Warren St. John

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

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Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer Summary

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Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a travel story and cultural-anthropological survey of football by American author Warren St. John. Published in 2004, it chronicles St. John’s endeavor to make sense of the fan mania behind Alabama’s professional football team, the Crimson Tide, as he follows a group of RVers around the United States. Posing the question, “Why do they care?”, St. John describes the larger-than-life personalities of the Crimson Tide’s nomadic fans. The book attempts to explain why people get so worked up about a sport whose outcomes are arbitrary with respect to their actual lives, suggesting that the answer is as mystifying as they are.

St. John’s “study” of the football fanatics begins with the $5,500 purchase of a beat-up RV dubbed “The Hawg.” He commits to tag along with the caravan for an entire season of football. He recalls expecting that the people he would meet would be eccentric and found this expectation to be true. However, he underestimated the power of the football industry to make the absurd behavior of fans seem normal from the inside. He recalls being so used to his companions that by the end of the season, their lifestyles seemed routine, even vibrant and well-functioning, while to the outsider, they would have seemed totally delusional.

St. John describes the droves of RVers in vivid detail. Like band groupies from an earlier decade, they follow the Crimson Tide from game to game, dragging along portable grills and containers to keep their refreshments cold, practically simulating a football stadium. During his travels, he meets a couple, Betty and Freeman Reese, who passed up their daughter’s wedding in order to attend an Alabama game on the same day. They turn out to be not the only ones who prioritize the Crimson Tide higher than weddings: St. John meets a minister of the Episcopal Church, Ray Pradat, who views Alabama games on a TV next to an altar while performing marriage rites. He also meets an intrepid ticket scalper named John Ed who wields huge influence over Atlanta fans, bargaining with them for prices on the best seats. To top off the cast of characters is Paul Finebaum, a contrarian “Anti-Fan,” sportswriter and radio host who makes money caricaturing and mocking the Alabama fans. Finebaum is so despised among fans of the Crimson Tide that he has to live in a gated neighborhood to feel safe from frequent threats.

St. John punctuates his story with knowledge about the history of sports fandom. He traces the phenomenon of tailgating back to Greece in the 700s A.D. He includes other obscure topics, including the neuroscience of game-playing and its accompanying feelings of exhilaration, and the applications of group psychology to the social dynamics of stadiums. In the end, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer argues that sports fanaticism issues first and foremost from the culture of sports in America, and its strange intersections with social status, capitalism, media, and psychology.