The clock ticks toward midnight in a quiet suburb outside the French city of Bordeaux. Valentin Joanny sits perched on the edge of his couch, screaming about playcalling and the Ole Miss Rebels.
Joanny, 4,500 miles and a few time zones from SEC country, is sitting in his one-bedroom apartment, which looks less like a French studio and more like a dorm room in Oxford, Mississippi. There is a large blue Ole Miss flag hanging above the couch, while a jersey that former wideout Elijah Moore wore in practice rests nearby.
And Joanny is getting loud.
There is a little more than eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The Rebels, ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings, need to win against the No. 9 Alabama Crimson Tide to keep their chances of winning the SEC West division alive. The Rebels’ only loss thus far in the season came to the LSU Tigers. Ole Miss needs to win the rest of its conference games and have LSU lose one more in order to face the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC title game.
Joanny can’t keep quiet because the Rebels are in the midst of surrendering a 10-point first-half lead to the Crimson Tide. While the Crimson Tide have forced two punts and a turnover on downs in the Rebels’ past three possessions, the refs are drawing most of his ire. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is also getting his share of the criticism coming out of Joanny’s apartment, and on his Twitter feed. Joanny is scared Kiffin is trying to out-coach Tide coach Nick Saban and abandon what Joanny believed had worked thus far.
“Utilise les screen sur Watkins ils ne les défendent pas!” Joanny screams over a FaceTime call with ESPN, calling for more screens for wide receiver Jordan Watkins.
Sports fandom has never cared for national borders or state lines, and Joanny is determined to prove it. He is the European outpost for Ole Miss, and the biggest Rebels supporter on the other side of the pond, running a Twitter account called “Ole Miss France” with almost 3,000 followers, mostly tweeting French-language football and basketball content.
Kiffin is among the Twitter followers, even retweeting something over the summer, but right now Joanny would prefer the coach just stick with the game plan and run the ball with Quinshon Judkins.
“Joué simple, fait courir Judkins!” he screams, which translates to: “Play it simple, and let Judkins run!”
Joanny’s journey with Ole Miss began during a game against Alabama in 2014. The 29-year-old dog trainer was a casual fan of college football, and had recently watched the 2006 movie, “The Blind Side.” He was fascinated by Michael Oher’s decision to pick between Ole Miss and Tennessee, and decided to tune into Ole Miss’ game the following weekend.
It was against Alabama, and he was in awe of what came next: A 23-17 victory over the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide — Ole Miss’ first win over a top-ranked team in program history, and one of the all-time great days at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Joanny watched as fans brought down the goalposts after the game and carried them through The Grove.
“I don’t like the big teams,” Joanny said. “I like the teams who can have trouble, so I think I recognize myself in Ole Miss, an underdog every year.”
Joanny was hooked. He now bleeds red and navy blue, and keeps up with Ole Miss sports as much as anyone in Mississippi. He stays awake for Rebels football in the fall, and tunes into basketball in the spring. He follows it all. Last season, Rebels baseball kept him up until 7 a.m. in France on their run to the College World Series championship.
“From 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. it’s only college football,” Joanny said. “I don’t care about going out with friends. From September to February, weekends are for football.”
Besides watching Ole Miss, he uses two screens to catch the rest of the action on a Saturday. Joanny said he watches around 70% of all other college football games — mostly through 40-minute extended highlight videos on YouTube.
Those games can also be found live on ESPN Player — a subscription service to watch NCAA sports outside the United States — but sometimes he has other means. Until last June, Joanny lived in Paris, and sometimes he would recruit some friends to go to The Moose — an old Canadian bar and grill in the city’s 6th Arrondissement. There, a friend, James, who bartends, made sure to place them on the best table with a prime spot for a TV and whatever college game they wanted. No one else ever kicked up a fuss, either. They were just left alone, a group of French guys reveling in hours of football.
In his eight years of watching college football, Joanny has helped foster a strong community. He and his friends have a podcast together talking about college football. They’re a mix of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Florida Gators and Oregon Ducks fans. They sometimes run Twitch streams in which they commentate on games. Joanny even scouts players.
“When I am thinking about this it’s crazy,” he said. “To have the time and passion to scout a lot of players, it’s like [the sports networks]. We do the same work, but just for a little French football community. It’s not to make money, just for us to share and try to expand the college football community in France.
“I think we’re doing well because there are a lot more French accounts about college teams and a lot of people who are asking about the games.”
By the end of last season, Joanny’s Twitter following had amassed a few hundred followers, but as the age of his fandom crept toward a decade, he had still never seen the Rebels play in person. When a fellow fan suggested he fly to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl against the Baylor Bears, he said he could not afford to, and resisted suggestions to crowdfund for the money. It would be wrong to ask others to help, he thought. But the urge to get there by any means necessary was too strong to deny.
“One day, I said, ‘F— it, I have nothing to lose.’ So I tried,” Joanny said. “I had about 400 followers. It was 4 a.m. I started the GoFundMe. When I woke up, I had raised over $1,000. I was like, ‘Woah, who are all these people?'”
Within hours that morning, he had raised $2,000, mostly from American Ole Miss fans.
“A lot of people were sharing my tweet and following me,” Joanny said. “I was thinking, ‘You don’t know me, you never see my face, I can take the money and close the account and goodbye.’ It was crazy. I am so thankful for these people because they gave me a lot of money and their trust. It was the best experience of my life.”
That it was. On the flight to New Orleans, a member of the Ole Miss Alumni Association got in touch to ask if he wanted to sit in the suite with them for the game, and gave him the Elijah Moore jersey and book about Oxford. He is planning to return to the U.S. next November, this time to Oxford. He hasn’t booked his flights just yet. He’s waiting for the 2024 NCAA basketball schedule to be released so he can catch a basketball game on the same weekend as a football game.
On his first trip to a game, he met many of the fans who donated and followed his coverage on Twitter. He made sure to return the shouts of “Hotty Toddy” whenever he heard them — although it’s much harder to say in a French accent.
Joanny has his own pregame routine.
With a prime-time (in France) game against a rival, he settled in with a classic pregame meal: KFC. Usually he has some beers as well, as if tailgating in The Grove could be recreated in an apartment in southwestern France, if only you get the essentials right.
Saturday’s game with Alabama almost seemed like a full-circle moment. The Rebels haven’t defeated the Tide since 2015. To Joanny, this seemed different. The Rebels were 8-1 heading into the game, while Saban was reeling from a defeat to LSU, the Tide’s second of the season.
Joanny, like any seasoned fan, refused to get his hopes up, even as Ole Miss took a 17-14 lead into halftime. Judkins was running well and had the Rebels’ two touchdowns.
The whole time he was firing off tweets. He joined a chorus of Ole Miss fans on social media, angry at the refs for what they thought should have been a roughing the passer penalty late in the game.
“Every time against Alabama! E V E R Y T I M E!”
J’ai vraiment la haine là, entre les refs qui ne voient rien quand c’est pour nous et les choix d’appels de jeu à la fin du drive ..
J’ai vraiment le seum. https://t.co/Djc6nHsBI6
— Ole Miss France (8-2) (@FranceRebels) November 13, 2022
One user quote tweeted him: “He is seeing this all the way in France!!!”
As time ticked toward 1 a.m. in France, Joanny could see the game slipping away.
Alabama, with three touchdowns from quarterback Bryce Young, had engineered a comeback, leaving the Rebels behind 30-24 entering the final two minutes. Joanny leaned forward and clung to every moment. A 35-yard run from Judkins put them deep into Bama’s territory, and Judkins produced again with a 14-yard run to put Ole Miss into the red zone.
“JUDKINS 4 HEISMAN,” Joanny tweeted.
But it was not to be, his shouts and screams went unheard. Ole Miss didn’t throw anymore screens, and the final four downs didn’t include a Judkins run. Instead, the game flamed out with two incomplete passes and a sack. Twitter heard his displeasure again, and how he was “sick at the refs” while using the word “voler,” which is French for “robbed.”
He went outside to walk his dog, where his neighbor told him he could hear his shouting from next door.
Joanny stewed a little longer, tweeting “I’m still really mad tbh” at 1:25 a.m. But when he returned from his walk, he kicked back in front of his TV again. There was more football to watch.
Alabama-Ole Miss from the French outpost of Rebels fans
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