Warren St. John, author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and style writer for the New York Times, kindly gave us a late-night interview when most other people were in their beds watching Elimidate and waiting for the room to stop spinning. We talked about Alabama
football, life after RJYH, and found to our disappointment that he could not hook us up with free
Florida-Bama tickets. John Ed, of course, is ready to talk when you are.
OS: Well come clean from the start. We really just called to ask if you could get us Florida-Bama tickets.
WSJ: Well, since I know John Ed, of course I could get them for you, but they would cost you a second or third mortgage on your house. John Eds not known for cutting bargains.
OS: In a related note, how close have you remained to the central figures in the book? And how have their lives been affected by the book?
WSJ: You know, thats one of the most pleasantly surprising parts of this whole process for me...
-- Ive remained close to almost all of them after the book. This weekend in Tuscaloosa, Im going to stay on the Bices rv in the parking lot on my book tour. Its not a nostalgia tour, its a practical thing, like the good old days. I still see John Ed, I went to karaoke night with Donnie and Skipper. Ive gotten close to Finebaum, who I really like I tried to portray the experience the way it was. Most of the people in the book seem to appreciate that.
OS: And how much damage did you do to your liver during the course of the book?
WSJ: Not so much, frankly. First of all, I was working, so that was a decent kind of buffer. Also, I tend to stay away from anything thats not in a can in the rv parking lot. I find it dangerous to mix spirits and football. Its a horrible enough feeling losing, but adding whiskey to losing is something Im not prepared for.
OS: Thats pretty much been the problem for the University of Tennessee fanbase, we think. They drink whiskey, and when they lose it hurts worse because they're cranked on the brown stuff.
WSJ: Im definitely in the minority. After a game theres all these minibottles scattered around the stands like shell casings. Maybe students can do it, but at some point in your late 20s, the body says no.
OS: What do you do for a follow-up? Or is there one?
WSJ: It definitely doesnt involve getting into an rv and rehashing Rammer Jammer. Im working on a bookI dont want to jinx myself by talking about it but that was one that I really had to get out of my system. It was built around that mystery that had plagued me since I was young, and now that Ive done it I wouldnt have that mystery -- trying to figure why fans care -- pushing me along through the parking lots like for the first one.
OS: We disclose our bias as Florida fans from the top. Describe, briefly, your impression of the average Florida fan.
WSJ: Well, I used to think of Florida fans as the classic mullets, jeanshorts, tank tops and very white shoes...When I went down there in '99, I felt a little jealous because Alabamas fanbase had aged so much. Floridas fans had gotten off this streak of success and had drawn in this whole group of young fans. I think Alabama has cycled through again. Youth drives the energy in the stands. Some older Alabama fans view football like people view the opera. Theres this debate on the message boards, with people being like Youve got to stand up and show your passion, and people responding like I fought in the war, I have bad knees and I dont have to stand up if I don't want to. I actually liked most Florida fans, and I begrudgingly like Steve Spurrier. I think hes a great coach, but I also just like his tude.
OS: How did a decent boy from an upstanding family in Birmingham ever end up at the New York Times?
WSJ: This is a problem for many Southerners, evidently. Oddly enough, I know 4 or 5 young people from Birmingham who work there. I love working there, and we have every possible resource to report stories and then have them read once youve written them. Ive pretty much drunk the kool aid. I would imagine at some point-maybe Im wrong-at some point the tired old simplistic 2-D slander that NYT reporters cant report without liberal bias has to die on the vine. Most reporters dont go into stories thinking about the political angle. The NY Times advanced the Whitewater story in the early stages. Even Karl Rove says that journalism is primarily
oppositional. There are Republicans in the White House, they control the congress, and the Supreme Court is basically with a conservative majority. So necessarily journalists are going to
hold those people to a high standard. Thats our role and thats our value.
OS: Were going to a bar with one person at the Grey Lady. Who are you taking?
WSJ: Thats interesting. I do that with some regularity as it is. Im a little uncomfortable
answering that because itll sound like sucking up.
OS: You can leave it at that.
OS: Congrats on getting married. You converted her yet?
WSJ: Its gonna be a long slog to get my wife interested in college football, but there are moments. She definitely watches games, and she definitely understands them, which is huge, huge progress.
Remember in Fever Pitch, though, when Nick Hornby aggressively converts his girlfriend to his team. They have to split one season ticket. I dont have a season ticket-I live in NY and buy the tickets for games individually-but in a relationship its definitely worth having those private avenues of escape.
OS: How did she react to all the gay adulation youve gotten as a result of being named as one of the Men of the Times?
WSJ: She has reacted, um, with, theres a word, let me figure out what it is bemused pride.
OS: Give me three products you own that give you metrosexual street cred.
WSJ: Now thats interesting, because I dont think of myself as a metrosexual. Im a really basic guy. Gilette razor, Ivory soap, no hair product whatsoever. I understand the metrosexual
mindset by osmosis just from living in NY, but Im not one. That was a story written by an outsider.
OS: Tell us your favorite non-all-American Bama player of all time NOT named Van Tiffin. (For example: ours was Sam Shade.)
WSJ: I think Rory Turner, hes famous among Bama fans for a tackle he made against Auburn and after the game he was asked about the hit, and he [simply] said I waxed the dude.
OS: You actually met Bear Bryant. Our grandfather was a part-time drinking buddy of Bryants, and our father met him when he was a kid. Both of you say what an imposing, charismatic presence he was. Before it gets too far gone in the mists of time, what do you think was so compelling about the man?
WSJ: Partly it was his size--he was a really big guy--and he had this expressive face. He had this stentorian voice, this rattle-the-floorboards voice.
But mainly, it was because he played such a big role in the cultural life of Alabamans, and their sense of self-esteem. And the more fans of other teams hated him, the more it justified our liking him.
OS: Tell us your crib sheet on Bama this year.
WSJ: Its pretty simple, basically. The offensive line is gonna kind of make it or break it for us, for sure. For right now, weve got three freshman on the o-line and injuries during fall camp. Croyle is fragile, and his record on the field would suggest that. We have some running back issues, since Ken Darby has been injured, and we dont want to be giving up a lot of monster hits. Weve got a lot of guys playing with minimal game experience.
OS: At what point does Shula get in trouble?
WSJ: I think if he had a disastrous year this year that would be bad. Fans collectively are pretty
intelligent they understand scholarship limitations, injuries. Alabama fans know were missing seniors now. It depends on how it fell apart. We lost our whole backfield last year, and its hard to tell anything about a coach based on that. You risk losing a good coach if you judge too quickly. I think hes a really good guy, and Im pulling for him a lot of other people are pulling for him. He hasnt done a lot, but he hasnt had the chance to do a lot right. Theres a difference between a team losing and looking bad and a team losing and playing good football doing it.
OS: And whats the over/under on games until a bone in Brodie Croyles body breaks?
WSJ: South Carolina-- game 3. If hes up and at 'em after that game, that bodes well for us. Thats where the offensive line will be crucial. Theyve got to block for him, period. Hes just not one of these monster guys who can take a pounding.
Hes got a wicked arm. For a college football fan, it would be nice to see what he could do for an entire season.
OS: As a Gator fan, we have to ask: Gainesville really is the drinkingest college town youve ever seen, right? You werent just writing that to flatter us.
WSJ: No, that was based entirely on the reporting. That was the most drunk people Ive ever seen at a game. And it was a scalding day. They drink a lot in Oxford, too.
OS: Youve got the Fanopticon. Why keep a blog as a busy feature writer?
WSJ: Im fascinated by theI thought Id do a blog about publishing the book, and Ill drop in a story about how sports makes people misbehave or do weird things. I found out that every day theres tons of this stuff: the guy who jumped out of the upper deck onto the netting at the
Yankee game, soccer riots. Its now like a public service, to keep a running tally of this sort of
stuff, and not to comment too much on it. Ill do it as long as I find it interesting and as long as people find it interesting.
OS: What football blogs do you read daily?
WSJ: Somedays I dont read any. MGO--Brian did an incredible job organizing everybody and created a real sense of community. He writes a great blog. Blue Gray Sky. CFR, and EDSBS. Its gonna sound like sucking up, but I check it all the time. (Fuck yeah! --ed.) I like the ones with some sense of humor about being a fan. The ones that understand theres something fundamentally absurd about this whole undertaking. If they dont have that, its gonna be difficult for me to read them.
OS: Now for the James Lipton portion of the program. In a fight to the finish, who wins, you or a bobcat?
WSJ: I crush the bobcat.
OS: Youre singing Karaoke. What song do you pick?
WSJ: I was in a bluegrass band, but you wont catch me singing Rocky Top.Sweet Home
OS: What is your favorite television channel that does not predominantly show sports?
WSJ: Its embarrassing to say..but probably the Discovery/New York Times Channel. Theres just this endless stream of fascinating documentaries on there. I dont watch much tv that doesnt have to do with news or sports.
OS: What actor would you cast to play you in a movie of your life? Verisimilitude and similarity are not issues here.
WSJ: Clint Eastwood, in his younger days.
OS: Youre at the Pearly Gates. What does God say to you?
WSJ: Probably, "You know that all those superstitious things you did before games? They had no impact on the outcome."
Great thanks to Warren for taking his time to talk to yet another blogger. Buy Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer or we swear we'll kill this kitten with our bare hands.
Don't make us do it. Buy the damn book.