Many a college football fan has daydreamed about traveling the country, attending games and tailgates and experiencing all the pageantry the sport has to offer. FOX Sports columnist and podcaster Charlotte Wilder actually gets to do that.
This fall, Wilder, along with Mark Titus, her co-host on FOX Sports’ THE PEOPLE’S SPORTS PODCAST, have been on the road every week from a different college football location.
As part of their “Ultimate College Football Road Trip” sponsored by Dos Equis, they’ve been to seven games so far, with a trip to Jacksonville for this weekend’s Florida-Georgia game next on the docket.
Their schedule up to this point has looked like this:
- Sept. 4 – Penn State at Wisconsin
- Sept. 11 – Oregon at Ohio State
- Sept. 18 – Nebraska at Oklahoma
- Oct. 2 – Auburn at LSU
- Oct. 9 – Alabama at Texas A&M
- Oct. 16 – Oklahoma State at Texas
- Oct. 23 – LSU at Ole Miss
We caught up with Charlotte Wilder this week to discuss her most memorable moments from the first several tour stops, her approach to journalism, who would play her in a buddy cop movie and much more.
If you’re a college football fanatic or even just a travel aficionado in general, you need to check this interview out.
Let’s get started…
The Spun: So first things first: how did the idea for this trip come about? Was it a FOX creation? Did you and Mark propose it?
Charlotte Wilder: This was a FOX idea. We thought it would be cool. Our people came to us and were like ‘Hey, we want to send you to college football games.’ I was like ‘Are you kidding me? This is something I’ve pitched everywhere I’ve worked.’
As someone who comes from New England, I had no prior college football rooting interest. Until I started working in sports, I didn’t even understand what a big deal was in this country. So to get to experience that across the board in all these places has been such a privilege and a very eye-opening experience.
The Spun: Your first trip was to Wisconsin. Did you expect to go viral right off the bat with the clip of you in the stands twirling the pompoms?
CW: [Laughing] Oh my gosh! I think that trip was also really fun because I did the run out with the Wisconsin band, where I stood at the goal post and they rushed around me. I think in one or two days, we had over 100,000 views on that. It was so rewarding, because the stuff that I gravitate to is what others might see as silly or frivolous, but I see as the actual heart and soul of the fan experience.
Take the kids in the marching band. They practice sometimes six hours a day leading up to a game. There’s as much preparation and as much care and they’re as much of a team and as thoughtful and an integral part of the experience. It was cool that that resonated with people, and that my enthusiasm for it has been met with enthusiasm from viewers and listeners and readers. I like highlighting the unsung heroes. I think there’s a lot of pride in what these people do.
I wrote about the @UWBadgers band….and then got to stand at the goalpost while they took the field. Truly magical 😍
— Charlotte Wilder (@TheWilderThings) September 4, 2021
The Spun: What have been some of the most memorable parts of the fan experience from this trip so far?
CW: You know, this is sort of corny, but every time I walk into a stadium through the tunnel when we have field access, and I stand there and I’ve done something with the band or the dance team or the mascot or a player and I see them out there and I feel a personal connection to them. I look around the stands, and I think ‘Oh my God, people would murder me to be in my position.’ The weight of how much people care about this and the importance of college football in people’s lives and having the privilege of being so close to it. At every single place we’ve been, that is not lost on me. It’s been a lot of work and I’m tired a lot of the time, and then we get into the game and it’s like I’ve had 10 coffees.
I think specifically, things like meeting [University of Texas mascot] Bevo at his ranch in Texas. Going out there and hanging out with the students that take care of him and seeing him in his pasture. The ponies at Oklahoma, the dance team at LSU was so cool, because these women are athletes in their own right. They embraced me and they taught me a dance. I am about as much an outsider as you can get for a lot of these people and no one has batted an eyelash or been skeptical about me. They’ve been so proud to show their school and so gracious with their time. It never ceases to amaze me.
The Spun: What have been the best things you’ve eaten on the tour?
CW: So, starting in Wisconsin at Mickies Dairy Bar was a real tough one to beat. That “Scrambler” has every favorite piece of food known to man and is covered in cheese and gravy. I’ll be honest, I thought it would be like greasy diner food and I would be tired the rest of the day. It was probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted, as was the blueberry crumble there. That’s my first answer. Let’s go with that.
I’m truly having an out-of-body experience in Death Valley 💀❤️ pic.twitter.com/tF4TWDroBg
— Charlotte Wilder (@TheWilderThings) October 3, 2021
The Spun: When you look at where you’ve been this year, what places do you want to go if you do this next year? What spots are on the bucket list?
CW: “Death Valley” at night in LSU has been on my sports bucket list forever. When we went there, it was as cool, if not cooler, than I thought it was going to be. I totally fell in love with LSU, and there are definitely a few places we haven’t gone to that are bucket list items.
I really want to go to a game at the “Big House” at Michigan. I think a Penn State “White Out” would be incredible. I love to go to Tuscaloosa and just see the “Death Star” itself in person. I want to go everywhere. What I love about college football is that every place is so different and anything can happen at any time.
The Spun: Looking at your journalism career, you’ve seemingly done it all. You’ve worked at The Boston Globe and America’s Test Kitchen and Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports. You’ve written features. You’ve done television and podcasting and everything in between. Were you always inspired to be as versatile as possible, or did you pick that up along the way? Where does that stem from?
CW: That’s a great question. I think it stems from curiosity, honestly. Curiosity and always being kind of a ham but just loving talking to people. I think the through line of everything I do, whether it’s written, whether it’s audio, whether it’s video, is that I’m curious. If I weren’t doing this as my job, I would still be trying to go to these places and ask people these questions. I love learning how people see the world. I love being able to take fans or readers or viewers or listeners and be a lens for them. To be like ‘Hey, if I’m curious about this, and I have the privilege and the access to ask these questions, maybe someone else is to.’ Maybe I can take them with me and take them somewhere that they didn’t even know they wanted to go.
Every trip this fall, I’ve written around a 1,500-word piece. I’ve done 3-to-4 video features. I’ve done a live show. We do a podcast about it. Each one is a different level of in-depth analysis, of quotes of other people, of my own observations. I think I’ve always wanted to tell the best story possible and the medium you use is very dependent on the story.
Like this weekend, I have a piece coming out about watching Eli [Manning] getting his jersey retired at Ole Miss. That’s something I couldn’t have done in a video piece without a certain amount of access, but I can do it written in a way that gives the context it needs. But there’s also the audio of telling people what it was like and there’s the video of seeing him go out on the field. They all present a different aspect of the same story.
Come to learn how men dress for an Ole Miss tailgate…
…stay to watch me get outfitted in dri-fit and khakis, then conduct an interview wearing a full suit and tie ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/TpcUtx0uYZ
— Charlotte Wilder (@TheWilderThings) October 25, 2021
The Spun: A little off-the-beaten path with this next question: if you and Mark Titus were in a buddy cop movie, who would you want to play you two?
CW: You know, I can’t speak for Mark. Mark’s gotta answer that one on his own. But if Kristen Wiig wanted to play me I’d be over the moon. I just think she’s the funniest person in the world.
The Spun: I feel like I always ask people who would be the one person they would want to interview. But let’s change it up a little. If you could be interviewed by one person, who would you want asking you questions?
CW: I mean, who wouldn’t want to be interviewed by Oprah right. Yeah, Oprah. I’d love to be interviewed by Oprah.
The Spun: One quick final question. This weekend, you and Mark will be at Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville aka the Game Formerly Known As The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. What are you looking forward to about that trip?
CW: Everything we’ve done so far has been on campus, which has been so cool. I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like when two extremely passionate fan bases with a storied rivalry come together at a neutral site. I’ve been to one neutral site game before, but it was Notre Dame-Syracuse at Yankee Stadium, so it was not exactly the mecca of college football. I’m really interested to see what the difference is and who shows up to a game like this as opposed to a game on campus.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.