The always venerable Wikipedia defines an expatriate as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person’s upbringing.” In other words, they’re strangers in a strange land. University of Kentucky fans have always identified themselves as members of “Big Blue Nation,” and in many cases, the BBN really CAN be found almost anywhere your travels take you. With that in mind, the series “The Ex-Pats of Big Blue Nation” will profile those Kentucky fans who have moved away from the Bluegrass State for whatever reason, asking how they’ve managed to maintain their devotion and fanhood despite living in areas where every exhibition game isn’t televised or where no one in the neighborhood understands the significance of the date April 2, 2012. Y’all, meet Joey, who’s living in Savannah. Read on and enjoy hearing about life as a UK fan outside of Kentucky.
Let’s start with the basics. Please state your name, where you’re from, and current location for the official record. No need for exact addresses, I don’t want to get you in trouble on the Internet.
â€¨Joey Rudder. Originally from London, but I’ve been living in Savannah, Ga for the last 11 years.
How did you get from Point A (Kentucky) to Point B (where you are now)?
â€¨In 2001, the company I was working for at the time had an office in Lexington, but had decided to close their regional offices and locate some staff to the home office in Savannah. They offered me a position to do so. I was just two years out of college (UK class of ’99!) so I thought it was a good opportunity.
What team’s fans dominate your area? (College or professional)
â€¨In south Georgia, well pretty much Georgia in general, it’s all about UGA. They’re actually pretty decent fans overall, though. They are good to the BBN. They respect our history and our fans. However, they can get delusional during football season. Unfortunately, they’re still re-living their glory days of the ’80s. Georgia Tech has a few fans around here, too. Then we have Georgia Southern just up the road. They’re a fun football team to keep up with.
Was it a hard adjustment going from living where everyone knows every detail about UK sports, to where people may conceivably think UK and Louisville are the same team?
â€¨I remember the first few years were really tough. I moved from Lexington, where EVERYONE was a UK fan to a town that only knew the red and black of UGA. The hard part though was not only was I not getting UK news, but the general college sports coverage here in town is not that great. There may be a few fans around to talk to, but the news coverage just doesn’t cut it (as compared to all UK everything in Lexington). One thing to remember though, this was in 2002 and 2003. Social media hadn’t really even become a real thing (hard to believe, right?). There wasn’t a KSR (or not that I knew of) to read and keep up with. There sure wasn’t Twitter or Facebook.
How many Kentucky fans would you say are in your general vicinity? Is there a local UK alumni group or bar? â€¨
In the Savannah area, there are a few hundred or so fans/alumni. We are mostly scattered across the area. There isn’t a “designated” bar or anything like that. A friend of mine hooked me up with 3 or 4 other alumni recently and we have discussed trying to start an alumni club here (which would be great) but it just hasn’t happened yet.
How do you show off your fandom while living away from Kentucky?
â€¨I always keep UK items in my office; prints, pictures from games, etc. My truck has a couple of UK stickers on it. And I pretty much always wear blue. I have a UK tattoo so that usually gets some comments.
What’s the hardest thing about being a fan outside of the geographic BBN? The best thing?â€¨
The hardest thing about being away from Kentucky is that we just don’t have the complete saturation of UK news down here. I miss seeing UK stickers on vehicles, UK clothing, hearing everything about UK anywhere you go. The best thing is that I now live further away from Tennessee.
What has been your favorite memory as a UK fan?
â€¨Being a UK fan for my entire life, I have a lot of memories. I remember meeting Coach Joe B. Hall at the Wendy’s in London one night when I was around 8 or so. He and another gentleman had been on Lake Cumberland fishing and were on the way back to Lexington. I thought that was the coolest thing ever (ok, so I was 8 years old). I remember some of the barnstorming tours that used to be played at a lot of the high schools. I remember sitting on the front row at South Laurel High School (at that time it was just Laurel County High) and watching Rob Lock, Winston Bennett, Ed Davender, and Cedric Jenkins. Then, being at UK during the 1995 through 1999 seasons was awesome. Attending UK during a national championship year is probably the best feeling and memory I have.
What do you do for games?
For football games, I make sure I can get it on a TV wherever I am. There is a group of us that get together every Saturday during football season to eat lunch and watch football, so I try to get UK on if its a noon game. For basketball games, I am at home. I’ve tried to watch games out at a sports bar or restaurant, but I have found I get loud and people look at me like I’ve lost my mind. Plus, I hate it when people try to ask me stupid questions about the game…I look at them like they’ve lost their mind. I’m much more comfortable yelling at my own TV. I’ll rephrase that, my wife is much more comfortable with me yelling at my own TV.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to follow a game live?
â€¨As a member of the BBN, is there anything any of us would do that we would actually consider “crazy” to watch our team? I think, for us, it’s just normal. But anyway, especially during the first week of the NCAA tournament, I will simply leave work at whatever time I need to get to a TV to watch the game. I don’t hide it or sneak out or anything. I’m very open with the fact I’m taking a 2 hour lunch at 1:30 in the afternoon to watch a basketball game. I’ve been lucky enough down here to have bosses that just shake their heads and let me go.
How do you keep up with UK news without the local media readily accessible?
I keep up with UK news now mainly with KSR and Twitter. I’ll jump over to a few other sports websites to catch articles on UK, but I’ve not really found anything that is solely UK like KSR.
If I embark on a cross-country road trip with my friends, a la Britney Spears in Crossroads, do you have a UK-themed room I can stay in?
â€¨Absolutely. My office/man cave at home is UK themed, complete with blue walls. We can even re-live some great UK moments and pop in the 1994 UK vs LSU comeback game (a personal favorite of mine).
Since becoming an ex-pat, have you returned to Kentucky to watch the team play or seen the team play live in a different area? Any stories there?
Oh, we absolutely see the Cats play whenever we can work it out. We are season ticket holders for football, so we’ll come up for a few football games. We also try to catch the Cats whenever they get in this general vicinity. Gainesville is about 4 hours away, Athens is about 4 hours away and Columbia is about 2.5 hours away, so we’ve seen multiple games, both football and basketball at UF, UGA and SC. However, I refuse to go back to Columbia, to a football game anyway. Talk about bad fans. I think they must get the attitude from their football coach.
And, well, I haven’t had much luck at the basketball game there either. My wife and I were at the game in Columbia in 2010 when we had just taken the #1 ranking and then Devan Downey stabbed us in the heart. On the way back to the car, listening to the stupid crow call from all of the SC fans, my temper got the better of me and I kicked a car. Well, a broken toe later, I did at least learn not to kick cars. The one standing rule though is my wife and I travel to the SEC Tournament every year. That is “our” weekend that we look forward to each year. We didn’t make it to New Orleans last year though as our youngest son was only 3 months old. That would have been a tough trip. Otherwise, we already know where we’re going to be in March for the next few years.
How do the locals respond to your fandom?
â€¨Most locals are ok with my eccentricity. They really don’t understand it at all, but they’re ok with it. Actually, I’ve had various employees and a few friends get interested in college basketball because of how I am (or, maybe what I become) when season starts. That’s kind of cool.
What advice do you have for anyone who may be considering a move from Kentucky who is concerned about missing out on following UK?
For anyone leaving Kentucky, just get used to not seeing UK paraphernalia anywhere you go, not hearing the words “Cats”, “Calipari”, or “basketball” on your local news station and not being able to go to the local mall and pick up your newest championship t-shirt. But do absolutely show your true colors every chance you get. There is someone wherever you go that has a connection to UK somehow. It just takes us flying our colors to bring that out.
Any general stories that the readers of KSR would be interested to hear about living as a BBN ex-pat?
One other story about living as a member of the BBN and making sure everyone around you knows what that means: In the spring of 2009, just before the Grand Gillispie Experiment finally ended, I was sitting at my local sports bar having dinner and chatting with the manager/bartender. Something about UK came on ESPN in reference to their NIT invitation. She thought it was hilarious that UK of all teams was going to the NIT. She said, verbatim, “isn’t the NIT just a losers bracket for the NCAAs?” Of course, that was a dark time for us. While that comment hurt my pride a bit, I took it in stride. I just explained to her that while UK may be on a crash course with mediocrity for that year, history has proven that we would be back on top in just a couple of years. Lucky for her, I ultimately converted her to a faithful member of the BBN and married her a year later. Believe me, this past year’s trip to the NIT was not as funny to her as the last one.
But when it comes down to it, if you’re going to live away from the bluegrass state, don’t hide your love for the BBN. Being away from Kentucky is even more of a reason to show off.