By LARRY VAUGHT
Erin Waggoner admits she was always more of a Kentucky basketball fan than football. Her father played on the freshman basketball team at Kentucky during the 1960-61 season, so she says cheering for any team other than Kentucky was never an option.
“I remember the Duke game in 1992 (when Christian Laettner hit the shot to beat UK in the NCAA), but I equally remember the Peach Bowl in 1993,” she said. “My football fandom really kicked in when I got to UK. It was part atmosphere, part the fact that I got to know a lot of the players, and part because I started at UK in the height of the Tim Couch craze. When I graduated and got my first teaching job, a pair of season football tickets was the very first thing I purchased in 2003.”
She still has those tickets and when unbeaten Kentucky hosts South Carolina Saturday night she will be attending her 106th straight home game.
“I bought two tickets because that seemed like a better idea than just buying one, although as a single girl I wasn’t really sure who I was going to take,” she said. “The first few games I went by myself because no one else wanted to join me. The weekend of the Florida game my friends who I tailgated with were moving, so since (again) no one wanted to join me, I just decided to skip the game.
“Fast forward to the point when I thought we would win that game (which of course we didn’t) and all I could think was ‘What if we’d ended the streak and I’d missed it?’ and like that, I was hooked. I haven’t missed one since.”
One of the first games in her streak was the seven-overtime game with Arkansas and she still remembers that game, even though UK lost, as the “most fun” she had had in a long time.
When her streak reached 50 straight games, her friends threw a special tailgate party for her with “Happy 50th” balloons and a cake. She was 31 years old and says sometimes fans stopped and asked whose 50th it was.
“I would raise my hand and they’d say, ‘You look great!’ she said.
Last year’s Tennessee game was her 100th straight game and she got a thank you from Nathan Schwake of UK Athletics.
Also included in the streak are a couple of games with Vanderbilt that tested her loyalty. She remembers a 31-24 loss to Vanderbilt in 2008 when it was raining and cold.
“I stepped in a puddle of water on my way to the game and it was so cold outside. I was miserable. I remember thinking ‘If this goes into overtime, I won’t make it,’” she said.
She was there with a friend for coach Joker Phillips’ last home game against Vanderbilt when very few fans attended.
“Cold rainy losses, especially to Vandy, are the worst. But I’ve never really thought about not going. Some people say that the most impressive thing is that I haven’t had a wedding to attend on a fall Saturday,” she said. “I guess maybe I am just not friends with people who get married during football season — or maybe they know better than to invite me.”
She likes everything about the game day atmosphere and never comes late or leaves early. She even admits the pregame promos by UK Athletics make her “tear up a little bit” the first time she sees them.
I love my football family. There was a family beside me before the renovations and I got to see their kids grow up from season to season. A lot of us moved together (when seat locations were changed),” she said.
“I also love bringing different friends to the games. I have certain people who come to at least one game per season, but for the Murray State game I brought a friend who’d never been to a UK football game before. It’s cool for me to be able to share something I love with the people I care about.”
One reason she can easily attend games is that she lives near Kroger Field. She used to have to drive to games but when she was looking for a house to buy about five years ago she told her realtor she had a “must-have list most girls in their 30’s don’t have.” It included a house with character, hardwood floors, fireplace, porch swing and within walking distance of then Commonwealth Stadium. Luckily we found it but I can’t imagine living somewhere else would keep me from attending the games,” she said.
Waggoner has no problem when UK reduces ticket prices like it did the week before the Mississippi State game to get more fans to attend. She feels season tickets are an “investment” she makes to get the same seats every week, earn K Fund points.
“If that means I pay a little more, that’s a choice I’ve made. I’ve chosen to budget for two tickets, even with rising costs and mandatory K Fund donations per seat — which didn’t exist when I first purchased tickets,” she said. “If they want to give teachers or people in Paintsville cheaper tickets for a game so we can pack Kroger Field, I’m all in.”
She has no doubts that the reason for fewer fans attending games is having so many games on TV that it is easy to watch from home.
“I guess some people see it to be a hassle to get to the stadium, traffic, parking, etc. I’m sure ticket prices have had an effect, too. If you’re having to choose what to spend money on, and you know you can watch the games at home, I can see how someone might choose differently than I have,” Waggoner said.
However, don’t look for her choice to change any time soon. She’s been all-in with Kentucky football long before the Cats got off to a 4-0 start or got back in the national rankings for the first time since 2007. She sat in the rain for every play of last week’s win and will be back in her seat Saturday night.
“If my Nanny was still alive, she would say that I’d be at the games as long as the Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” Waggoner said. “I think the record (for a consecutive game streak) is 412, right? Let’s see if I can beat that.”
After Saturday, she’ll just have 306 to go.