March Madness

The Rambler Twittersphere Unites Diehard Fans Amid COVID-19

Graphic by Zack MillerWith the COVID-19 pandemic keeping fans out of Gentile Arena, Rambler fans have turned to Twitter to share the experience of sports once again.

“Twitter is our way to stay connected,” said Steve Timble, a 20-year Loyola men’s basketball season ticket holder.

As the Loyola men’s basketball team gears up for another trip to the NCAA Tournament, Rambler fans have continued to connect on Twitter — a platform that has proved especially useful while COVID-19 restrictions greatly limit the in-person fan presence.

The Rambler Twittersphere is a place where fans — whether they be alumni, season ticket holders, those previously involved with the team or a fan account for senior center Cameron Krutwig’s mustache — can interact and share in the camaraderie of cheering on their team.

Jonah Blatt — a 2020 Loyola alum known to many at Loyola for his gameday pope costume — said the pandemic has pushed more of the community online, himself included. 

“I’ve definitely become more active on social media during this whole thing,” Blatt said. “Once the pandemic set in and I was like, ‘I’m not going to be able to go to Bruno’s and see a lot of these people after games,’ and it became, ‘This is the only way I can really interact with people I’d normally be seeing at Gentile [Arena].’”

With the school opting to fill Gentile Arena with cardboard versions of fans due to COVID-19 guidelines keeping the often sold-out crowds from seeing the team in person, Blatt’s extra time on social media paid off. In December, the Ramblers’ Twitter community rallied together to purchase a cardboard cutout of the basketball bishop for the Gentile stands. 

While the medium has become an alternative to packed sports bars and stadiums, it isn’t the preferred method for some fans. Timble said it “isn’t the same” as gathering in-person to celebrate moments like any of Loyola’s three buzzer-beaters from the 2018 Final Four run. 

“I’m super grateful for those moments,” Timble said. “To be present, to witness it, to be a small part of it. … It’s a privilege.”

As with any corner of the internet, there’s a fair amount of disagreement, and men’s basketball can be an especially volatile cyberspace. Omar Estitia, a 2018 Loyola alum who runs the @BleredV fan update account, said the online community is a place where complete strangers work as reinforcements to cover the flanks of other fans under the fire of playful trash-talking.

“Everybody in the Rambler Nation is super supportive,” the School of Social Work graduate said. “It’s awesome to see folks who kind of come out of the woodwork to back you up.”

Not only is there support when tweets are flying back and forth before a tough game, but also just in general. Blatt said there’s room in the digital clique for everybody — even those like Timble who never attended the university.

“Whether we are relating over the basketball team or we went to the same school, it doesn’t really matter to me,” Blatt said. “There’s room on the bandwagon for everybody.”

The support doesn’t just stay within the Rambler community either. 

Throughout the season, Drake University was seen by many as Loyola’s greatest conference threat. The teams ended up splitting a highly anticipated series and facing off once again in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament championship game. Each side received a technical foul during the ticket-punching showdown, and their fans didn’t hold back online either.

However, when the NCAA’s Selection Sunday came around, the only people cheering on Drake as loudly as its own fanbase were the Ramblers of Twitter.

“Obviously there’s going to be smack talk,” Estitia said. “But when they called Drake’s name during Selection Sunday, everybody was ecstatic about Drake making it. MVC is rooting for MVC.”

As the tournament approaches, Loyola’s fans are logging back on to Twitter to reminisce on the 2018 Final Four run, share their thoughts on the math behind Loyola’s seeding and get hyped up about the fact that Sister Jean will be attending the Big Dance.

Loyola is slated to face the Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets March 19 at 3 p.m. on TBS.

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