With Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania, Warren St. John captures the essence of a passionate segment of Alabama fans, and by example, ventures into the mechanics of fandom so that no one with a favorite team in any sport will feel left out.
St. John spent a football season following Crimson Tide football with the RV crowd, racking up stories that move the book along rapidly. The well-written chronicling of Alabama's 1999 Southeastern Conference Championship season from the perspective of RV fanatics is captivating.
If you've ever been to a college football game and wondered who these RV people are and what drives them to devote so many resources to attending a football game, here's the best explanation you will find. If you are a member of Alabama's RV army, or a Tuscaloosa local who's discussed the Alabama football team in public, you might be in the book.
St. John's unique perspective on fandom, winning and losing makes this book an original. As he tells in the book, St. John grew up in Alabama, pulling for the Crimson Tide in the 1970's when winning football games was commonplace.
He writes: "Growing up a Tide fan in the 1970s gave me an unrealistic sense of what it means to be a fan, for the simple reason that in the 1970s Alabama won, and being a sports fan is largely about learning to cope with losing." Most Alabama fans still have the same expectations of winning.
For St. John, the learning to cope with losing came, though. He was a student at Columbia University when the school's football team lost 44 straight games. His relationship with fellow Columbia students, and the fact that they didn't recognize Paul "Bear" Bryant, among other things, gave St. John the perspective he was seeking. Seeing a picture of St. John and Bryant on his dorm room wall, St. John's classmates at Columbia assumed it was a photo of he and his grandfather.
In Rammer Jammer, St. John runs the gamut of opinions, presenting the views of intellectual egghead Paul Finebaum just as well as the outlook of an RV-ing couple named Freeman and Betty Reese, who skipped their daughter's wedding for an Alabama football game. Not just any game, either, it was Alabama-Tennessee. The Reeses dutifully made the reception, the book notes. The characters of Chris and Paula Bice, the "middle-of-the-road" Alabama RV-ers, strike an interesting balance between the two extremes.
Parts of the book will offend some Alabama fans. St. John writes about instances of racism and routinely quotes R-rated language used by people he had come to identify with because of their team loyalties. He relates the story of devoutly religious RV-ers as well as unrefined rednecks (although he's careful never to use the term).
St. John makes an attempt to delve into the psychology of the RV crowd, and that of the "psychological crowd" that can be attained on the Internet. BamaMag.com gets some cursory mentions, as do some long-time posters.
There are literally hundreds of Alabama fan sites – TiderInsider, ‘BamaMag.com, CrimsonTradition.com are the biggest, along with countless personal pages, the cyberspace equivalent of bumper stickers, where fans declare their love of the team for anyone who happens to click by. None, though, are devoted to RV-ers. I sign up for an e-mail listserv called bamafan, a kind of live wire into the collective unconsciousness of Alabama fans, and within minutes of my signing up, e-mails begin to appear in my mailbox at a machine-gun rate from people with names like Bamadog, Krymsonman, Crimson Jim, and the Alabama Slamma. I've tuned into a kind of philosophical debate: Are there any circumstances under which it is permissible for an Alabama fan to pull for Tennessee? A fan named Tommy e-mails the group that when a Tennessee win would benefit Alabama, he actually finds himself humming "Rocky Top," the Tennessee fight song.
"You certainly don't know what it's like to really hate Tennessee if you pull for them AT ALL," a poster named Tiderollin' responds. "I'd cheer for Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame, Russia and the University of Hell before the words ‘rocky top' would ever come out of my mouth."
One of the self-described goals of the book is to try to answer the question "Why do fans care?" To the non-fanatic, no explanation is good enough, and to the die-hard, none is necessary. Rammer Jammer scratches the surface in answering this question, but it lays out an interesting framework for the discussion – discussion appropriate in the weeks leading up to the start of college football.