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Alabama’s ‘Rammer Jammer’ chant is foul tradition

Alabama band

As the clock wound to zeroes in Monday night’s National Championship game, I felt a familiar hollow feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t seeing the players in crimson celebrating yet another championship, it wasn’t dejected Tigers leaving the field, it wasn’t the confetti or the T-shirts or the trophy. No, the sickness I felt was stirred by the unsubtle tones of the Million Dollar Band as they queued up another rendition of “Rammer Jammer.”

For those that don’t know, the chant goes like this:

“Hey, Clemson (or another vanquished foe). Hey, Clemson.
We just beat the hell out of you.
Rammer jammer, yellow hammer,
Give ’em hell, Alabama.”

If you’re thinking “rammer jammer, yellow hammer” makes no sense and also doesn’t rhyme with “Alabama,” you’re not wrong. One must employ a thick southern drawl in order to make “hammer” and “Alabama” rhyme. But lack of elocutionary grace notwithstanding, it’s the rest of the words that make this arguably the most foul tradition in college sports.

Immediately upon achieving a victorious outcome, the band and, more especially the fans (neither of whom played in the game, by the way), launch into verbal abuse of their opponent. For particularly adversarial enemies, the word “hell” is replaced by even more crass and vulgar slang.

My mind instantly went to the stands and the Clemson family section. After a remarkable, undefeated season, full of award-worthy and award-winning performances that culminated in a spot in the national title game … after overcoming the loss of last season’s entire front seven and still fielding one of this season’s top defenses … after winning the ACC championship and dismantling Oklahoma in a playoff semifinal … after all that, Deshaun Watson and Shaq Lawson and their parents, Dabo Swinney and his family and all of the Clemson faithful had to listen to that.

They were told they had just had the hell beaten out of them when, in reality, they were one possession away from lifting the trophy themselves. This is a team that had won 17 consecutive games, defeated five top-16 opponents and lost only one game, by five points, to the eventual national champion. Something tells me they aren’t embarrassed by that showing.

Alabama on the other hand — the university, the athletic department, the football team, the fan base — should be embarrassed by the distasteful, classless, unsportsmanlike conduct constantly committed by “fans” of the Crimson Tide.

I say this not as an Auburn alum, but as a college football alum and graduate of a university for which I have great pride. During his post-game interview, Nick Saban called the game a “great win for the state of Alabama.” For more than the usual reasons, that made me cringe.

To be associated so closely with such disrespectful actions, to be grouped together with people who so clearly miss the meaning of sports, to be forced to claim, in even the smallest regards, a tie to such humiliating and degrading rhetoric cheapens my experience as a student-athlete, a graduate of a state institution and an adult.

I harbor zero animosity toward Saban and the Alabama football team. The Tide played a great game, had a great season and proved that “championship” is a mentality in Tuscaloosa. They should be proud of what they have accomplished in the past seven seasons.

The animus I have is for the people in the stands who consider themselves a part of “we.” The ones who follow the Tide only when the sun is out. The ones who stand on the shoulders of truly great sportsmen and call themselves tall. The ones who have no affiliation with or respect for the university and what it stands for.

The University of Alabama is a fine academic institution with a tremendously accomplished athletic department and some of the most loyal and respectable fans in the game. But until those three segments band together to ban this dereliction of sportsmanship, Alabama will remain the capstone of distaste.

Those fans are not representative of college athletics. I’ve seen them bring out the worst in others. Winning is exciting. Celebrating is enjoyable. But rejoicing in your enemy’s defeat defeats one of the pillars of the game. “Rammer Jammer” is the antithesis of rolling Toomer’s Corner — a tradition for Auburn people by Auburn people, with no anger directed toward anyone. It should not be forgotten that the kind of fan who screams “Rammer Jammer” is the same kind of fan who attempted to destroy Toomer’s Corner.

Traditions like rolling Toomer’s Corner and touching Howard’s Rock cannot be destroyed, by words or actions, because they are physical manifestations of ideologies. An idea can’t be destroyed. My only hope is that the prevailing ideology in Tuscaloosa is to admonish rammer jammers and stand for something better, but I’m not hopeful. As I said, an idea cannot be destroyed.

(You can follow John Cubelic on Twitter @JohnCubelic)


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