When Lois "Rusty" Haydon began going to Kentucky basketball games, the catchy label Big Blue Nation did not exist. Nor did any of the other marketing schemes that envelop college athletics today: ESPN I-II-III-News and U, the SEC Network, luxury suites, loge seating, recruiting services, ribbon advertising, CoachCal.com, etc., etc.
The Fabulous Five's exploits were still fresh in the mind and altogether fulfilling.
Haydon was there when UK played its first game in Memorial Coliseum in 1950. Two years later, she and her late husband, Tom, moved to a house on Desha Road in Lexington. Location-location-location.
"If it was pretty in the fall, we walked" to UK games, she said.
Never miss a local story.
And, Haydon added, "I'm still there."
She meant she still lives on Desha Road. But, she could also have been saying she's still there at UK games.
Haydon, who turns 97 on Monday, looks eagerly ahead to attending future Kentucky games. "I've already cut out of the paper the schedule for the coming year," she said last week.
If Haydon is slowing down, she must have set a blinding pace when she was younger. She still drives her 2002 Buick LeSabre. She regularly plays bridge. She's active at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church. She works her garden.
"I still mow the grass," she said, which prompted her daughter, Donna Gibson, to smile and say, "because I don't do it to suit her."
One of her granddaughters, Brooke Gibson, alerted the Herald-Leader to Haydon's upcoming birthday and her long-lasting rooting interest in the Cats. By the way, Haydon still walks up the stairs to her seat in the front row of Rupp Arena's upper level.
"She's amazing and VERY spunky!" Brooke wrote in an email. "What 97-year-old do you know that still goes to dinner parties with her 40-year-old friends, travels all over the world and went ZIP-LINING for her 90th birthday?!! She's truly amazing and wonderful. I love her to pieces."
One question: Zip-lining?
Brooke provided photographic evidence of a trip to Earthshine Discovery Center in Brevard, N.C. According to the website, visitors can zip as fast as 20 mph along lines that stretch as much as 400 feet. Haydon easily met the age requirement: 10 or older.
"Lots of fun, lots of fun," she said. "I went the first time when I was 86. And I asked the fella there if anybody as old as I was had ever done this. And he said, 'I had somebody who was 90.' And I said, 'I'll be back in four years.' And I was."
Haydon grew up in Letcher County. She studied languages at Centre College. Upon graduation, she married Tom. All this happened before World War II.
After the war, Tom and Rusty (she's not sure how she got that nickname as a child) settled in Harlan. Then they moved to Lexington in 1952.
Tom, who died in 1995, grew up in Nicholasville and graduated from UK. At first, he was the UK fan who took his wife to games. Now, she's been a fan who has been going to games for some 65 years and counting.
Yes, she recalls Kentucky's 3-for-33 shooting in the second half against Georgetown in the 1984 Final Four. She watched the game at Donna's home.
Yes, she recalls Christian Laettner's winning shot in the 1992 East Region finals. "Everybody remembers that," she said before adding, "of course, we're reminded of it often."
When asked if she slammed a fist down on a table when Laettner beat UK, Haydon said, "I probably did."
She does not simply watch Kentucky play. "She does her share of cheering," a diplomatic Donna said.
After 65 years, you'd think Haydon might roll her eyes on occasion when another home game rolls around. You'd be wrong.
"No, oh no," she said. "I look forward to it. I love the crowd. I love to be with the people."
Two rituals endure. When she arrives for the first game each season, someone in a nearby seat is sure to kiddingly say, "You're still here?!"
And during the Christmas holidays, she'll bring bourbon balls for the ushers and fans seated nearby. "That may have been against the rules," she said. "I don't know."
Haydon could not — or would not — say if she preferred watching games in Memorial Coliseum or Rupp Arena. Nor did she say she had a favorite coach. Adolph Rupp's among her coaching favorites, as are Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and John Calipari.
Rather than having one favorite player in the 65 years, she said she usually comes to favor a different player each season. That player will be Tyler Ulis this coming season.
"He's short," she said, "and he's just got a lot of spunk."
One thing Haydon does not like is Calipari's reliance on so-called one-and-done players. Before a scheduled interview, she wrote down her feelings on the subject.
"They're just young men away from home for the first time," she read. "And they need the experience of college life, I think."
Then she added another reason. "You get attached to them," she read, "then all of a sudden — poof — they're gone. I don't think it's fair to the fans, either."
Donna noted how she and her mother must study the program during the first few games each season in order to identify the new players.
Of course, no change appears likely, which Haydon accepts.
"They're my Cats anyway, regardless," she said. "I'm not going to stop going."
The celebration of Haydon's 97th birthday will take several days. She and her two children, four granddaughters and six great grandchildren planned to gather at Herrington Lake on Saturday. Then after attending church on Sunday, they expected to go to Donna's house for a party.
How long has Haydon been a UK basketball fan?
"Forever," she said. "As long as I can remember."
And she's not done yet.
"I'm shooting for the big one," she said.
When asked if she meant a 100th birthday, she nodded.
Frankie and Johnny
John Calipari remains close to his coach at Clarion State, Joe DeGregorio. DeGregorio, who always seems in a good humor, chuckled when asked if he would accompany Calipari to see Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., last week.
"No," he said. "I don't go to church as often as John."
Then, DeGregorio playfully envisioned how Calipari would try to engage the Pope.
"He'll probably get him down in a defensive stance," DeGregorio said. "Or see if he follows through when he shoots the ball."
Home and a casa?
John Calipari's tweet about attending Pope Francis' speech to Congress inspired this response:
"@BobbyBigWheel: John Calipari is now trying to schedule the College of Cardinals as a preseason opponent."
Material distributed to the media covering the recent Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony listed "Louis" Dampier among the honorees.
When asked if he preferred the more formal given name, Dampier answered immediately. "No," he said. "I always go by Louie."
After a moment, Dampier added in a pleasant tone, "You know who does that all the time? The Indiana Hall of Fame. Everything they put out there is Louis Dampier. I prefer Louie."
Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood continued to show solidarity with John Calipari. On his way to the podium at a pre-induction press conference, Haywood paused in front of Calipari and clasped the UK coach's hand.
The two had hugged at the Final Four during the announcement of their inclusion in this year's Hall of Fame class. They are kindred spirits: Haywood the pioneer who turned pro after his sophomore year of college in 1969; Calipari the coach who rebuilt the UK program on a foundation of so-called one-and-done players.
Haywood, a high school star in Detroit, noted how he signed with Tennessee. "It didn't work out," he said during his speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Instead, he attended a junior college, then transferred to the University of Detroit, where he averaged 32.1 points and 21.5 rebounds as a sophomore.
When he spoke of turning pro, Haywood got emotional. Through tears, he said his mother's job had been picking cotton. "The NBA contract ended that," he said.
The former Millersburg Military Institute (now Forest Hill Military Academy) was in the news again last week with the announcement that the school will be auctioned at a master commissioner's sale on Oct. 1.
This prompted a trivia question:
What MMI grad was the fourth overall pick in the 1968 NBA Draft and once grabbed 37 rebounds in an NBA game?
Answer: the late Tom Boerwinkle, who played for Ray Mears at Tennessee after leaving MMI and before entering the NBA.
To Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He turned 22 on Saturday. ... To Jeff Sheppard. He turns 41 on Tuesday. ... To Matt Heissenbuttel. He turned 34 on Thursday. ... To Rodrick Rhodes. He turned 42 on Thursday. ... To Ronnie Lyons. He turns 63 on Wednesday. ... To Cliff Berger. He turned 69 on Friday.