Column: BBN — A culture of diehard fandom


Fans cheer during the UK vs. Iowa Vrbo Citrus Bowl football game on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. UK won 20-17. Photo by Corrie McCroskey | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Sports bring out the best and the worst in people. 

Oftentimes, diehard fans meet both ends of the spectrum. A sports fanatic will happily talk to you about why their team is the best for hours and hours, as emotion gushes out with each statistic being given as a reason backing up their claim.

That same fan will hurl obscenities at their television after that same team fails to win the game in crunch time hours later.

Despite not personally knowing anyone on the team, that fan knows each player’s height, weight, number and hometown by heart, all because those players wear the same jersey on the field that the fan wears on the couch.

The excitement of rooting for a team or player goes much deeper than having an interest in sports. The rush that comes with the thrill and agony of victory and defeat is both agitating and exhilarating.

There is a hint of thespianism that accompanies athletes squaring off against one another, inside a stadium, to the amusement of thousands of spectators at the venue and millions more watching at home.

Gaggles of fans cheer and jeer every play, living vicariously through the players on the field or court.

No group of fans fits this bill better than Big Blue Nation.

One would find it difficult to traverse through Lexington for more than five minutes without seeing Kentucky basketball merchandise or advertising plastered across a billboard, car or article of clothing.

Sports teams tend to engulf the identity of their surrounding area, and Kentucky basketball is just as synonymous with the Bluegrass as horses and bourbon.

Many Kentuckians are quick to dish out their latest take on what UK basketball head coach John Calipari is doing wrong, who needs more playing time and why Louisville and Tennessee don’t stand a chance this season. BBN is a loud, proud, often contentious ensemble that makes its voice heard.

Caleb Hill, a senior mechanical engineering major at the University of Kentucky and self-proclaimed lover of Kentucky athletics, is one of hundreds of thousands of members of Big Blue Nation.

Born in Lexington, Hill’s roots as a UK fan stem from his family, a common theme amongst fans around the world.

“I just grew up watching the games, going to Kentucky football games and it just kind of evolved from me going, to me actually caring once I got old enough to kind of know what was happening,” Hill said.

The atmosphere of a large-scale sporting event is unique. Fans are provided with the opportunity to immerse themselves in an experience, escaping from real-world troubles for an hour or two. It’s accepted and expected to roar, boo and nearly anything in between.

“It’s a community that all cheers for one team, and then you can get behind the players and support them,” Hill said. “It’s just fun to have the Big Blue Nation and everybody that cheers for them. Good to be a part of that.”

Hill, like many, often catches himself animated and engrossed in Kentucky’s games.

“It depends on the game, but if I’m not there I usually start standing. If it’s a big game, I won’t sit down, I’ll just stand in my room. Sometimes I pace, especially towards the end of games,” he said.

Win or lose, the feelings that come pouring out the players are often mirrored by their biggest of fans. Whether those sentiments are filled with warmth or disdain, they all stem from a place of passion and love.

While it seems much less stressful to be a fan of the winningest program in college hoops, that wouldn’t stop Hill from going to extreme lengths to ensure his Wildcats reign supreme once again come the end of March Madness.

When asked what he would do for a UK championship this season, Hill mulled it over:

“I don’t think I’d lose any major limbs … but maybe like a pinky toe, or my ring finger, something like that,” he said.