Wildcats superfan built a ‘man cave’ inside a converted fraternity – and it’s exactly as cool as you’d think | Subscriber
There are levels to sports fandom.
Some are casual watchers and followers of their favorite teams. They may have figurines, posters and autographs, but that’s not their way of life.
Then there’s Arizona recall Paul Volpe.
The UA alum has converted a fraternity house on University Boulevard into his family home. Step inside and you’ll find a UA-themed pool table, poker table and movie theater, plus a life-size teddy bear wearing Marcus Williams’ old No. 3 jersey. The Arizona State fork logo is stuck inside the nearby restroom.
Volpe’s basement has been a “man cave” in the making for years. A wall near the stairs features recent UA basketball posters, a pennant from the 1980 Arizona national championship baseball team, and John “Button” Salmon’s famous “Bear Down” quote on the Wall. Near the base of the stairs is a wall with art by Lute Olson and Dick Tomey, a basketball signed “ASU Sucks” by Olson, a helmet autographed by Khalil Tate from his 327-yard performance against Colorado in 2017 and former Arizona softball star Jennie Finch’s signed No. 27 jersey, along with other autographs and posters.
A wall of event tickets and dozens of Arizona hats and posters leads to a “locker room” filled with game-worn jerseys and shoes. Volpe has a signed 2012 national championship baseball jersey and day star front page print plaque after the Arizona men’s basketball team won the national title in 1997. Turn left and you’ll enter the Bear Down Bar, where Volpe shared drinks with Luke Walton, Jason Terry, Jason Gardner, Sean Miller, Kyle Fogg, Ira Lee, Keanu Pinder, Jedd Fisch – and most recently the new coach of the ‘UA Tommy Lloyd, who enjoys a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon when he relaxes at the Volpes. The floor of the Bear Down Bar is made of old McKale Center hardwood. (More on that later.)
“I always have PBR in stock for Tommy,” Volpe, 42, said. “Tommy is awesome. He’s a really nice guy and his family is awesome. We are happy to have him here at the U of A.”
Nearby, Volpe framed UA basketball posters shot by photographer Chris Mooney and a framed (and signed) Steve Kerr warm-up sweater. Bricks from the original old main building and the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium lay on the bar counter near a Rob Gronkowski prayer candle. Past the pool table next to the bar, there’s another room with a large projector screen, leather sofa and poker table, with a framed Arizona “Gronk” jersey next to a USS football jersey Arizona that the Wildcats wore once, in 2016.
Like many Tucsonians, Volpe — an Amphi High School and UA graduate who is now a senior loan officer at Nova Home Loans — has been a Wildcats fan since birth. He started following the Wildcats more closely in 1988, when Kerr and Sean Elliott took the Wildcats to their first Final Four.
“Those were the years,” Volpe said. “It’s a good time to become a fan when you’re 7 or 8 years old.”
Volpe attended games when he could afford the tickets.
While Volpe was a student at UA, he worked as a lot attendant for car dealership Jim Click. Volpe’s older brother Jon, who played football at Stanford in the mid-1990s, joined Nova Home Loans in 1995 and soon recruited Paul to work for the company. Paul Volpe moved from veterinary science to finance and entered the mortgage business at the age of 19.
Volpe has worked for Nova for 23 years. His success allowed him to pursue his passion for the Wildcats. Volpe proposed to his wife, Briana, at the McKale Center with Wilma T. Wildcat standing next to them. The Volpes rehearsal dinner took place at the Jim Click Hall of Champions.
The Volpe family takes a custom UA golf cart – also known as the “Cat Cart” – from their home to nearly every home sporting event in Arizona. A door to their backyard is adorned with the Greek letters for Beta, Theta, Phi, and Delta. It’s BTFD – or “Bear the (expletive) down.”
One of Volpe’s favorite memories has a deeply personal meaning.
Volpe’s late father, James, won a signed Lute Olson basketball in a charity draw after Arizona’s 1997 national title. Before the elder Volpe died of cancer in 1999, he gifted Paul the basketball, which became the centerpiece of his collection.
“It’s pretty special, and that’s what started the collection. That’s definitely the main thing,” Volpe said. “If the house is burning down, I’m going in to grab this thing and then grab whatever I can.”
Another favorite: Volpe’s so-called “Arizona lucky hat”. Volpe wore it through the births of her three children Jack, Ella and Lute. It’s true: Volpe’s youngest son is named after the legendary trainer.
“I had a lot of ups and a lot of downs in that hat,” he said. “I put him to bed when he started cracking and I couldn’t carry him anymore.”
Volpe discovered that the old McKale Center flooring was stored in a warehouse in Denver and paid about $8,000 for 1,500 square feet of historic hardwood to install in the bar. He stored the remaining planks for future use.
Not all Arizona fans are at Volpe’s collectible level, but many have treasured memorabilia of their own. The star asked fans on social media to share their favorite treasures, and they responded.
Don Ramsower tweeted a photo of a signed Kerr Arizona jersey, while Dan Pate showed off a piece of the net from the Wildcats’ victory over North Carolina in the 1988 Elite Eight to advance to the first ever Final Program oven. Like Volpe, Kristiana Molina fell in love with Arizona basketball in 1988, when she wrote a letter to Kerr asking him to visit her elementary school.
“Later that year we go to the Final Four, Kerr visits my school and just like that I’m a Wildcat for life,” Molina tweeted, along with an autographed photo of the 1988 team.
While luck brought them UA basketball memorabilia, it quickly became an obsessive hobby for Volpe.
“I just collected over the years. Lots of late nights on eBay or Etsy,” Volpe said. “I have friends and people who have just contacted me now.”
Briana Volpe added: “At this point people know how much he loves the U of A and the sanctuary it has. People will find stuff and say, ‘Hey, Paul, I bought you this centerpiece.’ …shopping for him is easy.
Even though space for additional collectibles is limited, Volpe is always on the lookout for more. His next addition: Lloyd’s roster from his first career win at Arizona in November.
“It’s stuff like that that you don’t find. … It’s cool, because it’s worthless but priceless,” Volpe said of Lloyd’s playing card. “He was like, ‘I want to give you this so you can put it in your bar.'”
A deep run in the playoffs could deliver more goodies at the Bear Down Bar inside Volpe’s house.
For a die-hard Arizona fan like Volpe, the collection – and the win – brings back childhood memories.
“It’s really not about ‘stuff’ versus what memories each piece brings back to you,” Volpe said. “Things come and go but you can never lose those moments in time, whether it was seeing Sean Elliot and Steve Kerr with my dad back in the day to the first game with my then girlfriend – now wife – to take our kids to the games turning them into a new generation of Wildcat fans.
“The cycle continues and unfortunately I still have wall space to fill.”
Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or [email protected] On Twitter: