“No one says, that concert would have been much better on TV,” Kevin Woods wrote recently in an effort to explain his advanced level of fandom.
If you’ve been to a VCU Basketball game at some point in the last decade, you probably know Kevin Woods. He’s the 6-foot-4, gregarious, bearded face of the Rowdy Rams, the impassioned soul of the VCU student section. Woods, complete with hand-me-down jerseys spanning various eras of VCU hoops and black and gold wigs, has been one of the driving forces, and in many years, the de facto ringleader of the organization.
VCU Basketball is a way of life for the 28-year-old Varina native. It’s why his wife, Rachel, estimates his wardrobe is “80-90 percent” VCU-related. It’s why driving 20-hours round trip in one day for a single basketball game is just something you do. It’s why he’s known to camp out four, six, eight even 10 hours before a game just to get a seat.
“I think he’s just found a passion,” Rachel said. “He loves sports, he enjoys people. As much as he tries to convince people he’s an introvert, he’s an extravert. He likes to share what he enjoys, and for him, that’s VCU Athletics.”
It’s also why he’s attended every men’s basketball home game since the start of the 2003 season. There’s not much that could keep him from sitting standing and jumping in his usual seat, at the front of the student section, not even surgery.
In late October, Woods was floored, nearly literally, by kidney stones. On Nov. 27, Woods had surgery to help alleviate the problem. Afterwards, he was confined to his bed and couch. Walking, he says, was incredibly uncomfortable.
But VCU was playing Stetson the next night at the Siegel Center, and Woods was determined to be there. Rachel, herself a Rowdy Ram, was able to borrow a wheelchair from her job as a physical therapist. She admits she had reservations.
“This was going to be 2-3 hours sitting in a wheelchair,” Rachel Woods said. “I would’ve been fine sitting on the couch. We would’ve missed it, but I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable, as much as we love it. But he wasn’t having any of it.”
So they went, although there were a few wide eyes and craned necks, including from VCU Director of Ticketing Meghan Millar.
“She said, ‘You know the game is on TV, right?’” Kevin recalled. “I told her it’s just not the same as being at the game, and it’s true. It really isn’t the same. It’s so much better to be there, hear the Peppas, see all of your Rowdy friends that have become your adopted and extended family, and enjoy the live show.”
The “show” to which Woods is referring is the raucous atmosphere that distinguishes a VCU Basketball game. It’s an atmosphere he helped create.
Woods attended his first VCU game in the late 90s and latched onto the Rams immediately. When he was in high school, Woods listened to Terry Sisisky call VCU games on the radio. He enrolled at VCU in 2002, and by 2003, was fully engrossed in Rams hoops.
It was a different Rowdy Rams group, a different student section and a different overall experience at a VCU Basketball game back then. Student involvement was minimal, and Rowdy Ram enrollment fluctuated between 75-150 members. Even then, it was usually Woods and a core group of 15-20 Rowdies actually participating.
Over the years, other members of the Rowdy Rams who held some type of leadership designation graduated. But Woods was a part-time student, paying for school a couple classes here a couple there. So, he remained and tried to keep the organization going, even when times were tough. Woods helped organize bus trips, solicited sponsors, recruited new members –driving around campus on a golf cart with a megaphone at one point – and designed cheers. In recent years, he’s encouraged Rowdy Ram attendance at other VCU Athletic events like volleyball and field hockey, and recently helped create Rowdy FC, which supports VCU Soccer.
“After we all graduated, he kept it going,” said friend Chris Crowley, known to most VCU fans as the horns-wearing “Pavarotti”. “His keeping that presence alive, having some semblance of leadership allowed that group to become the organization it is today.”
Woods is often deferential when asked about his role in the Rowdy Rams and credits a number of friends and students with helping him keep the organization viable.
Eventually, the product on the floor improved. The Rams went to the NCAA Tournament in 2004, then again in 2007, when they upset Duke. Later, the Rowdy Rams were absorbed by the VCU Athletic Department, which allowed for greater visibility and marketability. In 2011, the Shaka Smart-led Rams reached the Final Four, and Rowdy Ram membership exploded. The organization Woods once helped rescue from obscurity was capped at 1,500 members for the 2012-13 season.
“We were thinking back then that 150-200 were great numbers,” Woods says. “From where it’s been to where it is now, just knowing it used to be down to 75-100, to where it sells out a 1,500 cap in a week, it’s hard to believe it’s the same organization.”
So, when Rachel Woods wheeled her ailing husband into the Siegel Center on Nov. 28, they were happily surprised to find their seats were left unoccupied. And although Kevin couldn’t stand and wasn’t his normal mischievous, ebullient, self, he found out he didn’t have to be. There was a sea of gold-clad Rowdies to pick up the slack.
“Five years ago, I would’ve called him one of our craziest, crazy fans,” Crowley said. “Now that’s the norm.”