It’s “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer” time.
With the top-ranked Alabama football team rolling into Columbia this weekend for its game against No. 19 South Carolina, expect a crimson caravan to cruise in, too, filled with fans chanting the team’s victory cheer.
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It’s also the title of a best-selling 2004 book by author and New York Times reporter Warren St. John that chronicles a season on the road with motor-home-driving Alabama fans.
Celia and Bobby Turner of Mobile, Ala., are two such fans.
“We’ve been from Hawaii to the Meadowlands (New Jersey) and a lot of places in between,” Celia said as her husband was putting their motor home and its accompanying Alabama paraphernalia in place Thursday afternoon in the Capital City Stadium parking lot.
OK, the Turners didn’t drive their motor home to Hawaii, but the 35-foot, 1997 Allegro Bus, their third motor home in 30 years, has 140,000 miles on it, including a few thousand from a trip to Pasadena, Calif., in January for last season’s victory against Texas in the BCS title game.
“We love it,” Celia said. “We’ve seen the entire country.”
They continue to hit the road even though Bobby is battling a second round of prostate cancer.
“We’ve been home nine days since Aug. 15,” Celia Turner said. “Bobby knows everybody in these parking lots.”
Steve Spurrier knows all about the devotion of Alabama fans. His USC and Florida teams have faced the Crimson Tide 11 times in his coaching career, and he’s bracing for another meeting Saturday.
“I guess it’s the first big sellout of the year, and, obviously, Alabama helps do that,” he said. “Alabama’s the team that draws the crowds, the TVs and everything else, and they certainly deserve it.”
For Alabama’s Sept. 18 game in Durham, N.C., Duke athletics officials brought approximately 4,000 extra seats into Wallace Wade Stadium, and it was estimated the sellout crowd of 39,042 was a 50-50 split between Duke and Alabama fans. Some Tide backers purchased Duke season tickets — the lowest-priced package was $250 for four general-admission seats — just for that game.
The same thing isn’t going to happen at 80,000-seat Williams-Brice Stadium, which is sold out for Saturday’s game, but plenty of crimson-clad fans will be on hand. Alabama received an allotment of 7,500 tickets, but USC director of media relations Steve Fink said the school had no way of knowing how many Alabama fans might have purchased a three-game mini-pack for the Southern Miss, Alabama and Arkansas games for $145 each — just to get a seat for this game.
Securing tickets doesn’t seem to be an issue for the army of Alabama fans heading to Columbia in recreational vehicles. George Braswell and his wife, Vennie, will arrive today from their Orange Beach, Ala., home — after a midweek stop in Hilton Head — for a weekend of revelry. They’re setting up camp in the Capital City Stadium parking lot in their black-and-silver, 42-foot American Eagle.
Braswell has followed the Crimson Tide for years, but he didn’t start traveling by motor home until 2001, when he decided to skip the hassle of finding hotel rooms on the road.
“This is like being in your own home,” Braswell said.
He also enjoys being surrounded by like-minded folks. Many in the motor-home crowd travel in groups and have developed lasting relationships.
They love the camaraderie, but most of all, they love their team, especially when it wins. With the Tide coming off a national championship and unbeaten in five games this season, everyone is enjoying the program’s revival.
“Since we got us a good coach (Nick Saban), the attitude of the players has changed. It’s helped with the attitude of the fans, too,” Braswell said.
One of Braswell’s traveling buddies is Kenneth Keith of Rome, Ga. Keith and his wife, Wanda, have had season tickets for 25 years, and they’ve been going to games in their motor home since 1989.
“I’ve met a lot of great people that way,” Kenneth Keith said. “It’s a lot of fun, a lot of cooking out. It’s sort of like a family atmosphere. The game itself is a highlight. If we win, it’s just icing on the cake.”
He compared the postgame parking-lot critiques of the team’s performance to the chatter of a small-town barbershop.
“We talk about what they did wrong and what they did right. You get a lot of opinions, win, lose or draw,” Keith said.
You might even hear the words, “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer.”