An ode to Rome Odunze

I wish nothing but the best for the Washington WR, which is one of the reasons it has been so fun to cheer for him and why I loved getting a chance to thank him.

I try to be an ethical college football fan.

This isn’t easy. In fact it might be impossible given the fact the players aren’t paid, but that’s a subject for another column entirely. I’m talking about my fandom here. The way that I root for the University of Washington, and eventually I’m going to explain how all of this relates to how much I enjoyed interviewing Rome Odunze earlier this week for “Say Who, Say Pod.”

That’s the weekly Huskies podcast I host with Christian Caple of The Athletic. You can find it on Spotify or Apple podcasts or pretty much anywhere else you get your podcasts.

I have two very specific rules when it comes to supporting college athletes. The first is very simple: No booing. Ever. I don’t care what the player does. The second one gets a little trickier because I think it’s incredibly lame to express an even slightly negative opinion over anyone’s decision on where they will attend college. Unless it’s the University of Oregon.1

The reason this can be difficult is that a player’s decision can have a demonstrably negative effect on your school/team so it’s understandable to be disappointed. I make a distinction here, though, between disappointment for your team and disappointment in a player. I think it’s awful when adults do anything other than wish a college football player well regardless of where he’s going to school.

It's for this reason that I don’t follow recruiting very closely. I know it’s important for a program. I also know it’s a subject of such intense interest that entire media businesses have been built from it. That is a racket I want no part of either whether it’s producing the content or consuming it. I don’t want to encourage the corner of my soul that wishes JT Tuimoloau and/or Emeka Egbuika had chosen Washington instead of Ohio State. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it would have been great for the Huskies if they had, but I don’t want to harbor even the slightest bit of hard feelings toward those two ambitious and talented young men because they chose to go to school in Columbus, Ohio. I hope they achieve everything they’re shooting for.

Same goes for Gee Scott Jr., the son of a former co-worker of mine. He was a wide receiver at Eastside Catholic, and he went to Ohio State, too, and for the past few years I’ve watched as some Husky fans have used Twitter to criticize that decision in any number of ways.

While I’m not going to say it’s typical of either Husky fans specifically or college football fans in general, it’s reflective of how a sizeable corner of every fan base approaches the sport and it’s absolutely abhorrent. The Dark Side of the sport.

I refuse to have hard feelings about a player who transfers from Washington or decommits from the Huskies or decides, “You know what? All things considered I think I’d rather be somewhere else.” This makes me less passionate in some ways compared to other college football fans. After all, the antagonism toward opponents — perceived and real — is a huge part of the fan experience and when you simply shrug off the fact that a player spurned your school, you’re shutting off a source for emotional fuel.

What I’ve come to understand is that taking this approach opens up the possibility of a deeper, more meaningful connection and now is the point we come back to Rome Odunze. He’s a wide receiver on the Huskies, a prominent recruit from Las Vegas who arrived on campus in 2020. At the risk of being weirdly appreciative of an amateur athlete, he’s my favorite player on the team. Has been since his sophomore season when my chief complaint was the offensive coordinator’s inability to get the ball the guy — who in my observation — was clearly one of the best players on the team.

If he had transferred after that season, I wouldn’t have blamed him. It would have been a bummer because it would have hurt the team I root for, but I wouldn’t have wished him anything other than the utmost success. But he stayed and became an all-conference receiver in Kalen DeBoer’s first season as head coach.

If he had declared for the NFL draft this month, I wouldn’t have blamed him, either. I can’t even say I would have been disappointed because while his return would help the Huskies, I truly want him to make what he believes is the best decision for himself and what he wants and to have that decision turn out as well as he hopes. And honestly, if you look at any 20-year-old college student and DON’T hope that, I think there’s at least a little hole in your soul.

But Odunze decided to stay. Again. And on Tuesday he talked with Christian Caple and I about that decision for our podcast. I really enjoyed the conversation, which is mostly due to how engaging and comfortable Odunze was in the interview. He was great.

Thinking about it afterward, part of my enjoyment came from the fact that I knew my support for him was more than just transactional. It wasn’t solely about what he would do for my favorite team. I mean, I love watching him play and cheering for him, but I honestly hope he’s making the best decision(s) for himself, regardless of how that affects the Huskies. I think this affected how it felt to thank him for what he’s done at Washington and to tell him how much fun it has been to cheer for him.

I’m not patting myself on the back here so much as I’m trying to point out a reality that I’d never really considered before. I’ve always thought that my resistance to what I described as the Dark Side of college football made me a less passionate fan, more casual. This is true in some respects because I don’t have the same level of expectation, which means I don’t experience the same feelings of disappointment.

However, this approach opens up the capacity for an appreciation and a gratitude that you can’t experience if you feel that you’re owed something as a fan. It felt really good to tell Odunze how much fun it has been to watch him play and how excited I am to cheer for him as a Husky in 2023.

Join the conversation

or to participate.