By ALLIE CLOUSE
Knoxville, TN (AP) – As fans of the human variety crowded into Neyland Stadium to watch the University of Tennessee play Georgia, one special critter got a front row seat. Sinan the squirrel sat back in his own squirrel-sized chair to catch all the action.
We have a lot of questions, but none of them matter. It’s a squirrel in a UT football helmet, and we’re all for it.
Sinan is the team’s biggest (and smallest) fan. His love for the Vols all started when his owner and rescuer, Saed Awad, took him fishing at a marina in Oak Ridge.
Sinan was only a few months old when Awad, who lives in Oak Ridge, saw UT rowers practicing in the water. Since rowers scared away the fish, Sinan just sat on Awad’s shoulder to watch. It didn’t take long for the rowers to notice.
Soon, Awad was getting messages from the rowers, asking him to bring Sinan to their events. At the next race, Awad showed up with Sinan in hand. This time, Sinan was sporting a tiny UT hat that Awad had found for him.
“Everyone went crazy,’’ Awad said. “That’s when it became a UT thing.’’
Sinan continued repping the UT rowing team until football season arrived. Awad was hoping to get some photos of Sinan perched on one of the campus Smokey statues before the season started, so he traveled to campus on what he thought was going to be a quiet Sunday, only it wasn’t.
Awad accidentally traveled to Neyland during Fan Day practice. Sinan didn’t have his signature UT helmet yet, so Awad made do with an orange peel and a Power T sticker. Before the storm hit and the practice was cancelled, Awad and Sinan met many fans and a local television reporter who did the first story on Sinan. After that, Sinan’s stardom skyrocketed.
Sinan’s likeness was painted on The Rock, Awad started selling Sinan game day buttons and they both met another UT-loving animal, Smokey.
Other local and out-of-state teams have reached out to Awad, asking if Sinan would wear some of their gear if they sent it to him.
“I tell them `No, he already has a team,’’’ Awad said.
Sinan has taken countless photos with followers around Knoxville. “The thing I love most about Sinan is how he makes kids smile. … Seeing people smile is like happiness,’’ Awad said. “When I made the (Instagram) page, I just made it because there’s so much bad on the internet. People complain and argue about everything, so I just want to make a space without drama.’’
Awad also is passionate about giving back. He donates a portion of the profits from Sinan’s game day buttons to a local animal shelter and is working on several other Sinan-inspired projects, including a calendar and children’s book that could help cancer research efforts.
For now, Awad and Sinan are inseparable friends, but Awad said that even if Sinan runs away one day, he’ll be happy that he’s living the life he wants to live. “If he decided to go now, I’m not going to hold him,’’ Awad said. “It’s his life. That’s why I saved him.’’