What the Cats dragged in

(Note: This article originally appeared in the Dec. 29 edition of Georgetown News-Graphic.)

NASHVILLE — The road from Lexington to Nashville?

A mere hop, skip and jump.

Clemson, S.C., to Nashville?

He scoffs at the trip.

No, University of Kentucky fan Matt Durham had a bit more of a roundabout route in reaching Sunday night’s Music City Bowl matchup between the Clemson Tigers and the Wildcats.

Try crossing an ocean, two countries, at least three states, more than 10 time zones, about 18 hours and 6,700-plus miles.

Big Blue Nation has gone international.

Durham’s trip from Nagoya, Japan, to Nashville started as a way to visit family, but quickly turned into a chance to watch his beloved Wildcats go for their fourth straight postseason victory, including two previous wins in the Music City Bowl.

“I know the city will be blue all weekend, and I’m excited for that,” said Durham, 28, a 1999 graduate of Scott County High School. “The genuine camaraderie among fans from all walks of life is magnetic. I love meeting random people at tailgates or out on the town in different cities, and when you see that blue UK shirt, you immediately have a bond with them.”

Durham, an employee of Toyota Motor Manufacturing’s North American base near Cincinnati, has worked on a purchasing liaison assignment at Toyota’s global headquarters in Japan since June 2008. His assignment wraps up in June 2010.

“Living in Japan alone makes me want to take advantage of every opportunity I have to come home and see family,” Durham said.

So far this year, he has flown back to Kentucky during a week-long break in August at Toyota in Japan, for a week and a half in September for his sister’s wedding and 17 days in November for his annual “home leave” the company provides to visit family.

Factoring in the current trip for football and family, “four times in five months is a lot of traveling,” Durham said.

Saturday’s whirlwind trip alone left Durham with little down time other than being on the road — or in the air.

He left Nagoya at 1 p.m. Saturday and, thanks to the 14-hour time difference, arrived in Detroit at noon the same day after a 13-hour flight.

“It was actually like I went back in time by one hour,” Durham said. “Very strange.”

Durham flew from Detroit to Lexington, arriving at about 3:30 p.m., then rode with his girlfriend, Rachel Mullen, straight to Nashville, making it in to the city around 8 p.m. Central time. He left no time for resting, though, opting instead to head downtown and enjoy the revelry with thousands of other Kentucky fans.

“I may need a few Red Bulls,” he said, “but I plan to enjoy the night.”

Durham spent part of Saturday night reveling in the downtown Nashville nightlife, surrounded by strangers but feeling right at home.

“It just feels good to be in the U.S.,” he said. “Just being here and seeing the UK colors down in Tennessee, I have to say all that blue was nice.”

Sunday proved no different, with UK fans seemingly outnumbering Clemson fans 30-1 in downtown bars and shops. In the middle of it all was Durham, chatting with old high school buddies he hadn’t seen in eight years and making new friends bonded by blue.

Even with Kentucky’s 21-13 loss, Durham tried to keep upbeat, even after standing in the bitter cold for more than four hours. 

“A win would have made it more memorable of a trip,” he said. 

Durham arrives at the game with Cory Graham. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Now that the Music City Bowl is history, Durham will head to Kentucky to spend time with family and friends before making the long trip back to Japan.

Before he does, though, there’s one more stop on the agenda for this football fan — the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
“I jumped at the chance to watch a BCS bowl game featuring the University of Cincinnati and Florida, two top-notch teams,” he said. “This should be an exciting week home.”

Not that Durham plans that destination to top his time in Tennessee.

“This has been said at least a million times, but I love the passion of UK fans,” he said. “From 12-year-old kids to 65-year-old grandmothers, being a UK fan is more than just sitting in your seat and cheering or clapping. It’s literally a way of life.”

Even if that means flying halfway around the world to live it.

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