NEW ORLEANS — Football fans will converge on New Orleans this weekend for Baylor, Ole Miss and the Sugar Bowl. None will come farther than Valentin Joanny, known to his nearly 1,900 Twitter followers as Ole Miss France.
None will have a more unique story, either.
Joanny has never been to Oxford, Mississippi, never even been to the United States. Yet nobody bleeds Rebel red and blue more than this 28-year-old dog trainer from suburban Paris.
If all goes right for Joanny, he will take a COVID test today, pass it, get on a jet Friday, fly from Paris to New Orleans, check into his rented loft in the Bywater, get some rest and then celebrate the New Year in the Superdome, cheering on his Rebels.
If all goes really right, Matt Corral will throw for nine touchdowns, Ole Miss will win by 30, and Joanny will celebrate with some of the many Twitter friends who made it financially possible for him to make the trip.
I know. That’s a lot to take in, but there’s plenty more. And I know you have questions. So did I.
How does a 28-year-old dog trainer, who lives near Disneyland Paris become such a rabid Ole Miss fan?
“I started watching college football in 2012 because of Johnny Manziel (the former Texas A&M quarterback),” Joanny answered in a recent email. “In 2014, I saw the movie ‘The Blind Side,’ so I started to learn a little more about the University of Tennessee and Ole Miss. The next day, I decided to watch the game against Alabama, and it was like a revelation to me…”
That would be Oct. 4, 2014. Ole Miss defeated undefeated Alabama 23-17. Bo Wallace threw for three touchdowns. The Rebels out-scored Bama 20-3 in the second half. Senquez Golson sealed the deal with a late interception. Bedlam ensued. Goalposts toppled. Oxford turned upside down. Yes, and on the other side of the Atlantic, watching in the wee hours of the next morning, a new Ole Miss fan was born.
Or, as Joanny puts it, “It was like a revelation for me: Dr. Bo, Treadwell, the upset, the uniform, I immediately fell in love with the Rebels.”
Some more background on this one-man Ole Miss French fan club: “I started tennis at a very young age at three years old, I was pretty good at this sport,” Joanny writes. “I played handball, rugby, football, I have always enjoyed playing and watching sport.”
Joanny continues, “American sport is generally broadcast here in the evening until the early hours of the morning. When you’re young it’s a little harder to be able to follow the NBA, the NFL or college football. I must have started following the NBA and NFL at the age of 16 or 17 and college football a year or two later…”
Then came the Alabama-Ole Miss game and the revelation.
“Now I have a twitter page on Ole Miss. I see all the matches. I have a podcast with friends where we talk about college football to promote it in France. You can say sport is my passion.”
I would say.
Joanny tweets, sometimes in English and often in French, about what he sees. His Twitter page got a big boost three months ago when Ole Miss pummeled Tulane 61-21 and Corral accounted for seven touchdowns.
“C’EST INDECENT!” Joanny tweeted to describe Corral’s record-setting performance, meaning what Corral did to Tulane was indecent. (It really was).
Writer, editor and college football super-tweeter Alex McDaniel – @AlexMcDaniel to Twitter users – saw Joanny’s tweet, loved it and re-tweeted it to her nearly 27,000 followers. Joanny’s Twitter following soared from about 400 into four figures.
As Ole Miss continued winning football games – and Joanny continued tweeting – it became apparent the Rebels were headed for a major bowl. Someone suggested a “GoFundMe” page to bring Joanny across the Atlantic to attend. It happened. The goal was 2,200 Euros. It has raised, as I write, 2,875 Euros (about $3,250). Joanny says that’s more than enough. “Thanks to Rebel Nation,” he says.
All that’s left is to pass the COVID test. (The omicron variant is raging in France, just as here.)
Yes, Joanny says, he hopes to meet many of the Ole Miss fans here. No, he says, he can’t have a drink with all who have invited him, or he wouldn’t make the kickoff.
Yes, he says, he does have a message – more than the perfunctory “Hotty Toddy” – for those who contributed.
Writes Joanny, “Thank you everyone, nothing would have been possible without you and your support. I will never forget what you have done for me. I will live one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.