind, I’m always paranoid about what signals I’m giving off — like I’m radiating a rainbow that will attract abuse.
Rather, I’ve had far more positive experiences along the journey. Every year, we gather a large group of mainly gay men to organize a pregame tailgate at Northwestern. It’s a combination of the football savvy and the football challenged. It’s a kindness from many of my friends since most would rather be watching the Oscars than the Wildcats.
To prepare, I host a Football 101 course in the summer to enhance their experience inside the stadium — I attract my students with an open bar. Additionally, I have to remind these new fans to go easy on the cologne when at the tailgate as it tends to attract bees — a disclaimer that most tailgaters don’t need to issue.
One year, as a cloud of Giorgio Armani hovered over our tailgate, a neighboring group of fans in the parking lot couldn’t help but notice our unique brand of spirit. With everyone well-appointed in articulately planned purple attire, it was clear this was not a straight affair.
However, one fan approached us, and politely inferring our homosexuality, expressed his delight for our group and invited us over to join his tailgate. I appreciated this because it made me feel like we were leading by example — demonstrating that the world of sports does not need to be traditionally masculine.
I came out in 2004, which also was the year I visited Laramie, Wyoming, to catch a Cowboys game. My self confidence had a long way to develop, and I was nowhere near comfortable being gay. Walking around campus, I thought often of Matthew Shepard, which filled me with a combination of sorrow and trepidation. It was a reminder that putting myself out there would bring challenges ahead.
Six years later, shortly after my husband and I attended College Gameday in Madison, I proposed to him at a park on the lake. Part of me wishes that I would have given Olin that ring live on TV right there on the turf at Camp Randall Stadium. I think today I would have done it.
Olin and I love experiencing all that game days have to offer, but we also take time to explore the LGBT communities in the towns we visit. If there is a gay strip, we will find it. We even hung out with Todrick Hall at a Beverly Hills fundraiser after spending all day at a USC game. Talk about a clash of cultures.
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and it was Badger game days that inspired my love for college football. Now I’m hooked. I can’t think of a better way to spend an autumn afternoon than stadium hopping.
The unique culture, colorful traditions, historic rivalries, clever mascots, spirited bands, and devoted fans make college football a sport that cannot compare to any other. I leave no autumn Saturday unturned and venture to these campuses. As I walk the historic and hallowed grounds where legends have tread, I listen and watch to grasp the surrounding enthusiasm.
Transferring these experiences into images and words is my passion. My website, CollegeFootballTour.Com is the canvas for my journey. All 130 stadiums have a story, and I intend on interviewing each one of them.
I’m a bit of a mascot stalker. From Cocky to Bucky and Willie to Sparky, I have snapped photos with quite a few live and costumed college football icons. They are a perfect symbol of the spirit of each university.
Along the road, I have met well-known coaches, players and broadcasters. In 1999, after College Gameday was wrapping up its first trip to Madison, I was able to connect with Lee Corso for a few moments. He autographed a program for me, and when I told him my name was Andy, he replied with, “Is that spelled with an I-E at the end?” I instantly wondered if I gave off that much of a feminine vibe. Perhaps Corso knew who I was before I did.
In 2013, Wisconsin’s 1999 Heisman trophy winner Ron Dayne walked past my family as we were dedicating a brick outside Camp Randall Stadium for my deceased father and brother. He happily obliged to take a picture with us.
Moments like these are special and memorable, but the larger-than-life atmospheres and stadiums that Olin and I have encountered stand alone. We always catch the pregame band concerts that pump anticipation into the air. Folks converge upon a special spot on campus to hear traditional tunes and the school’s fight song. Georgia Tech’s “Ramblin’ Wreck,” USC’s “Fight On,” Notre Dame’s “Victory March,” Tennessee’s “Rocky Top” and Michigan’s “Hail To The Victors” are just a few of the classics we have enjoyed along the way.
Unique brands of tailgating make college football stand out, and one of my favorites so far has been the incomparable experience in The Grove at Ole Miss. This 10-acre space shaded by oaks, elms and magnolias shimmers with elegance as red, white and blue tents are decorated with chandeliers and candelabras.
Olin and I were especially excited about preparing our attire as many fans dress to impress with bow-ties and slacks, sundresses and high heels. Its experiences like these that set this sport apart from all others, and I love hunting for these unique traditions at every campus location I visit.
It’s not all fight songs and tailgating. In my day job, I’m a fifth-grade teacher in the Chicago area. At the junior high where I teach, I have been leading our staff in gender identity education and this year, I will be starting up our school's first Gender Sexuality Alliance. Yet I realize that athletics is an area where many people feel uncomfortable exploring their spot on the gender spectrum. I feel that own discomfort when I think about whether to hold my husband’s hand.
Here I am in a position of authority with this topic, and I still struggle walking the walk. However, courageous players like Michael Sam at Missouri, and this season, Scott Frantz at Kansas State have helped me to realize the high level of support by the NCAA community. Additionally, in these heated political times, it has become more evident how important the need is for exposure to diversity.
This season, College Football Tour hits the road again, but with a new sense of purpose. The second half of my mission will be more open and proud. It starts here on Outsports, and I will find ways to continue to reveal more colors on the spectrum of diversity in the world of sports.
Andrew Bauhs is an elementary school teacher in Glencoe, Ill. He and his husband, Olin, live in Chicago. He runs collegefootballtour.com, which chronicles his visits to college football stadiums across the country in route to attending a game at all FBS stadiums.
He can be reached via email at email@example.com, Twitter at @college_fb_tour, Instagram at @collegefootballtour, College Football Tour on Facebook, and check out his "Stadium Shorts" episodes on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/collegefootballtour
Story editor: Jim Buzinski