It is 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and all is quiet on the Western front. The lights at Wally Wade are the only indications that a football game between Duke and Maryland will be played in three hours.
Over 1,000 miles away in Fayetteville, Ark., there is another competition taking shape, this one between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Outside Razorback stadium, there are likely hundreds of RVs set up before the 2:35 p.m. kickoff, which is set to attract over 70,000 rampant fans. To the Alabama tailgaters, the pageantry does not begin at game time, but days before. As they count down the final hours before the gridiron match-up, these diehard fans enjoy "Bama Bombs"— maraschino cherries soaked in pure grain alcohol—barbeque and plenty of beer in Solo cups.
It is this phenomenon that Alabama native and New York Times reporter Warren St. John lives out in his first book, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. St. John spends a season with some of the most intense fans in college football—those who live to speak and hear the words "Roll Tide."
Back in Durham, Duke officials are working to develop a legitimate football team on the field through recruiting efforts, coaching changes and game strategies. Yet, as St. John illustrates, there is much more to college football than the actions from goalpost to goalpost. It is often the action in the parking lots surrounding the stadium that make the atmosphere.
Tailgating occurs on fall weekends from coast to coast, but has found a unique breeding ground in the American South. After buying his own RV, St. John found himself alongside some of the craziest in the business. One couple missed their daughter’s wedding because it was scheduled the same afternoon as an Alabama football game. At the Arkansas game, he sat beside a woman who has a "custody arrangement" with her ex-husband regarding the couple’s season tickets.
Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is an eloquent ode to the legacy of Alabama football. With a school tradition that includes 12 national championships, 20 conference championships and 49 bowl appearances, how could it not be? However, it is also a celebration of those that come to expierence the magic of the games, the tailgaters.
By 10 a.m. at Duke, students are doing exactly what St. John did every Saturday morning during the 1999 college football season. Heading out to the Blue Zone decked in traditional tailgate gear— pastel polo shirts and sundresses— students are not witnessing, but instead experiencing, a passion for the pageantry of football not previously known by most students.
This is Rammer Jammer’s south, and although the team may struggle on the field, the tailgaters continue to revel in spectacle of the tailgate.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.