Home Online glasses ‘Unique characters’: UConn Twitter shows off his personality at Hartford pre-game block party

‘Unique characters’: UConn Twitter shows off his personality at Hartford pre-game block party

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HARTFORD – Stuck in the crowd at Vaughan’s Public House, Matt Sullivan, a software engineer from Denver, sipped beer from two glasses at the bar and said, “I’m full of energy. “

It was just after 2 p.m., nearly three hours before UConn’s basketball team faced Providence at the XL Center, nearly four hours since its flight touched down at Bradley International Airport – and just the start of a day that saw Sullivan walk Pratt Street like a king, with passers-by coming up and saying “Larry!” “

In UConn’s social media universe, this bastion of basketball madness, Sullivan is simply BigLarryForearm and a minor celebrity in a corner of a fan base that has gathered on a rainy afternoon to celebrate the opening of the Big East of the Huskies.

“When the DA gives you a ticket, you have to come,” said Sullivan, 46, who graduated from UConn in 1998.

So he came, coming through with red eyes to become one of the first on the scene. Sullivan has had a good week. Part of her house was demolished on Wednesday, when a 70mph gust of wind knocked down a massive tree in her yard and nearly killed her dog. On Thursday he was booking a flight and getting ready to attend a match he was personally invited to by sporting director David Benedict.

Sullivan was seated in Benedict’s row of seats, just behind Jim Calhoun. He was one of more than 15,000 participants, the first sold out since the start of the pandemic, for the 57-53 loss to the Huskies who sucked a bit of life by the end of the experience. The building vibrated with an energy hundreds of fans had lubricated on Pratt Street, where the Husky Ticket Project and the Hartford Chamber of Commerce collaborated for a block party.

People who are visible to many, but usually through a phone or computer screen, were suddenly together in the flesh, many beers double-fisted. It was around 4 p.m. when Mister Hot Balls, a man who describes himself online as “UConn’s most embarrassing basketball fan,” took Pratt down with a beer in one hand, his 11-year-old daughter’s hand. years into the other and said, “I have to find Larry. We have to do a psychic reading together. They’re doing it on the street.

At that point, Vaughan’s door opened and a UCONN chant going on inside spilled out onto the street, overlapping with Christmas music. People huddled under the awnings, sipping a few pinches of whiskey.

At 4 p.m., it was almost the noise of the fraternity. People bustled about, a can of beer hanging out, another coming out of jacket pockets. UConn’s fight song was played. The people hugged and laughed. By 4:30 a.m., most had walked up the block to the XL Center.

Shots of hot sauce had been rejected, of course. It’s UConn’s signature rallying action on Twitter, a craze started last year by Bryan Jackson, a UConn graduate in 2006. He is known by his Twitter handle, Penfield (his middle name).

“It’s a real problem,” Jackson said, arriving around 2:30 p.m. “I thought people could be like, ‘Oh, here’s Penfield, let’s buy him a beer.’ But people just wanna drink hot sauce with me.

Jackson stood with Mister Hot Balls, who remains anonymous and is the great motivator and curiosity of the fans. He appears online and in public only wearing a red and gold wrestling mask.

“I’m just here to be an idiot,” said Hot Balls, who attended the game with his wife and two children, as he stood with Penfield. “I’m like a dashboard ornament.”

Penfield and Hot Balls attended a game last season at the Gampel Pavilion as guests of Benedict.

“All fan bases have unique characters,” said Benedict, who spent over an hour at the party. “I would definitely say we have more than our share which is fantastic. I can’t say I’m going to give anything they come up with socially a seal of approval, but they are having a good time and everything is great fun.

Benedict, Penfield and others had a hot sauce ceremony around 3:30 p.m. inside the Hanging Hills Winter Garden, where a DJ played music, fans sipped misty IPAs and a raffle took place place. When Benedict left, he crossed paths with Sullivan and said “Let’s go, Big Arm!”

It’s been the vibe on social media for a long time, with Jackson, Hot Balls and Sullivan among the leaders.

“Seeing the sports department let go of their hair and start taking advantage of it – they’ve done a good job balancing it and you’re starting to see the fruits of it all,” Hot Balls said. “There is a lot of energy in the fan base. Now, with the fans in the Big East arena and basketball, it’s a whole different enchilada. “

The hot sauce craze, a lava river supporting a rising comeback program, took on new meaning last season when the Husky Ticket Project, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit launched in 2018 by three UConn graduates, began looking for donations to match the shots taken. UConn’s Twitter conversation revolved around ‘accountability’ and the Ticket Project raised large sums of money to send thousands of children to sporting events.

Jackson said if the Ticket Project raised $ 120,000 this calendar year by Saturday, it would allow Hot Balls to shave their beards. Jackson still had a beard on the ad. The Ticket Project has raised around $ 100,000 so far, including $ 6,000 on Saturday.

“This is my 11th year on Twitter,” said Jackson, an XL Center season pass holder who attended the game with his father and two brothers. “So we went through the ups and there were some downs that were pretty bad. There were a lot of disconnections for the day. It feels good to be back. I think today is going to be one of the craziest scenes for a long time.

That was, even with Providence ultimately playing the spoiler. The bars and streets were crowded and crowded like the arena. Was this the most responsible scene as the pandemic rages on with a new variant? No. Still, it was a one-on-one camaraderie that normally only exists in the mind – with one man flying across the country to participate.

Sullivan goes through BigLarryForearm in honor of his late father, also a UConn graduate.

“He never came to the dorm to pick me up,” Sullivan said. “He would be in that blue trailer, just an impending figure, and he would stop, still had the window down and his forearm hanging down.” So people made this joke that they never saw my dad’s face, it was just Big Larry’s forearm.

Sullivan grew up in Guilford and moved to Denver about 20 years ago. His father died when he was a senior at UConn. They had bonded in UConn basketball. Sullivan made large donations to the Husky Ticket Project so that children could attend games like he did with his father.

Sullivan, who attended Battle 4 Atlantis, also bought season tickets this year despite living in Colorado. He gives them.

“I’m happy to be in a situation where I can do that, and I only have a few rules,” he said. “If you don’t go to the game, you have to give the tickets to someone and you can’t sell them. Don’t be a jerk. And send me a picture of the match.

Sullivan had long since given up his Saturday tickets. But he tweeted earlier this week that he was considering flying to Connecticut anyway, and Benedict responded by offering him a seat. So Sullivan booked the trip, worked until 10:30 p.m. Friday in Denver, and arrived Saturday morning as one of the stars on the streets, ultimately leading the cheers into the arena.

“This is what drives varsity athletics crazy and this is why people are so excited,” Benedict said. “They are emotionally invested.”

[email protected]; @ManthonyHearst