Saed Awad has always had a heart for animals. He just didn’t know one day that his love for helping injured and sickly animals would lead to an Internet sensation with the Tennessee fan base.
During Tennessee’s match-up with No. 3 Georgia on Saturday night, several photos of a squirrel wearing a Tennessee uniform and helmet went viral. But that wasn’t the first time that little squirrel had grabbed the attention of Vol fans, and it likely won’t be the last.
Meet Sinan, a rescue squirrel who is the world’s smallest Vol fan. Sinan has captured the attention and love of Vol fans this year, and he made an appearance in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
This is officially the best thing in college football. pic.twitter.com/03FK4Dv09H
— Dylan Webber (@Dylanlwebber) October 6, 2019
— Academic Bronson (@Floodzula) October 6, 2019
Saed is Sinan’s owner, and he’s been loving the outpouring of delight from Vol fans over Sinan.
“Since I woke up this morning, all that I’ve done is read the comments people have left on everything,” Saed told me in an interview on Sunday. “It’s just funny, and I just love it.”
So how did Saed and Sinan’s companionship come to be? According to Saed, Sinan was abandoned and not in good health when the two first met.
“I rescued him. He was a little baby. Some of my friends found him in the backyard, and they know I rescue squirrels, so they called me to help him because he was a few days old, and his mom looked like she had left or hadn’t come back,” Saed explained. “So they asked if I could help him. Usually I help them till they’re healthy enough to release them or take them to the UT hospital so they can put them in the rehab program and release them.
“But this one just didn’t want to leave. Every time I put him outside in a tree or in the grass, he just kept following me to the door and sat in front of the door. So I couldn’t just leave him.”
View this post on Instagram
Since then, Sinan goes with Saed everywhere. And that’s how Sinan’s quick rise to local stardom began.
Sinan came with Saed to The Marina in Oak Ridge one day in the spring. Saed fishes at The Marina often, but he wouldn’t be able to fish on this day. UT’s rowing team had the water for practice, so Saed and Sinan were unable to do their usual business.
But the rowing team took note of Sinan, and that’s where his Vol fandom started.
“(The rowing team) saw him and said, ‘Oh, can we take a picture with him?'” Saed explained. “The next day, they asked me if he was going to be there, so I told them, ‘Yeah, we’re always at the Marina fishing.’ So I found a little UT hat and put it on him and took pictures.
“Since then, he’s been a UT fan.”
When Saed first moved to the United States 15 years ago, he quickly became a fan of Tennessee sports. Though he admits he’s more of a basketball fan, he knows how important the football team is to Vol fans. So he embraced the love from UT fans, and so did Sinan.
“I started making vests for him. I made him a Harley Davidson vest, and then I made him one with UT stuff on it,” Saed stated. “When the season started, I put pictures of him on Facebook and on Instagram. People loved it. I took him to get a picture with the Smokey statue, but I didn’t have a helmet for him, so I got a an orange-colored thing that looks like a helmet, and I put a T on top of it. One of the ladies (from one of the news stations in Knoxville) saw him and broadcast him on the news. Then he became UT famous.”
View this post on Instagram
Me and Smokey 🐿🐕❤ #Sinan #babysquirrel #squirrels #squirrellife #squirrelforlife #squirrellove #petsquirrel #wildanimals #wildlife #outdoors#smokey #football #season #soon #neylandstadium #knoxville #gbo #vol #vols #game #orange #photography #photographer #oakridge #tennessee #usa #ut
Saed has taken Sinan all over campus and around Knoxville. He’s made appearances on The Strip, near UT’s athletic buildings, and all across town. Saed says he himself has an affinity for UT’s campus since he used to live there when he first moved to the United States, so it just felt natural to bring him around campus. Plus, Vol fans loved seeing Sinan dressed in UT gear.
Naturally, people asked Saed if he could take Sinan to a football game.
“A lot of people would tell me ‘you should take him to a game,'” Saed said. “So yesterday I tried that, and it worked. Don’t ask me how.”
I did ask him how, but Saed was cryptic about how the tiny, furry Vol fan became a spectator on Saturday.
“He just got in.”
Saed wouldn’t divulge how he snuck Sinan into Neyland Stadium, but he specified that there isn’t anything on the back of the UT tickets explicitly saying a fan can’t take a pet squirrel into the stadium.
Time will tell if Sinan will be at another Tennessee game this season, but odds are you can find him and Saed somewhere in Knoxville or around UT’s campus this season. The two like to do charity work together and raise money and awareness for animal shelters and animal wellness programs. So if you want to see Sinan and also lend a helping hand to other animals in need, Saed would be happy to help.
View this post on Instagram
Today I am doing something to help other animals. I will be on UT campus tonight .UT fans I need your help.Go Vols🐿🐕🐈❤ big thanks to @elizabeth_sapp for buying the first one last night 🥰🐿 #Sinan #utsquirrels #tnsquirrel #volsquirrel #vol #vols #utk #football #gbo #govols #vfl #volunteer #help #other #animals #university #of #tennessee #knoxville #utk #Nashville #chattanooga #memphis
Tennessee’s 2019 season isn’t going how Vol fans would like, but Sinan is proof that there can be a heart-warming story present even in the most downtrodden of times.