Grab Your Hard Hat and Meet UVA Football’s ‘No. 1 Fan’

Grab Your Hard Hat and Meet UVA Football’s ‘No. 1 Fan’

ARTICLE DATEARTICLE AUTHOR AUTHOR EMAIL

It’s a “Fun Friday” at AOC Metal Works in Chester, Virginia, and employees at the fabrication plant outside of Richmond can wear pretty much anything they want.

For 52-year-old machine operator Som Patasomcit, the decision is a no-brainer.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the factory that requires workers to wear earplugs and eye shields, Patasomcit is sporting a navy-blue University of Virginia football T-shirt and matching baseball cap as he mans a forklift and oversees a stamping device.

“He’s known down in the machine area as ‘The UVA Fan,’” plant manager John Millirons said.

Related Story

About 80 miles west, Patasomcit has become known as much more.

To many people who attend Cavalier football games at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Patasomcit is the “#1 UVA FAN.”

At least, that’s what the license plate hanging from the faux gold chain around his neck says.

It’s just one facet of Patasomcit’s game-day get-up, which also includes a giant V-Sabre pendant, a Cavaliers’ shirt or jersey and, of course, an orange UVA hard hat.

“I’ve done blue-collar work all my life. That’s why I wear the hard hat to games,” said the soft-spoken Patasomcit, who, prior to working for AOC, spent 25 years at a company in Mechanicsville that makes bowling pin machines.

At a company where he used to work, Patasomcit once painted a forklift UVA blue and orange.
At a company where he used to work, Patasomcit once painted a forklift UVA blue and orange. (Photo by Whitelaw Reid, University Communications)

An only child, Patasomcit was born in Laos, a southeast Asian country that was taken over by the North Vietnamese communist regime in 1975.

He fled with his father to a refugee camp in Thailand, spending a terrifying year there before immigrating to Richmond when he was 12. Patasomcit’s mother stayed behind in Laos after being incarcerated for gambling.

In Richmond, Patasomcit’s father, who spoke no English, worked the graveyard shift as a dishwasher.

“He was a good man,” Patasomcit said of his father, Somdy, who died in 2013. “He worked hard to make a living and tried to support us.

“My dad always said, ‘It will get better – just by working hard.’”

The first UVA football game Patasomcit remembers watching was the 1984 Peach Bowl against Purdue University.

“The other team’s quarterback, Jim Everett, he had a great game,” said Patasomcit, referring to the future NFL player, “but we had Jim Dombrowski, Barry Word, Howard Petty, Don Majkowski and George Welsh.

“It was a hard-fought game and the Cavaliers won.”

Over the years, Patasomcit became an avid fan.

His garage-turned-man-cave attests to this. It contains as much UVA memorabilia – photos, autographs, jerseys, pennants, bobbleheads – as some stores.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that Patasomcit was able to attend a game in person. That year, he came to the Cavaliers’ 16-0 win over the University of Richmond.

Patasomcit has turned his family’s two-car garage into a UVA man cave.
Patasomcit has turned his family’s two-car garage into a UVA man cave. (Photo by Whitelaw Reid, University Communications)

Two years later, Patasomcit entered a UVA Athletics fan essay contest asking participants to write about what being a Hoos fan meant to them. The grand prize: a free year of football season tickets.

In a 700-plus word piece, Patasomcit told his story.

“Early in my life, I applied for citizenship and by studying our U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” Patasomcit wrote, “I have really learned to appreciate the character and integrity of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, the beloved founder of the great University of Virginia. This made it an easy choice for a college program to support. Although I did not attend college or university, I am proud to be a loyal fan of the orange and blue.”

Patasomcit went on to describe his vast collection of memorabilia, how he once painted a forklift orange and blue and the time he was brought to tears when former Cavalier safety Anthony Poindexter – who had foregone the NFL Draft to spend one last year in college – suffered a horrific knee injury.

The essay was chosen as the winner.

On Sept. 4, 2010, Patasomcit went to the team’s season-opening win over Richmond. He hasn’t missed a game since.

This season, to commemorate his 10-year anniversary, Patasomcit – who had been coming to games by himself – bought an extra season ticket so that he could bring a guest. So far, he has taken his nephew, a friend and his wife.

At the Youth Day game against Old Dominion University last month, Patasomcit and his wife, Bong, who have three adult sons, sat with their 6-year-old grandniece.

“She held up the ‘D’ and Som held up the fence,” said Bong Patasomcit, smiling, referring to the signs that her husband always brings to the games to exhort the Cavalier defense. “She had so much fun.”

Bong Patasomcit had never gone to a game, but had a rough idea of what she was getting into.

“I had seen pictures on Facebook of him and people had always told me, ‘I saw your husband, I saw your husband,’” she said.

The normally tacit Patasomcit said a switch just flips when he puts on his UVA hard hat.

“It just kind of transforms me to another level,” said Patasomcit, who has appeared on promotional videos for the ACC Network and ESPN’s “College GameDay,” and can often be seen leading cheers on the Scott Stadium video board. “I feel energized.”

Sometimes, Bong Patasomcit said she has to be the brakes.

Like the year Som covered his entire Nissan Sentra – which has the vanity license plate “VA1Fan” – in dozens of UVA stickers.

“I think the only place that didn’t have stickers was the hood of the car and the windows,” she said. “Our kids were so embarrassed. They did not want to ride in his car – so he toned it down.”

There have also been the occasions when items from Som’s man cave started creeping into other areas of the house.

But in general, Bong Patasomcit, who has worked at a radiator company for the last 25 years, said she tries to support her husband’s passion as best she can. She knows it is his happy place.

Som Patasomcit still has nightmares related to his upbringing.

“I think it’s not just from escaping, but when he came over, he didn’t have his mother,” Bong Patasomcit said. “It was only him and his father.

“When Som got home as a kid, he was all alone. He used to be afraid to be in there by himself, so he would go out and sit on the steps outside because he could at least see people and wasn’t isolated.”

Som, who has only had sporadic communication with his mother over the years, said attending UVA football games is an “escape.”

“When I get into the stadium, I can yell as loud as I can and go hard just like the Cavalier players,” he said.

“More than that, it makes him happy,” Bong added. “It just makes him so overwhelmingly happy. I don’t know what it is. He just loves UVA.”

Funnily enough, the couple’s youngest son, Grant, is a junior at Virginia Tech.

“I thought maybe with his child going to Tech, he would convert,” said Bong, laughing, “but no.

“We went to orientation at Tech and were walking around campus, and every time he saw the Hokie bird, he would say, ‘The kryptonite!’ The kryptonite!’”

But the pride in Som Patasomcit’s voice is palpable as he talks about his son.

“Hopefully,” he said, “he will be the first Patasomcit in history to graduate from a university.”

When UVA hosts Virginia Tech in its regular-season finale on Nov. 29, Patasomcit plans to have Grant by his side in section 121.

“I told [Grant] ‘Don’t let anybody find out that you’re a traitor,’” joked Bong, whose other sons serve in the U.S. military.

Since becoming a season ticketholder, Som Patasomcit said he has made countless friends.

“Virginia fans are awesome,” he said. “I love them – everyone that I’ve met. They’re positive, good people. I just love them.”

The feeling has been mutual.

“He knows all the old players – football and basketball players,” said Christiansburg resident Marilyn Jenkins, who, along with her husband, Tom, has been tailgating with Patasomcit for about a decade. “He always grabs them and brings them over. He’s done that with Ahmad Hawkins, Ricky Stokes. He’s even brought parents of players by to meet us. I think he knows everybody.

“We always look for him – whether it’s on the big screen or on TV when they show highlights of the game. We know there will always be a picture of him. He’s just a sweet, sweet person. We always look forward to seeing him.”

Before games, you can usually find Patasomcit posing for photos with fans of all ages – even ones from the opposing teams.

“You’re just like drawn to him,” said longtime season ticketholder Bill Cunningham, whose father, Charles Clark Cunningham, was an alumnus who served on the Board of Visitors, “and I think there are enough people who know about him through the media exposure who are like, ‘Oh, there’s that guy!’

“We’ve had some rough years, but he always has a smile on his face and has a positive attitude. He’s just so full of life and a joy to be around. He just kind of lifts you up. If every fan had his passion, it would be a different world.”

That passion extends beyond the football field.

Patasomcit has toured Grounds and, every year, on July 4, visits Monticello to watch a new class of immigrants get sworn in as American citizens.

Having been forced out of his homeland by a Communist regime, Patasomcit, who earned his own U.S. citizenship in 1990, said he has always felt a special connection to Jefferson.

“He wrote, ‘We want to be our own country and we don’t want to be under tyranny,’” Patasomcit said. “He wrote, ‘We want freedom, we want independence.’ So I love that.”

Patasomcit’s coworkers chuckle when they hear the stories about his fandom.

While many of them root for teams other than UVA, they have come to appreciate Patasomcit’s dedication.

“You have some fans who can be wishy-washy,” AOC employee Travis Gibbs said, “but you can just look at him and see his smile and see how into it he is. He’s definitely a true fan.”

Patasomcit, who never had the chance to attend a game with his father, said being a fan is about being a part of something greater than himself.

“Anytime that the team does well, I feel so happy for them because of the hard work I know they put in,” he said. “I feel so excited for them.”

Patasomcit gets a twinkle in his eye when he talks about the game-day atmosphere at Scott Stadium.

“It’s alive,” he said, breaking into a wide smile. “It’s music to my ears hearing the marching band playing, people cheering for the Cavaliers. … It’s just a great sound.

“I just love going to Charlottesville to watch football in the fall. You have people tailgating, leaves changing colors. The setting is magnificent. I wouldn’t want to ever miss it.” 

Take a peek at some of Patasomcit’s favorite photos from his last 10 years:

Patasomcit exults in his Tiki Barber jersey during pregame introductions, left, and poses with Cavalier head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Patasomcit exults in his Tiki Barber jersey during pregame introductions, left, and poses with Cavalier head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Always approachable, Patasomcit poses for pregame pictures with many people – and mascots.
Always approachable, Patasomcit poses for pregame pictures with many people – and mascots.
Patasomcit with UVA Director of Athletics Carla Williams, left, and former Cavalier (and current radio host) Ahmad Hawkins.
Patasomcit with UVA Director of Athletics Carla Williams, left, and former Cavalier (and current radio host) Ahmad Hawkins.
Patasomcit is something of a cheerleader in his own right, frequently appearing on live broadcasts – and in promotional spots.
Patasomcit is something of a cheerleader in his own right, frequently appearing on live broadcasts – and in promotional spots.
Pregame tailgates are a big draw for Patasomcit, who revels in UVA’s game-day atmosphere.
Pregame tailgates are a big draw for Patasomcit, who revels in UVA’s game-day atmosphere.
A Cavalier player takes time out to greet Patasomcit during the team’s pregame walk through Scott Stadium’s parking lots.
A Cavalier player takes time out to greet Patasomcit during the team’s pregame walk through Scott Stadium’s parking lots.

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Associate Office of University Communications