Of all the recruiting pitches out there, one has been completely forgotten. Maybe Joshua Dobbs’ first NFL start reminded some prospects out there that playing at a school like Tennessee comes with fandom that never dies.
Dobbs’ first NFL start, which resulted in a 27-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday evening, had social media atwitter before kickoff and will no doubt pull in substantial television ratings in Knoxville. Why? Because Dobbs “gave his all for Tennessee.”
That’s an often overused and cliched phrase, but it has proven to carry more weight than you might think. Tennessee isn’t alone in having that sort of passionate, loyal fan following. There are other schools that have similar fandom, but not all of them. Not many in fact.
Per Yahoo, Tennessee has one of the top 15 fanbases in all of college football. Sure, that can result in NIL money now, but it can be even more in the future.
Dobbs played hard for Tennessee, never got in trouble and never has to buy a beer in Knoxville for the rest of his life. Whatever he does in the NFL won’t affect how fondly he is remembered. Not every former Vol can be Peyton Manning.
Dobbs could get in a legal dustup and still be beloved in Knoxville. I can’t count how many players that have come back to Tennessee after serious issues and been welcomed back with open arms. Reggie Cobb was dismissed and returned to get his degree. Dwayne Goodrich had much more serious problems and was allowed to return to UT to earn his degree.
If Dobbs ever needed it, I’m sure UT would pay for the aerospace engineer to pick up another degree or two. However, I’m guessing he’s good.
It’s doubtful Dobbs’ personal life would ever become an issue, but playing sports at Tennessee can open doors in business or probably even in the aerospace field. Dobbs usually does well when open-door opportunities come along.
Dobbs’ short-notice start for the Tennessee Titans is proof that there’s more to choosing a college than immediate playing time or some NIL cash. Any player what wins over a fan base like Tennessee will have a support system for life. Membership has its privileges.
I could name countless players at other schools, big and small, that will never experience the adoration that Dobbs will always have from Tennessee’s fan base. How about this year’s Heisman Trophy winner? Southern Californian quarterback Caleb Williams will never be as beloved in Los Angeles as he would have been had he stayed in Norman and played for Oklahoma.
Now, before you think this is a get-off-my-lawn column, it’s not. Most would rather be Williams. He has one of the most coveted trophies in sports and is about to be one of the top picks in the NFL Draft. He can afford all the beer he can drink.
However, most high school players aren’t like Williams. They’re not as talented – even though they don’t know it yet. Most former players will have normal jobs eventually and being part of a fraternity as strong and as widespread as Tennessee football has value, even if a corporation isn’t willing to write a check for it immediately.
Perhaps the long-lasting love of former college athletes goes away with the influx of NIL money. Perhaps fans consider NIL dollars as an even swap for playing time and allegiances aren’t as strong in the future. It would be unfortunate to see college football become that business-like.
At Tennessee, players, coaches and athletic directors have changed since Dobbs led the Vols in Neyland Stadium. Still, he’s revered. In fact, Dobbs is embraced by UT fans even though his career in the NFL has been defined more by carrying a clipboard than throwing passes. That doesn’t matter to Tennessee fans.
Dobbs is regarded as a player that made the best out of a dull situation. Doing that made him one of the Vols’ most beloved former players.
Imagine what Dobbs could have done in Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s system.